I love the USA Rugby National Development Summit (NDS). If you love Rugby, networking, talking rugby, learning rugby and breathing rugby, the USAR NDS is the place for you. It truly is an incredible ‘off the field’ experience for anyone/everyone involved in this great sport.
I’d like to commend Alicia Allen of USA Rugby. She has put on all three of the events I have now attended, and while the NDS is still in relatively early days – it is an extremely well run, and excellent conference.
Who are you bringing next year??
Dan Payne asked for a commitment to all in attendance to ‘bring someone else next year’. I commit to bring Ms. Michelle Connor, President Liberty (WA) Rugby Club and Operations Manager TRInternational to the 2019 NDS.
Saturday Night USA Rugby Awards Dinner and Banquet
Typically in writing an article like this assessing the conference, I go chronologically. In this article, I want to highlight the spectacular Saturday Night Awards Dinner.
CEO Dan Payne was his usual effervescent self and prepared us for a fun evening.
- The new Marines Commercial featuring Women’s Rugby is one of the most inspiring commercials I have ever seen. I don’t think the USMC Reserve Major ever felt he would receive a standing ovation from a group of 400 Rugby people. It was spine tingling. Well done USAR and RIM achieving this partnership.
- Jillion Potter was introduced and was interviewed in Q&A and did a fantastic job creating humor and levity out of what could be considered a potentially awkward situation. If you don’t know JP’s story, search for it right now. Suffice to say, broken neck, two time cancer survivor, and Women’s World Cup athlete in 15’s and 7’s and an Olympian. Her humility and grace was overwhelming. Payne made sure to tell the audience what a great hugger she is, and I made sure to get some of mine at the end when I introduced myself (Payne was right!). Another Spine Tingling moment.
- Awards were given, speeches were made – one of the most inspirational for me was WRWC Coach Pete Steinberg offering his assessments on the state of play ended by a plea to USAR to full fund Women’s High Performance. He challenged USAR/RIM to create a set up where we put our Women in position to actually win WRWC 2021. I’m all in on this one.
Friday, Jan 19 – High Performance
At NDS, HP sessions are conducted on the Friday. Newly promoted USAR GM for Womens HP, Emilie Bydwell joined Alex Magelby in a very interesting interactive session with attendees. Emilie is the first Women’s HP manager ever for USA Rugby. This is a huge step for the prioritization of the Women’s game. USAR is fortunate to have a shining star such as Emilie.
Gary Gold – As a former player and current Eagle fan, I cannot help but be intrigued by our next coach. I made a deliberate effort to get out and meet him, and I can confidently say that we will see everything I would personally want out of a USAR Men’s XV’s head coach at this stage of Eagle play. He immediately impresses with both his passion and compassion. He gave an extremely motivational talk on systems that I will actually bring back to my business to use. “Create a successful day. It won’t just happen. Wake up, thing about it, Create it”. Well done, Gary. I had an opportunity to catch up socially with Gary, and he seems a gentleman. Suffice to say, at this stage I am a big fan.
Opening Reception – I would have attended but the reception was all the way downstairs and I stopped at the bar level. There were so many NDS attendees in the bar mingling and solving rugby problems I didn’t realize that the bar scene was not the cocktail party. Oops. Fantastic time all around.
Saturday, Jan 20
Rugby Business Executive’s Association (RBEA) – In perhaps the most anticipated session for those of us committed to creating the rugby footprint for the US moving forward, George Henderson did a superb job presenting his Major Market Development plan. The vision is community and economic development through rugby, starting in major markets and then applying learning nationwide. The framework and governance model were developed by a team of 50 RBEA members over several months. It represents a constructive way forward for many of the issues I have discussed previously. The momentum of RBEA is significant, since it’s initial meeting last summer in San Diego.
The next step will be regional pilots for those areas who wish to participate. You can learn more by registering with RBEA. Reach out to George for a copy of the presentation. I highly encourage anyone interested in joining this rapidly growing and vital organization to do so at https://www.rugbystrategy.us/member-categories
Greg McWilliams (USAR Academy) – This session was so anticipated that close to 60 people were actually turned away at the door. This would bring my first criticism of the event… the HP stuff should be considered sacrosanct. This is the real deal, and we have serious world class coaches offering their wares. We have NDS attendees paying good money to attend. The NDS committee must do better at regulating these highly attended and vital events. For example I am sure there were some who were in the room, that while interested in HP were far less served than some people who were locked out of the room but I know are hard core, HP striving coaches… This is not a complaint, just an after action that should be remedied in the future for maximum delivery effectiveness for our world class coaches like Greg McWilliams.
