ALL IN: Interview with Santa Monica Rugby Club's New Coach Riaz Fredericks

Santa Monica Rugby Club (RFC) has been a power for a number of years. The Club was established back in 1972 and since that time has won two D1 National Championships, played in the defunct Super league, as well as the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP). The club has been on fire the past few season with its 7s completing for the national title and they also boost a excellent youth and women’s program. Santa Monica is one of those model clubs.

This year Santa Monica’s men’s team will be playing in the very competitive Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU)’s D1 which features other PRP and Cal Cup sides like OMBAC, Old Aztecs, Belmont Shore, as well as Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Las Vegas.  To lead the club this year, Santa Monica has hired Riaz Fredericks as head coach. So for those of you that don’t know who Riaz is he played with Santa Monica starting back in 2005 and 2006 and assisted them in winning back to back D1 National Championships! He’s in the Santa Monica Rugby Club Hall of Fame; he’s played professionally and internationally in 7s and 15s (including Ulster Rugby and Hong Kong) as well as a number of clubs around the globe. He still runs some touch on the beach on Sundays and will suite up with a touring old boys sides called the “Misfits” every so often.

In addition to his very lengthy and impressive resume he’s also a entrepreneur (having invented the Bula Method and runs that company as well).  The Bula Ball or Bula Method is a successful business that really launched athletes focusing on myofascial release and mobility work long before it became the rage. (We’ll get into that as well).

So what makes someone who has been a retired professional athlete, who has a successful business, has been a happy stay at home dad for the past seven years, decide to take over the reigns of such a top level and visible rugby program?  Why subject yourself to such stress? 

For Riaz, the coaching vacancy at Santa Monica was not in his cards. He wasn’t looking to coach, wasn’t interested in the job or any coaching job, and was happy with his life as it was.  When he first joined the club he did coach their 7s program for a year. He noted he had been a player coach for many years, including his time with Santa Monica, and had done a stint with UCLA, but that was not his goal.

“The UCLA opportunity wasn’t planned it was really organic” said Riaz. He’d just ended his playing days and had to have surgery to fix his chronic back problems (Bulging discs in his back) so he’d realized rugby was over. He was working to transition and it was somewhat of a difficult time knowing that rugby was over for him. He had run into UCLA’s Head Coach Scott Stewart whom he’s played with professionally in Europe, but had also been rivals from their international days playing in the Hong Kong 7s, so a relationship existed. Stewart asked him to come assist at UCLA and so he did that for two years. RIaz focused on the backs as Stewart focused on the forwards. By their second year Riaz said that Stewart and him had figured out the plan for the Bruins and were able to get the program going in the direction they wanted which included using things like speed coach (Mathias Narducci who now does work with the Fiju 7s). While he really enjoyed the opportunity to coach the Bruins with Stewart, coaching was not Riaz’s focus.

He said that actually after the stint with the Bruins, he and his wife took a sabbatical for a year and a half and traveled and lived in Coasta Rica, where one of his children was born.  Riaz said that the remoteness of Coasta Rica was ideal for him and his family where the biggest decision of the day was what one was going to eat. Slowing down of life’s pace was much needed after the years of playing and traveling. It really let him focus on family and become a full-time dad. The issue that Costa Rica did play was trying to run his business.

So why go from being a full time dad and heading Bula Ball to this? Riaz had shelved some of his Bula Method business (not all) while in Coasta Rica (as it was hard to run a business from where he was living). He wasn’t in a position to market, promote and develop the business. Riaz told us at the time when he was talking about recovery, and myofascial release, and mobility people didn’t know what he was taking about, or didn’t understand. “Some people though I had an angel or was trying to get over on them with this stuff, but now people talk about recovery. When I show up at training sessions I can easily see a handful of guys who’ve got a ball, or foam roller, or some tool to help with that myofascial system” says Riaz.  For Riaz its come full circle  and prior to starting the gig as Santa Monica’s head coach he was back to preparing for a full relaunch of the Bula Ball saying “We are weeks from relaunching. We’ve got a lot more coming with new tools, resources, and information. I had been doing 1x1 two hour sessions for a long time with friends, family, peers, and now we’ll be offering that services as well so the business is keeping us busy”. So then again why take on this task?

Full-time Dad and Santa Monica Rugby Coach Riaz Fredericks and Aiman. 

Full-time Dad and Santa Monica Rugby Coach Riaz Fredericks and Aiman. 

“I’ll be honest with you. As I said I was not looking to coach anywhere. I knew that the club had a change in coaching and it was abrupt so they’d been looking but hadn’t had much success in filling the position and it was getting close to the start of the season” recalls Riaz. “It was the night before Thanksgiving and I was on a boat with my good friend Robert Knox (who’s been a long time member of Santa Monica rugby and a big supporter and Stuart Krohn who I’ve know for years and actually brought me to Santa Monica back in 2005). In casual conversation it came up that the coaching position hadn’t been secured and I was asked would I do it?” Riaz says after a deep breath and a pause the said “Could I? Yes. Do I want to?”. Riaz said what really made him step into the role was his ties with Santa Monica Rugby. “I won two titles with Santa Monica, I met my wife through the club, I have so many friends as a result of this club” and that he felt he couldn’t say no.

