The Opportunity (Women’s Eagles blog post)

This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year as the Women’s Eagle head coach. This week a player will get to fulfill their rugby dream.

I am at the University of Northern Colorado for our National All-Star Competition. The NASCs are one of the fundamental changes to the Women’s Eagles Pathway that USA Rugby has put in place over the last two years. Unlike the old NASCs (yes, it can be confusing), the teams that compete here are not representing their region or the old territories, but they are replacing the high level of play that the old competition represented.

We have the top 55 rugby players in the country (that are not focusing on the Olympics) competing this week in a two-match series. The players here have all been identified in the various pathway entrance points:

  • Club, college, and high school playoffs
  • National Tracking Camps
  • National Development Academies
  • Women’s Eagles Sevens team

Not only have we opened up the entry opportunities into the pathway, but we have also increased the speed the players can move through it. Traditionally each team in the pathway has been its own separate program, which means that a player would only move from one to the other when they “graduated.” By creating a philosophy of “one program – many teams” we have made it possible to give players the right experiences for their development. Frankie Sands is a good example. At the Winter NASC Frankie played with the collegiate and was a standout in their first match. She played so well she was moved up to the seniors for the next match and still played well. Now she is here, as a 21-year-old college student, competing for a spot with the Eagles. We have a lot of young players like Frankie that have come through our age-grade programs here and it is making the Eagles younger and more athletic.

You can watch a game and you think a player has a good match, but often that is because they made a few good runs, or a few big hits. To make sure we give every player the best opportunity we code every involvement that a player has. That means I can sit down and watch five minutes of video and see all the things a player does in the game. It means they cannot hide and it also means that even if they are a player that hits a lot of rucks and does the dirty work we will see it. There were a few players that stood out in the game but not the video after the first match, and the other way round.

The selections for the Super Series are the most competitive that I have experienced in my five years as a National Team coach. There are competitions for placing in every position of the team, and there are also capped Eagles that are under pressure. It means that there will be some international-quality players that will not make the trip, but that is what we need if we want to get back into the top four.