To be good or great
20 May, 2023, 4:41 pm
Being a good coach means winning some games here and there. However, to be a great coach (GC) means having a team which wins consistently at the very top level. A GC will understand what it takes to teach and guide players.
First and foremost, the team or squad members are not just athletes. They are distinct individuals with all what that means. A GC understands this. This means knowing athletes’ strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick and what drives them to strive for better.
It is in understanding the individual and then moulding that individual into a better athlete. This is how the GC gets the best out of each player.
A GC at training sessions teaches players, among other things, a finely-honed, full-on attack mode which means unstoppable running angles to score tries, breathtakingly bamboozled and unorthodox style of play with telepathic and unpredictable offloads. That is what makes one good and another great.
Let us put that aside because it’s always been said that great players do not always make good coaches. Sometimes talented players, when they take up coaching, forget to give serious thought to the managerial facet of the game. In a view, they believe that a team of talented players is enough to win matches.
At times, it might be overlooked that talent alone will not suffice. It is how each player handles their job and responds to each and every situation, which make a winning team. All those little things will come to life when the team takes to the field.
As we approach the last tournament of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the pride of the Fijian fans — our national 7s team — is still chasing its first cup title of 2022/23. Hopes are high that after Toulouse it will be at the London 7s that our team will put a smile on fans’ faces, fans who are hungry and thirsty for victory.
It has been a while. We last failed to win a title back during the 2010- 2011 season.
For any team sport, teamwork is vital. The first failure of the coaching team was the differences they had during the Commonwealth Games. Upon head coach Ben Gollings’ request, team manager Inia Ledua was stood down a week before departure.
When you talk about putting together a winning team and if you can’t work as a group, forget about the rest. Fiji has now automatically qualified for the 2024 Olympics Games in France. However, the question remains. Will they defend the gold medal?
It can be understood why we demand a lot out of our national 7s reps. Prior to Fiji’s first participation at the Olympic Games and a gold medal in Rio 2016, we have been sending national teams to the Hong Kong Sevens since the first tournament in 1976.
Built on their remarkable success at subsequent Hong Kong tournaments, is fans’ expectations that teams always do very well. A lot has been said about the dismal performance of the Fiji 7s men’s and women’s team.
From the team’s overall performance in the series after last winning the world cup trophy to fighting for direct qualification to the Paris Olympic Games next year, when it comes to 7s rugby, Fijian fans count the short version of the game a close second to their religion.
What can be the cause of the team’s (lack of) performance in the series? This begs a serious question of what plans are in place to rescue, mainly the men’s team record, in a sport that Fiji boasts about being king.
The proud and distinguished trait and flair of the Fiji 7s team seems to have been very well adapted by teams such as Argentina, France, Spain, and Uruguay. Our team is now tasting its own medicine of being regularly beaten by these teams and it has left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths.
Coach with the midas touch
Sir Graham Henry, the Rugby World Cup winning coach for the New Zealand All Blacks, only represented Canterbury in rugby and Canterbury and Otago in cricket for the Plunket Shield.
However, the former schoolteacher, in fact he was a headmaster, had that magic touch. Look at Gordon Tietjens, Ben Ryan, Gareth Baber and Damian McGrath — all these were great coaches with little colour, when compared with some of their player peers.
We have Paul True, Simon Amour, Tomasi Cama to name a few who all struggled to click when it came to coaching. Then there is the maestro, Waisale Serevi, former Australia 7s coach Michael O’Connor, and Mike Friday who are all great in their playing and coaching days.
For the 2022-23 7s Series, where we have yet to win a titile, one of the most often asked question is whether the coaching team led by Ben Gollings is fit for the job. As a player, Gollings had a colourful career leading England to numerous wins.
He was the leading scorer three times on the IRB Sevens Series with 343 points in 2005–06, 260 points in 2008–09, and 332 points in 2009–10. His accomplishments include several records in the series and was the first player to score over 2,000 points in 2009.
