If you spend enough time around a sport, you might be lucky enough to find yourself part of a special team or organisation. Throughout my career, you could say that I’ve been pretty lucky. I won a premiership as a 19-year-old my first season playing first grade in New Zealand, I was part of the last Sydney Stars team to compete in the NRC, I’ve played and won multiple Grand Finals with the Tuggeranong Vikings, I was part of the Brumbies squad in the lead up to a game against the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve been acting as the team manager (and sometimes assistant coach) for the UC women’s 7’s side who competed in the inaugural Aon University 7’s Series. In most instances when you talk about a ‘special’ team or organisation you’re talking about a team that won a premiership. We didn’t win a premiership, in fact overall we probably finished about even in terms of wins and losses. But I can say without a doubt that this team was a special team. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more fun or more rewarding experience in my rugby career.
As soon I heard there was going to be a new sevens program for women I wanted to be involved. In Rugby, the pathway to the elite programs has become convoluted and unclear at the best of times. For women, for a long time, the pathway has been even more complicated, often, just hoping to play in the right tournament at the right time in order to be seen by the national selectors. It reminded me of all the brilliant female athletes I went to school with and how they would all struggle to crack the next level, while for me, it seemed pretty simple… play well and you get picked. For them, it wasn’t as black and white. So I thought to myself if I can be a small cog in the success of this new program that’s a positive outcome for Rugby and most importantly for the girls.
To say that we started from a low base would probably be an understatement. We had a ton of talented players but we quickly discovered that scheduling was an issue. We had girls who played basketball, rugby league, rugby union. AFL, Oz Tag, touch football, pole vaulting and even bobsledding, with most playing two or three of these sports simultaneously. I learned pretty quickly that consistent communication was going to be key moving forward.
What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would enjoy the coaching side. I’d tried coaching before at Daramalan College, we had a good team with some great kids (two of which are now training full-time with the Brumbies) and while it was sometimes fulfilling I didn’t really enjoy it the way I thought I would (Maybe the problem was coaching teenage boys?). What I enjoyed about coaching the girls was that we were able to learn together and being a new concept I was given some freedom to make mistakes and learn and adjust on the fly. I think sometimes as elite players and coaches we get really caught up in playing a certain way that we forget we’re smart enough and skilled enough to make adjustments based on what’s presented in front of us.
One of the main things that assisted with this approach was doing film review. Rugby Australia did an unreal job overall with this tournament but the fact that our games were available straight after we finished, meant I could put them on a hard drive, go back to our team room and we would all watch the games as a squad before our next one. This allowed us to collaboratively make adjustments to our game plan and highlight key work-ons and effort areas for our next opponents. It also allowed us as coaching and management staff to really get a good feel for the game and our players strengths and weaknesses.
The most rewarding and pleasing outcomes from the tournament were that there is now a really clear elite pathway for female sevens players, Rugby Australia was able to identify new playing, coaching, and administrative talent and from our perspective, our players improved each tournament.
Finally, I just want to say that all of the above aside, what was really special about this team was all the people. From the top down I really enjoyed working with a bunch of great people and I hope to see them all again for the 2018 season.