If You Build It They Will Come. That was the saying. In the case of Santa Monica Rugby Club’s 7s program that is true! Consistently having 25 guys out at 7s training is proof that if you build it they will come.
Santa Monica has been in the hunt for a Club 7s National Championship for three years in a row. If you recall we covered them last august just before they went back to nationals for the third year in a row. This year Santa Monica is in the hunt again. At the time of this interview and story they were sitting in 2nd place in the SCRFU’s Qualifiers just behind Belmont Shore.
Santa Monica’s program was developed several years ago by former international 7s player Marc Stcherbina. Stcherbina played with the Australian 7s team before coaching Santa Monica. Stcherbina set up a specific 7s program for Santa Monica which aimed from the start to be a competitive 7s side. Part of that structure was to do some trials to see who was committed to playing 7s and able to also be fit enough to play high level 7s.
While he no longer coaches Santa Monica or the 7s, the Dolphin’s current Head Coach, Riaz Fredericks says he still consults with Stcherbina on a regular bases at the club’s weekly touch session at the beach. Stcherbina provides Fredericks with input, tips and ideas. “Without a doubt our 7s program was Stcherbina’s baby. He brought the knowledge he had and focus to building a solid 7s program” says Fredericks.
When Fredericks took over the Club’s coaching duties at the start of the 15s season, he was reluctant to do that at first but when he accepted the role he did go all in. So we asked Fredericks if he’s also doing the 7s s as well. He informed us that as the overall head coach he is involved with the 7s, but he’s really turned the day-to-day duties of the 7s to two player-coaches, and he instead is overseeing the program versus the details of the practices. He does meet with the “coaches” and is at training, but he is able to use his time at training to pull players aside and work with them individually. He can sit back and watch the games and the training sessions and be able to assess the play, provide feedback and input which if he was running the sessions and program directly would limit his opportunity and time to provide that perspective.
The success that the Dolphins had this past 15s season and their reputation for 7s has greatly assisted them this summer. “We got some wins; we got the club culture going, and brought pride back to the club. It took a lot of work which wasn’t planned or anticipated, but it put us in a good place and its carrying into the summer” said Fredericks.
So who are the player coaches with international experiences that Fredericks has put in charge of the day to day? One is Pago Haini (pictured running out the tunnel ) who received his first international cap with the USA Eagles 7s this past season at the Wellington 7s and his second at the Sydney 7s. Haini is also a member of the USA Eagle’s 7s national training squad.
The other is Conan Osborne (pictured with ball in hand) who has captained the Jamaica 7s side over the past few seasons and served as their captain in the prestigious Hong Kong 7s this past year. “Having such high level players is a blessing” says Fredericks. This has allowed him to be involved while also getting a bit of a rest after 15s. That doesn’t mean Fredericks is out. He is present at least once a week at training, he's holding coaches' meetings, he is at the tournaments; he’s running out water and doing whatever else he can to assist.
“Player coaching is difficult mate” says Fredericks. He tells us tthat if the two player-coaches had not happened to be international level players he’s not sure it would work. They are fortunate to have that option. The challenge for a player/coach is to try and convince others that you know what you are talking about, but also that you have the overall best plans for the team, ahead of your own. “They have to work their ass off to lead and set the standard. They have to set the standard in on both their fitness level and also with their play on the field” exclaims Fredericks. Thus far Fredericks has been very impressed with their work, they’ve been able to focus on limiting the mistakes and really maintaining ball and being on the attack, all keys to successful 7s.
The reputation of Santa Monica’s 7s program, as well as the increasing exposure of 7s both from an Olympic level but also from the increasing college coverage such as the Penn Mutual CRC has helped the Dolphins increase their ranks. As noted at the start of this story they have consistently had 25 guys at each training sessions. Not touch, actual 7s training sessions! We know it can be a challenge at times to have 25 guys out for training during a 15s season, but for 7s…that is crazy!
Fredericks noted that the overall exposure of the 7s game has increases the numbers. There are the Santa Monica 7s program veterans who are just 7s focused, but there has also been an big influx of college players. Fredericks said he estimated that 80% of the guys out this summer are new to Santa Monica’s 7s program. Some of the college players are free for the summer and so they’ve been able to join the Dolphins, some are home for the summer from school and have an opportunity to play with a top 7s club program, whatever their motive the ranks of Santa Monica’s 7s program is growing.
To accommodate the numbers, Santa Monica is fielding two 7s sides this summer. One that is the Nationals side seeking another shot at a National Championship, the other a social side to ensure people still get to play. What is different is that the players are competing each week for a spot. “The intensity is high out there at training. Everyone is out there with a purpose” Fredericks says excitedly. Having the numbers has allowed Fredericks and his coaches to be able to raise the bar and have that intensity as it’s not a guarantee anyone will have a spot or be able to maintain it, and thus everyone has to work harder.
Santa Monica struggled in the first tournament and Fredericks takes ownership on that. He stated that the issue was miscommunication which then continued on the field and impacted their play. However, at the Beach Cities 7s (a qualifier) in Orange County the team had a different look. They went toe to toe with a very good Belmont Shore side (who at this time leads in the SoCal qualifier points standing). The two clubs battled it out in a close final going into extra time.
On that day Santa Monica played a number of their college players and by the end of the tournament they’d shown significant growth. “I am excited for the next tournament; I think they are on track. I am worried about the gaps though in the schedules as with younger players and in 7s that can be an issue, but I’ll be talking with the coaches and they'll do thier best to keep them focused” said Fredericks.
The Dolphins’ next qualifier will be at the Sun Splash 7s hosted by Belmont Shore at Long Beach State University. The following week July 22, Santa Monica will host a qualifier (the Santa Monica 7s) in Santa Monica.
Santa Monica will give chase to Belmont Shore this month in several tournaments with the hopes of securing a spot for the nationals again, but they are not only working to close the gap against Belmont Shore, they are also trying to stay ahead of the OMBAC who is right behind them in 3rd place and also giving chase for a spot at Nationals.
We want to thank Coach Riaz Fredericks and the Santa Monica Rugby Club for their time. Be sure to follow all the qualifiers that are going on this month in both NorCal and SoCal. Some great competition and well as great rugby. Best of luck to all the clubs out there seeking to bring a 7s National Championship to California.