Riaz is under contract for two years with an option for an additional three to five years, but he said he told the board not to judge him based on his first year. “I’ve been around and I know how this works. The first season can be difficult. I know the club had a sudden change in coaching, and the President Miles Cotton had turned over the Presidency, and we also had a change in team managers, so the structured or key parties have all changed, we will need time to get everything back in place”.

Riaz shared with us that he’s only been on the job for two months. He went from full time dad and really not playing (other than old boys and touch on the beach) to now needing to lead this program into a D1 season. “We’ll have challenges in front of us” Riaz admitted “We have three talented clubs who got a jump with the Cal Cup. We have a structure that has the top four clubs making the playoffs, so for now that’s the goal. Finish in the top four to make playoffs”.  What Riaz noted is that he’s got a great pool of athletes with talent and he has players that love the game, have passion and want to win. “We’ve got team and we’ve been recruiting some more players and a few more to come, so we’ll be strengthening as we go” said Riaz.

Santa Monica vs San Diego in San Diego in 2016. Photo by Jay Coulter

Santa Monica vs San Diego in San Diego in 2016. Photo by Jay Coulter

“I’m going from two months ago half the guys not knowing who I am, wondering where the club found this fossil and if I’m qualified to be a coach and having to build the trust. I’m having to get to know each of the players and to build a relationship and that’s happening! That’s what will drive success, its the trust” said Riaz. He’s had to spend the past two months really building that relationship and now he can start to move the club forward. Riaz’s approach is that the club and the boys need time to let the old system pass. Time to start to learn a new system, trust the coach and develop a new culture.  “You know teams that can win national championship are teams that have been together for three to four years. It takes some time to learn the new system and to gel”. For Riaz the goal is to finish in the top four and get to the playoffs. In his perfect scenario the club gets to the Sweet 16. Its not that he doesn’t believe in winning it all, but he noted that the club has been in a transition and needs to not just gel on the pitch, but needs to have all the support also come together and the club as a whole move forward. The changes to PRP, the Cal Cup, etc are all shifting variables which would cloud Santa Monica’s future if they worry about PRP now, or if they’ll try and play in the Cal Cup. Riaz says they are in the initial stages of re-forming and needing to set a clear goal, one that’s realistic, but not over zealous. “We won last week, that makes us 1-0. This week we take on LA. Our goal is to beat LA. It really is that basic at this time. It has to be week to week, as we come together and work toward a playoffs”. A final four would be great, and he’d love that, but he’s more focused on actual tangible goals and making the playoffs and getting to the sweet 16 are for Riaz attainable. “If a team can get there then at that point there isn’t big difference between the teams it becomes more of who showed up that day. So it is open if you can get that far, but as with any season we can’t control things like injuries in playoffs, etc. You deal with those details when you get there” states Riaz.

Now Riaz, a competitor says his own standard, goal or expectation may differ than what he has for the team and that its important that he keeps the two separate. His goal is to get the club to where it can win a D1 title, again, to be in the top level competition, but he also knows that’s a process. He noted his own approach has been as much about the process,  its about being methodical and developing the foundation along with goals.

While the players are adapting to the transition of a new coach, Riaz admitted that he and even his family are also going through a transition. “Look mate, I’ve been a full time dad for seven years. Now I’ve got later nights, I’m staying up late thinking/planning, or getting up at 5 am because I’ve got some coaching stuff on my mind. Before this I may not get up to 7am so it’s a adjustment”. He said the changes have also had an effect on his family, but his supportive wife is helping them all with the transition. Riaz notes that Santa Monica Rugby as a whole is going through transition, the players with new coach, with changes to the club’s organization, etc. These changes were factors that also prevented their participation in the highly successful California Cup. The timing of internal changes (and not having a coach) would have set Santa Monica back a year had they jumped into the Cal Cup at that time.

Riaz is focused on the current 15’s season and didn’t get into the 7s. The previous coach Marc Stcherbina (former 7s International and European professional) is a friend of RIaz’s and they still see each other, and Riaz hopes that with some time off and away that he may be able to talk Stcherbina to leading the 7s program again. “He (Stcherbina) may have just gotten overwhelmed  with all he had going on. I hope with some time, and not the pressure of having to do it all that he’d be open to coaching just the 7s and I would be there to assist and support him”. Stcherbina build the Santa Monica 7s program into a real power with successful runs the past three summers to the 7s Club Championships.  Riaz believes that not only would having Stcherbina for 7s be beneficial to his club, but it would continue to have a positive impact on rugby in the USA.

I’m not just a clip board holder” exclaims Riaz “I’m all in! My name is associated with this and I’m a part of Santa Monica Rugby. We will lay a foundation, grow the game, grow the club and then see where we end up”.

We want to thank the Santa Monica Rugby Club for granting us access to Riaz. We also want to thank Coach Riaz Fredericks for making the time to chat with us. Great conversation. We'll be following up soon with Riaz and getting more info on the Bula Ball and the ways it can benefit all the ruggers out there. Make sure you check out Santa Monica Rugby Club on Facebook, Instagram @santamonicarugby and Twitter @SaMoRugbyClub. You can follow RIaz and Bula Ball on Facebook on IG-@bulaballmethod on Twitter- @BulaBallMethod.