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The United States had its best ever finish on the HSBC World Series in 2016-2017 and it is due in large part to the team’s preparation, attitude and hard work in the classroom and on the training ground. The USA Eagles finished fifth on the series circuit last season and will looking to break into the top four this year.
Since head coach Mike Friday took over in 2014, he has worked hard to build a strong team oriented culture. Building that culture required educating the players on his philosophy and the high standards required to play at the international level.
“Instilling a strong culture was critical to the foundation when we started. The team needed to learn what it takes to be successful both collectively and individually. It was my job to give them direction and encouragement so they would become more self-aware of the traits, values and behaviors they need to exhibit. Consistency in action as well as word was a big part of that self-awareness and awareness of others learning,” Friday said of the early stages.
Over the last three years, the Eagles have grown into this culture, holding each other accountable and raising the standard of conduct. This has allowed the coaching staff to spend more time educating the team on rugby tactics.
“Their collective strength as a group has come so far in three years and has allowed us to continue working on development. I try to be the gatekeeper on the standards, values, and behaviors that keep us on track. The team picks each other back up and helps each other stay on track, which means the coaches can continue to challenge their rugby learning and competitive edge to achieve success,” Friday added.
The team has made a commitment to being one of the most knowledgeable teams on the circuit. Coach Friday acknowledged that this is an area that the team has made great leaps but also a facet where they still need to make bigger strides. Over the summer, Friday spent time visiting the New England Patriots to understand how they approach learning and teaching in the classroom, hoping to implement some of the practices. The Patriots have long had a reputation for focusing on self-improvement in the classroom and that approach has resonated with the United States rugby team. The classroom work is helping the group identify situations on the field that lead to better decision making and address mistakes on both an individual and team level. The film is something the coaching staff and the players see as key to taking the team to the next level.
“Studying film and listening to the coaching staff are things we really focus on. We put an emphasis on learning from our mistakes and working hard to get better from them,” Perry Baker said at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship.
Along with the mental component, the Eagles have put in hours of fitness to get through the grueling HSBC World Series events that test the body and mind continuously. To compete on the international stage, the Eagles have challenged themselves and each other to be in the best shape of their lives.
“We thought we were working hard before Coach Friday got here, but we quickly realized that we didn’t know what working hard really meant. He pushed us to a whole new level,” said Eagles captain Madison Hughes. “I think when you’re under those conditions as a group, all you can rely on is the guy next to you to help get beyond any limits you thought you had. That creates a bond and unifies us as a group, allowing us to grow.”
Coming off the fifth place finish, the team is excited and ready for next year’s World Series. The Eagles have set the goal of finishing in the top four and will be looking to work even harder to make that a reality.
“This year we will have had another year under our belts playing together. We will attack our goal of being in the top four head on,” said Eagles standout Danny Barrett.