Gary Gold – “Athletes Playing on the Edge”. Gary was a workhorse over the weekend. He had only been in country less than 24 hrs. when the NDS started. He did 5 sessions over a 2 day period and could be seen tirelessly working with the likes of Dave Hodges, Alex Magleby, Em Bydwell, etc.. as he quickly integrates himself into the USAR set up. Gold’s sense of urgency is noteworthy. This session was fantastic, and extremely motivational as Gary used clips of Tiger Woods and his Dad to try and get inside the head of World class, high performance athletes. Well done on a very creative and inspirational session.
Lunch – Q/A session with Gary Gold/Dan Payne: Another excellent session with Gold/Payne speaking from a podium while 400 of us ate lunch. It was a fun, relaxed and informative Q and A. I personally was champing at the bit to ask him about his commitment level to being in this country evangelizing his coaching (in addition to coaching the National Team). Fortunately I was called on, and Gary advised that he plans to bring his daughter to the USA for college (she graduates HS soon) and he is committed to ultimately living in the United States and claiming a stake for himself in our setup. I could not have been more delighted with his answer.
A young female scrum half asked Gary ‘how can I be more attractive to selectors’? Of course she meant on the field as a player, but the question did draw a laugh when Gary asked her to clarify. If was a very humorous and showed a side of our coach that I think we will all like. His answer was actually better than I could have ever anticipated.
Jon Hood (Men’s National Team S/C) gave an outstanding presentation on a Metrics Based Approach to Elite Rugby training. It did not hurt that in the crowd was an American who actually has a contract with NZRFU to train several of their players remotely from Houston!!! Ed Cosner made a huge impact to the presentation. I’d like to see Ed involved in the national team set up in some way.
USAR Women’s Rugby World Cup Players Panel – I was looking very forward to this session. First, I had not seen my friend and newly inducted World Rugby Hall of Fame member and current USA Rugby Board member, Phaidra Knight for far too long and it was wonderful to see her in the room with a mic in hand moderating 5 American heroes who took 4th in the WRWC in Belfast last year.
I considered myself fortunate to attend the final week of this event and experience the frenzy that surrounded that team at that time. Having seen rugby events in every continent and participated similarly, I would struggle to remember one so unique, fun, and entertaining. There is always the Hong Kong 7’s but the final week of WRWC was magical in its own way. Several of the players, Captain Tiff Faaee, Christiane Phiel, Kimber Rozier, Kit Kat, and Kristine (Pony) Sommer, gave some very humorous anecdotes from the tour. The special bond developed between these women was notable after a life altering experience for them. In closing the session, Phaidra Knight spoke to those in the room pleading for USAR leadership to create funding required to continue the successes of this team. It is clear that Phaidra will be using her Board seat to foster growth of specifically the Women’s game. It could not have a better advocate than her.
Panel Discussion: Level Playing Field: Equality, Respect and Rugby. This session was hosted by Life University Women’s Coach Rosalind Chou and actually was the most interesting, introspective and educational session of the entire weekend for me. I only knew Alicia Washington (WRWC participant) from the panel and only a few in the not highly attended session. As a 57 year old former player… and a person interested in propelling World Rugby’s posted Values (i.e. Integrity, commitment, etc..) throughout our organization I found the topic fascinating.
- What do you do if players start calling each other’s racial slurs on the field, at training, etc?
- What do you do if the other team won’t play you because you have two transgender players on your team?
- What do you do at training when a gay male shows up and another straight player won’t play next to him.
These were all fascinating real world examples and were discussed in detail. I comment Alicia and the other three panelists.
Rugby World Cup 7’s Legacy Kickoff – This was a fun session hosted by CEO Dan Payne with a panel of 5 vested parties in the success and conduct of the tournament. Included on the panel were Ross Young, CEO ATAVUS, and Mark Griffin, Founder and CEO of Play Rugby USA. Currently 55,000 seats have been sold, and CEO Payne believes we will see 100K sold after walk up during the weekend. Payne is currently in Sydney evangelizing the tournament with the CEO of the SF Giants during the Sydney 7’s week.
TR’s After Match Comments
Overall, and once again USAR has done an excellent job putting on its premier off field event of the year. The hotel was great, the people were motivating and engaged, a wonderful time to be had. As an attendee, I had a fantastic time.
