In my various roles as a team manager, tournament organiser and coach I get the opportunity to speak to many fellow people who are in either one or more of those roles. And even though 7 Bamboos Rugby only exists for a little longer than half a decade, I noticed that there is an increased level of frustration among those who keep the sport of 7s up and running.
The level of frustration varies and certainly, some teams and tournaments are enjoying more success than others, but from numerous conversations and observations, above all, the immense level of “let-downs” are causing the most pain.
Players suddenly decide a night before a tournament that they won’t be able to play now (sorry mate, can’t come tomorrow….) or teams drop out of your hard-crafted tournament two days before, ruin the schedule and the tournament structure because they suddenly noticed they haven’t got enough players available.
Those are just two familiar scenarios to everyone who has ever managed an amateur team or a tournament (probably in most sports).
Each year, well-established and long-running teams and tournaments fold and call it a day. During the past five years, I have seen at least ten well-known teams disappearing from the circuit. In terms of tournaments, it’s probably the same sort of figure. Obviously, it’s not always the lack of commitment. Raising sufficient funding is another huge task and often an essential element to survive.
However, the game itself is still extremely popular. On the global stage, the Olympic inclusion and an ever-growing World Sevens Series woke up the “sleeping giant”. On the local and regional level, we see new teams and tournaments popping up left, right and centre.
On the one hand, it is a positive development, something we as a “7s-business” want to see and support. But on the other hand, there is this frustrating part, mentioned earlier, we all must live with.
Everything was better in the old days…
From time to time, I like to have a chat with those who are in the game for 20 or more years, as they witnessed all the changes over the years. What was different? Fewer teams, fewer tournaments, fewer players. Consequently, everyone was a lot more committed, because players had less choice and were just happy to get a place in a team.
It would be naïve to ignore that the life of a 20-year-old in 1998 was the same as in 2018. Life has become a lot busier and pressure is coming from all angles. Young people have so much choice these days to fill their spare time. The easiest is to spend time in front of a screen – or a mirror in the gym when they are a bit more health conscious.
The Godfathers - One of the longest-running teams, still in the game (source: www.godfathersrugby.co.uk)
But to join a “group” of others which they sometimes don’t even know, give up a whole Saturday, travel 50 or more miles and give it all on a hard rugby pitch in 25+ degrees (sometimes) takes a lot of effort, character, and motivation.
As a competing 7s team on the circuit, we need to constantly re-think our strategy to offer an attractive environment, encouraging existing players to return and at the same time attracts new ones.
What options do we have?
In the past, on the journey to the tournaments, our former head coach Ryan and I often discussed the question: “Who should be more grateful?” The players for being part of the team or the team for having the players? It’s a tricky one because the first thought was always that the players should be thankful for the team as they provide all the opportunities and put in the hard work in first place.
But then, shouldn’t the club not be the lucky one, that the players, especially the stronger ones, picked your club, out of many others? The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It’s a give and take. My philosophy as a team manager has always focussed on creating a set-up which is welcoming, professional and serves all needs, within available resources. The players then make the right choices and give their all by being 100% committed on the pitch and in the best case off the pitch as well.
The same applies to the tournaments. I think tournament organisers, never really can’t control those annoying last-minute team dropouts. We can only learn from it, try to get a feeling for those teams who have a reputation for pulling out last minute and hope to have a backup team which is flexible enough to pull a side together last minute.
But what we can do is to invest heavily in the experience. Provide an event, which makes teams desperately to come back. For those who start something new, I can only advise, start small and stay in the game by going step-by-step. The first few years are the hardest.
So, after another two weeks of working relentlessly to find enough players to field a competitive women’s and men’s squad for the next tournament, speaking to 60 or so players, and some more interesting conversations with other tournament managers, I just felt that it was needed to write those lines.
Plenty of hours spent on the desk, planning the next tournament
This Saturday, another busy 7s weekend in the UK awaits with at least three big tournaments (up North, in the Midlands, and in the South West) and tournament organisers and team managers pray for no more last-minute dropouts.
While the above lines seem to sound a little bit negative, one thing is for certain, we, the community of hard-working tournament and team managers, have many moments of frustrations, but at the end of the day, we all do this for one reason: because we love it!
Bring on the weekend!