As his first season as USA Sevens head coach draws to a close, Mike Friday reflects on the challenges he has faced during his first season in charge of the rapidly improving Eagles.
“As we near the end of my first season with the USA, I must say I am very happy with where we are as a team especially considering last season we were were 13th, 14th in the Series table, everyone was writing us off and considered us relegation material."
“That is testament to the squad who have embraced the changes that we have tried to introduce and committing fully to that. But I’m not content with being 6th in the world going into the last leg – although I would have taken that at the start of the season in what is a very competitive circuit."
“We are still a work in progress and we are still striving for consistency. We want to be in every Cup competition, not every other one, and we are starting to be feared by the top nations. Nobody wants to play us but we need to bring consistency to our game so we can become the kind of side that makes final and wins titles."
“As with an old school report, we are doing well but there is still plenty to improve on which is the exciting thing as well. These boys are only at 60-70% of their potential because most of them were relatively late starting the game."
“It is a very cosmopolitan squad, an eclectic group of cultures which is great but not many played a lot of rugby between the ages of 11 and 18. As a result there is a rugby education that we need to play catch up on."
“The core skills and conditioning are great thanks largely to the other sports they have played and the facilities, resources and science that they are blessed with in America, but you can’t replace rugby education with anything but rugby education and unfortunately that takes time – and that is where we are at the moment."
“We have created the right environment and like anything if you create an honest, healthy and competitive environment it will breed a culture that allows players to get the most out of their potential and ability."
“We focus heavily on that and work with the players individually so that they understand themselves what their strengths and weaknesses are so we can build their confidence as well as correct their weaknesses and then bring them collectively together."
“That has been one of the biggest things we have done this season, create a team environment and ethos where you are working with one another and not in the traditional American way that is all about your individual stats. It is the team’s stats that are most important and then your individual stats and that sea change in culture has enabled us to bring all of these guys together and move them forward as a group."
“We are lucky to be able to use the United States Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista where the facilities – and the weather – are outstanding and offers everything we need. It is a great place to train, don’t get me wrong, rugby players will always find something to whinge about! We are very fortunate but we need a central base because it is such a vast country, players have to fly in from all over."
“I have also been clocking up the air miles too and it has been really, really tough juggling my duties with my responsibilities as director of rugby at Championship side London Scottish. It’s been a challenge but one that I have enjoyed and we have also got some good results at London Scottish and we reached the play-offs having finished third in the league. It has been hard work but like all things in life you don’t get anything in life without hard graft and you have got to live what you preach."
“The travel has been the toughest thing and the time zones, and that certainly didn’t help with my training for the London Marathon which I also recently completed. I still have a fantastic job coaching rugby, people would give their right arm for that. If you are enjoying it and doing something you love."
“I am contracted through to the end of 2016 and we are all pushing for the same goal, we want to get to the Olympics, we want to turn heads, we want teams to be fearful of us, we want teams to respect us, that’s what we crave.”