As a person committed to future sustainability and success of the Union itself, I do have further comment. The two most commonly used terms at NDS during any/all the meetings were as follows:
- Resources (i.e. Money) – Resources was the most frequent topic in any/all the sessions. In this case, this means money. There is significant demand for more resources, this is no secret. The Union is on a precipice. There are significant actions currently being taken by various philanthropic groups to assist in providing additional funding, but The Union is on the precipice and all eyes are on those tasked with providing the resources required.
- Grow the Game – A common theme throughout the USA Rugby landscape is ‘Grow the Game’. We heard story after story of coaches, admins, rugby moms so frustrated in their efforts to grow the game, get the attention of school and town administrators, etc. Here are two programs/concepts already in place that were never discussed in any meeting I attended. I think USAR placing focused resources and committed effort to these two programs would yield more benefit than all ‘grow the game’ initiatives ever developed. This is a two pronged scholastic development attack.
- HS State Accreditation for Rugby (i.e. Rugby a Varsity Sport in HS) this could apply to both Boys/Girls Rugby. Congratulations to Massachusetts for becoming the first state in the US to achieve Varsity status for Rugby. I believe Bill Good was significant in this achievement. Well done. Imagine if 20 states had Varsity Rugby status in High school. I believe our troubles in ‘growing the game’ would literally go away if HS boys and girls had Varsity status to look forward to. Many of the ‘legitimacy’ problems we have in our sport as we build it in the USA will literally go away under this scenario, in my opinion. I encourage USAR to significantly increase the level of priority for this highly impactful initiative.
- NCAA Varsity Status for Women’s Rugby – It is my assessment at the college level we still will struggle to gain University acceptance of Men’s rugby as we currently see. There are many superb thriving University programs, but a common thread I heard on the weekend, particularly those of bigger schools is the difficulty in dealing with the bureaucracy of NCAA life.
This is an enormous issue, and is very common apparently. Common thinking would be, “NCAA Varsity status is great”, without considering the rules/regulations behind such. For me, this is the price we have to pay to gain acceptance at the NCAA level which is perhaps the single most significant factor in gaining legitimacy for our Sport! The Women’s college scene has an opportunity due to the Title IX Regulations passed in the late ‘70’s. This is the law that demands equality in terms of participation for Men’s and women’s sport. This is where Women’s Rugby could blossom. Due to the massive numbers of players on a Men’s NCAA Football team (call it 80), there is no Women’s sport that requires so many. Therefore, Universities are actually looking for Women’s sports to keep the balance. This is where I believe Women’s Rugby can make a pitch for Varsity status as it is actually beneficial to the University considering the Title IX implications. I encourage USAR to resurrect its dormant NCAA Women’s Varsity initiative. This can only help gain the legitimacy we deserve and serve to actually ‘grow the game’.
USAR Leadership Presence. Typically, there is a USAR Congress meeting held in conjunction with the NDS. That was not the case this year, yet there was significant leadership present. USAR and RIM were represented by RIM Chair, Chad Keck. Many Congress people were seen conducting business; Head of Congress, Mark Lambourne and members Dave Yeoman, Bill Good, KJ Abel, Heather Harley, Jenn Heinrich, Jerry Gallion, and Stephen Lewis were several I noted attending the festivities. The time commitment taken on by those involved in USAR’s governance is significant. Additonally, leaders of the USA Rugby Trust (not for profit foundation) attended. These included May Harris, and Chris Reed.
Final Comment: Under the lens of ‘Organization Effectiveness’, I believe that the NDS could gain increased benefit for all involved if there were significantly more ‘Calls for Action’ initiated during the conference. Many attendees commented after numerous sessions, “Great session, I hope we can take it out of this room and create action”. The tradeshow floor has grown to the point where it now requires a re-look. A larger space should be provided, and better flow enabled.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend every session. I would welcome any readers in attendance who might share their experiences at NDS, particularly the sessions I have not covered. I welcome any and all engagement regarding these issues.
I wrote a similar report last year. My USA Rugby NDS Experience 2017.
In summary, another great NDS. Well done, USA Rugby Staff. I’ll be there next year, with my guest (as requested by CEO Payne, Michelle Connor).
Other articles I have written on this topic:
- My Experience at the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017. Belfast, Ireland. What’s next? #BringIt
- My experience at the USA Rugby 7s National Club Championships. No Expectations, Still Underwhelmed
- My USA Rugby NDS Experience. The good, bad, & ugly.
- My Aviva Premiership Rugby Weekend & a question to Eddie Jones