What Does USAR Academy Formation Mean?
What Does USAR Academy Formation Mean?
The merger of the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy program and Serevi’s Rugby Academy under the name USA Rugby Academy is, in many ways, a logical step for both organizations as well as USA Rugby, but it doesn’t mean others are left out in the cold.
“A lot of other people are doing really good stuff,” said Robin Reid, who backs the EIRA (Reid is also an investor in Goff Communications, the parent company of the Goff Rugby Report). “We’re not in competition with them. We’re all going in the same direction.”
Salty Thompson, the HS All Americans Head Coach and who runs the EIRA sessions, said, as an example, he has purposefully avoided putting an EIRA event in Northern California because the USA International Academy run by Paul Keeler and Eugene Mountjoy do such a good job.
“We’re more interested in working with them as a partner,” he said.
In addition, the USA Rugby Academy will be focused on short sessions through the season. This is the model EIRA built, as Thompson tried to help players maintain and build skills before they get to a high performance assembly. Residency camps during the summer - and there are a lot of them - still have their place.
“Players have a menu of choices,” USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville told Goff Rugby Report. “They can do weekend camps or residency camps. They can be co-ed or just boys or just girls. They can be 7s or 15s, non-high performance, local or across the country. There are a lot of options, which is good.”
The key, said Melville, echoing others, is that everyone is developing athletes.
“The USA Rugby Academy is a pathway, but it can’t be the only pathway,” said Melville. “Carlin Isles is on the USA 7s team because of a text he sent after seeing rugby on YouTube.”
EIRA and Serevi started talking as they began to grow. Thompson began conversations with Serevi Coach Matt Hawkins, and they drew in another Serevi coach, Emilie Bydwell. Meanwhile, Reid began discussions with Chris and Julie Prentice, the backing behind Serevi, and Serevi CEO Ross Young.
“As EIRA we put a lot of money into developing rugby,” said Reid, whose company, Aircraft Charter Solutions, has sponsored the HS All American boys program for years. “We founded EIRA so Salty and Michael Engelbrecht to continue to develop the program. But while our involvement was substantial and successful from a rugby point of view, we don’t offer a full academy. In speaking with Serevi I learned that the Prentices have invested far more than I have in developing the game. They are a more sophisticated business setup [than EIRA], so that can be helpful, too.”
While EIRA was running what amounted to high performance sessions to help high school boys (and some girls) get to the next level, they weren’t in every geographical area. Meanwhile, Serevi was covering more space, but concentrating more on grass roots. They have held some “player identification” clinics, but were really just getting into that area. Where Serevi was certainly stronger than EIRA was in exposure to girls, especially after Serevi entered into a development deal with USA Rugby to support the girls HSAA team.
So working together, said USA Rugby Academy Director Bydwell, seemed to be a no-brainer.
“Especially with the HS All American program and the addition of the girls HS All American program, it really makes sense for us to join on this so we can be effective with the resources and make the most of that U18 age group,” said the capped Eagle. “We can streamline everything so that everyone’s on the same page; we’re managing athletes; the athletes are maximizing their development opportunities.”
Thompson is already sharing ideas and approaches he has used with the Boys HSAA team to help the girls HSAA team, and therefore they aren’t duplicating work.
“The thing is, we only just started EIRA, and we’ve been making adjustments as we go,” said Thompson. “So we don’t know it all. I have a lot of respect for what Emilie and Matt Hawkins can do. I think together we can build a framework to be better.”
Meanwhile, Serevi has resources and people. Reid said that shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.
“There’s this idea that Serevi is going to take over everything and it’s not the case,” he explained. “Every region of the country is different and a program only works if you work with the region and the people there. The volunteers - and they are mostly volunteers - who work locally, they are the real heroes. But this won’t work unless we can work within a region and help those people build rugby there.”
With the creation of the USA Rugby Academy, the services will expand. EIRA had been especially active in Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Washington, Oregon, South Carolina, Southern California, and Texas. But they are moving more into Western New York, Upstate New York, DC, and New Mexico. As Thompson said, Northern California has resources already, while other areas are under-served. Girls rugby has different needs, with some states stronger for girls than they are for boys.
Thus high performance academy weekend assemblies will crop up in more states, and for more girls as well as boys.
“It’s creating a formalized process,” said Melville. “We can have the same process in developing players through these academies, and we make the net tighter, so we get all the fish. It’s not the only way to get into a national team camp, but it is a way. You look at the Olympic Development Academies in 7s and they’ve proved successful. But they aren’t the only pathway.”
“It’s a really good time for this to be happening,” said Bydwell. “This is a time for the high school game to be making an impact on the 2012 World Cup for the women and the 2019 World Cup for the men. The programs complement each other really nicely. Serevi has been kind of growing the tree, and Salty’s work was very specific work on raising the top level. To have that consistent weekly programming really helps with kids’ development, especially at that age.”
So, what the USA Rugby Academy will do:
- Share lessons from the EIRA programs for the boys to help grow the girls’ game at the top end.
- Use Serevi’s volume of people to grow and improve the EIRA model.
- Combine residence camps (HSAA camps, some summer efforts) with weekly refresher work at locations around the country.
- Create a standardized lingo for high school players at the top end.
- Identify talent.
- Expand those ideas into areas of the country that don’t have them at present.
- Establish partnerships with existing academy programs to work with them, rather than against them.
- Develop coaches.
What the USA Rugby Academy won’t be:
- The only way to get to the High School All American team or the Stars & Stripes game.
- The only camp worth going to.
- The answer to everything.
At the coal face it appears that Thompson, Engelbrecht, Hawkins, and Bydwell will be the ones most in discussion to make the program work. In addition, Bydwell said that USA WNT Head Coach Pete Steinberg will be on conference calls as well.
Meanwhile, Serevi leadership, including the Prentices, and Reid at Aircraft Charter Solutions will be closely involved. Both do more than just write checks.
Later this week Melville will be meeting with EIRA and Serevi people to hammer out some details on how this Academy will work, and formalize elements of the relationship. That’s a task that will likely require more than one conversation, and certainly a few missteps along the way.
“We have,” said Reid, “a lot of work to do.”