Raptors Use Off-Season for Player AND Coach Development

Sara Wright   29-Nov-2018   David Williams

Raptors Use Off-Season for Player AND Coach Development

As told by Raptors Head Coach, Dave Williams

Coaches Blog, Glendale Rugby Date 11.2.18, the location – Glendale Rugby Offices

As I have said before, we planned our Raptors off-season to include some tough competition as a means to select and develop our Raptors team for 2019 and beyond. Although we had hoped to walk away with a few more wins during our fall exhibition matches, winning was not our main objective. Our priority for this off-season was to develop our program for the future, and not just the immediate future and our goal of bringing home the Major League Rugby Championship Shield in 2019, but our future as a leader among a rapidly growing professional league as the MLR continues to expand and the competition gets even stronger throughout North America.

After closing out the inaugural MLR season on top of the standings, we lost to Seattle in a heart-breaking final match and fell just short of clinching the first MLR Championship. Shortly thereafter, it became very clear to me that we should not rest on our laurels during the off-season, and well, in all honestly, the Raptors program isn’t one to be complacent regardless of their finish. It’s just not in our club’s culture.

Off-season preparation was focused on individual development, skills improvement, and patterns. We were able to integrate some new talent into the squad and prepare the players being called up to the USA Eagles side for the national team’s four-game November tour. We also knew we wanted to put in a lot of time at the gym - building bigger, better, more powerful bodies, and most of our squad has been hitting the gym five days a week for much of the off-season.

Long characterized by veteran players, the Raptors are not short on opportunities to recruit new talent either. In fact, Infinity Park hosted three major training camps this fall season alone, one for the Collegiate All-Americans in mid-August, an event that saw nearly one hundred of the best college-level rugby players in the country converge on Infinity Park; the second was a Merlins Selects cross-over camp held by Glendale Rugby and designed specifically for elite American football, track and field or various other NCAA athletes who wanted to try their hand at rugby during a week-long intensive camp; and finally and most recently, World Rugby’s new initiative, the America’s Combine, enticing players from North and South America to vie for professional Major League Rugby contracts.

Of course, the Raptors staff was on site to observe workouts for the camps and we are always interested in opportunities to scout new talent, and to not only upskill existing Raptors players, but our coaching staff, as well. With that said, these camps allowed us the opportunity to learn from the visiting athletes and coaches. Their presentations and skills work is something that we’re using to our advantage and can incorporate into our training sessions moving forward.

I realize that we are incredibly fortunate to be among the few teams in the U.S. that are allowed these opportunities within our home club, but we also are allowed the massive opportunity for professional development overseas. In fact, last year around this time, Mark Bullock, Kieran Browner and I spent some time traveling around the UK, making connections with various clubs and soaking in as much knowledge as possible. It was such a beneficial trip that we knew we needed to make another one. So this year, we found a perfect opportunity during our fall break -- after the end of the World Rugby combine and the start of the 2019 MLR season -- to plan another trip overseas for myself and our assistant coach Duncan James in what we hope will prove another invaluable learning experience. Stay tuned…

Coaches Blog

Coaches Blog, Glendale Rugby Date 11.20.18, the location – Heathrow Airport, London

As I sit here at the airport, reflecting back on our most recent trip to the UK, I think I can speak for both Duncan and myself when I say this was an ideal way to use our time off. We were able to take in some premiership, championship and international team training sessions and matches, which proved very beneficial as we are always looking for new ways to train our players and these experiences have sparked some ideas we will definitely be bringing back to Glendale. The trip also reinforces what we do as coaches with our Raptors team, as well in our unit and individual preparation. 

During our days in England, time was spent with the Harlequins, whom we visited last year, and, for Duncan, was a bit of a homecoming as he played for the Quins more than a decade ago. Now, under a new Head of Rugby Paul Gustard and General Manager Billy Millard, who both joined the Harlequins in June, we were interested to see what changes they were making and how their management styles compared.

We also were able to spend some more time at Bath Rugby, which we also visited last year, in addition to the Ealing Trailfinders (another rugby club Duncan played with) and the London Irish. Then I spent a day at Pennyhill Park with the England National Team prior to their test against Japan.

It was great to see some of the tactical, technical and physical preparation of the players, in addition to the weekly tactical periodization teams used and how they manipulated these tactics to accommodate their players and playing schedules and, more importantly, the reasoning why. 

Then, of course, we were very lucky to get to see all the preparation culminate in their games, which we were able to attend, at the same time witnessing some of the training and tactical preparation utilized in a match setting.

Overall, these trips continue to prove to be hugely beneficial for me and our staff, with some very good thought-provoking conversations to progress our coaching philosophies as we head into the upcoming season. And, following in the season of Thanksgiving, I find myself very grateful for the fact that the City of Glendale is so supportive, helping me not only develop my players to be the best they can be, but also helping develop the staff and coaches to be the same.

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