New Men’s Eagles Sevens Assistant Coach Chris Brown did not waste any time upon his arrival to the United States last weekend.
The New Zealand native met with players and staff at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and has already begun readying the Eagles for a new coaching staff.
“Player attitudes have been great,” Brown said. “Just got to get to know each one of them and cultivate those relationships. It’s been a great first few days.”
Brown had previously only visited America during his tenure as head of performance and assistant coach with the Kenyan sevens team at USA Sevens in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2013. From what he’s seen and heard, rugby is on the rise in the U.S.
“America has always fascinated me because of the population group and how well they do other sports,” Brown said. “I’ve had many mates over the last 10 years come over here and play one or two seasons. My understanding is the game is developing quite quickly and people are open to it once they see it because there is a football element to it.
“For me, [working in the States] was an interest thing – it had just never been a possibility from my side of things. The American setup is quite tough nowadays. To get this opportunity is a great privilege and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about America as a whole as I go forward.”
Brown and former Kenya Head Coach Mike Friday turned the Kenya Sevens program into an Olympic contender in just one season following a disastrous 2011-12 IRB HSBC Sevens World Series campaign, in which the team finished 12th. The Eagles finished 11th that year.
The Friday-led, Brown-conditioned Kenya stormed out of the gate in Australia and Dubai in 2012, finishing fourth and third, respectively. Kenya’s highest finish was second place at Wellington Sevens, where England ended the team’s Cup dreams.
Kenya ended the 2012-13 Series in fifth – seven spots higher than the previous season – then finished fourth at IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow.
While the success of the program can be attributed to the coaching staff, Brown knows it is up to the athletes carrying the ball on the pitch.
“It’s the same everywhere: you can put anything in front of the players, but if the players aren’t buying into it then there’s no point of being there,” he said. “For us, it was brilliant working with the Kenyan boys because they wanted to learn, they wanted an opportunity. Anything we put in front of them they took on-board and ran 1,000 miles per hour with it.
“The hardest thing was actually slowing them down, telling them to go do something else for a while."
“We had structure, a program that was working well and functioning. The players knew what was expected of them first and foremost. They bought into it. A lot of people say it’s all the coaches, this and that, but, at the end of the day, you need the players to buy in because they’re the ones who do it on the field.”
The Eagles had struggles of their own last season, but managed to stay above the relegation battle at the bottom of the table. With Olympic qualification up for grabs, the players are aware of the task at hand.
“The excitement’s there, the hunger’s there,” Brown said. “I’m sure we can help them get a good thing going.”
The first Men’s Eagles High Performance Sevens camp will be held next weekend, July 18-20. The coaching staff will evaluate resident Eagles and pool players from across the country to gauge positional depth and competition for contracts at the OTC.
Hear Brown discuss Eagles and personal goals for the upcoming season:
Brown has also assisted the Fiji and Namibia rugby programs in the past few years, but one lesson learned has stayed with him: rugby players are people, too.
“Every individual is unique, though a lot of characteristics will be similar,” he said. “People are people, and people want to be treated, generally, the same. They want to be treated with respect and they want to be made to feel like they’re of value, as everyone is.
“I don’t claim to be the best conditioning coach, or the best technical coach, et cetera. Sure, I have qualities in those areas, but the biggest thing for me is to try to build those relationships with the players and hopefully add value to them. Basically, that’s life.”