He played over 70 tournaments with 2,652 points. For Gollings possesses a World Rugby level 3 Coach and Certificate 4 Accreditation from the Australian Institute. With this qualification and pedigree as a player, one would think he’d be a GC with no problems imparting his knowledge to players.
Under his leadership for 2022/23, Fiji has just won a trophy — RWC 7s. In the 7s series, given our very own high standards, things are a disaster. Fiji was runners-up at the Hong Kong 7s, won third place at the Sydney and Los Angeles tournaments, and finished third in Singapore.
The result, or the lack of it, is a testament to the leadership of Gollings, Viliame Satala and strength and conditioning trainer Etu Tusitala.
Satala was roped in to be Gollings assistant. What a coincidence because these two were regarded among the very best whilst in their prime. Satala was known as “The Stretcher” for his brutal defence.
He also broke walls of defence and has been to top clubs in Europe. However, all that success as a player has not translated into coaching success. Locally, Satala was not a household name in the coaching department.
His involvement in the national 7s team has raised eyebrows. Critics believe you must have a winning track record, at least on the local scene, to be part of the national set-up. This begs the serious question of what coaching qualification the Namoli man has.
Take for instance Sale Tubuna, who has records to his name. Even though he was not a national player for that matter, he is the top 7s coach in Fiji at present.
Since the appointment of Tusitala, fans have time and again questioned the fitness of the players. Concerns over Tusitala’s credentials, after he joined the team earlier this year, were questioned.
Those close to the team say there is a lot more of aerobics. Etu, his LinkedIn record shows started personal training in 1997 with a diverse background in all sports. He holds a Diploma in Sports Psychology, Science in human performance and injury prevention, plus muscle activa-tion technique therapist, zone diet instructor, resistance training specialist, biomechnic and; speed specialist.
He specialises in elite athlete performance and lifestyle, everyday professional, corporate company, prevention in diabetes, stroke, heart attack and obesity. Just for comparison’s sake, former Fiji 7s trainer, now Swire Fijian Drua head of athletic performance Naca Cawanibuka, completed a Bachelor’s Degree of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of the South Pacific. He also has a Master’s Degree in Professional Practice — High Performance Sport at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand.
Lose to gain
Every successful person knows that when they are knocked down and stepped upon, you get up again and strive to be better. There is an old adage that says, what goes around, comes around. You must expect defeat and being beaten and how you counter the situation makes Fiji 7s a stronger team.
If the team is consistently beaten at tournaments, is at has been this season,there are ways of dealing with this. The focus should be learning from the loss in order to gain victories. Fiji Rugby Union should step in and ring changes because it only hurt the players when an attack is directed to them.
At present what is in store for the Fiji 7s team is long overdue and needed to be loosened. After 10 tournaments there was a clear indication that the management of the Fiji 7s team is not fit for the job.
Now we are at the end of the road and FRU can’t take things back to regret that it was the right step to be taken in the first place. Maybe the wind of changes in the 7s team will be this weekend. Fiji 7s team for now needs to become strong by defying defeat and turning loss into gain and failure into success – but it takes reviewing the past tournaments when Fiji was at the peak of ruling the 7s arena.
Study the way players played under Ben Ryan and Gareth Baber’s coaching and playing philosophy. And, it takes practise and perfecting what is practised to be consistently great. Fijians battle in local tournaments to represent the country and it’s not just a source of pride.
It provides an exclusive opportunity to lift individual players from their past lives — to some extent — out of poverty. Almost every young player dreams to don the Fiji jersey. The desire to play the sport comes with an expectation of relative autonomy that motivates them.
The past results of Fiji’s success are hard to overstate how popular, and important, rugby 7s is in Fiji, but today it’s starting to slowly fade away.
• WAISALE KOROIWASA is a sports sub editor with The Fiji Times. The views expressed are his and not necessarily shared by this newspaper.