I thought I would write this week why I think 7’s is a great development tool for a player to develop their XV’s. I also think that development is both on and off the pitch and will focus my points around the professional game and my experiences o the IRB series but the points are true at all levels of the game.
In terms of on pitch skills the nature of the shortened game facilitates the development of players’ core skills. All skills are magnified and any player weaknesses are therefore easily identified and can be improved. Players focus on accuracy and variance of passing together with catching, contact skills with and without the ball and one on one tackling.
In attack, sevens educates players to develop their understanding and execution of evasive running, depth, lines of running with the ball, lines of support off the ball and spatial awareness of where to attack and who should attack to utilise the width of the pitch.
Defensively a player is forced to understand angles and how to manipulate in his one on one defence as well becoming comfortable defending in space. Player’s decision processes are stretched to gain understanding when and how to close opposition’s time and space individually and for the benefit of the team.
The players contact skills are pushed to the maximum and sevens forces them to become educated in their understanding and execution with the ball in support and when competing for the ball.
The nature of the premiership requires club training to focus on winning the next match whereas sevens training can concentrate on core skills and understanding.
From a physical and mental preparation the nature of the game requires players fitness levels to be that of a senior international player. Premiership fitness levels are not adequate for a player to excel in the international sevens environment. This immediately gives the development players an insight into the physical dedication and hard work that is required to succeed at the highest level of the game. As a benchmark sevens players need to play at high levels of intensity for periods in excess of two minutes and be able to execute skills accurately and consistently. As a comparison the premiership period of intensity is just 45 seconds of continuous play.
The players need to be physically prepared to play six games in two days. The IRB Sevens requires long haul flights and players have to cope with jet lag, often over 6-8 time zones. This means the players must become educated on understanding their own bodies, nutrition, hydration, conditioning, different recovery tools and preparation protocols so they are able to prepare appropriately and maximise performance for a series of demanding matches in quick succession.
England traditionally always underachieved at the Wellington Sevens. This tournament is staged in February and player club commitments mean the sevens squad only arrive in Wellington three days before playing in the tournament, following a 26 hour flight in economy class.
Mentally, the players need to develop coping strategies and routines to ensure that they are able to prepare for a game, perform to their potential, recover and rest and then get themselves back in a state of mind so that they are able to do it again.
The series also allows the players to develop holistically and integrate with other players from around the world. The players experience different cultures which broadens their experience of life.
The IRB Sevens has grown in popularity around the world and this will only get bigger with the Olympic decision, and players are faced with often much larger and noisier crowds than in the premiership. For example in Wellington the England squad play before 33,000 hostile New Zealanders, while in Dubai and Hong Kong they have the support of 30,000 and 40,000 fans respectively. The Commonwealth Games was sold out with 55,000 fans cheering for home nation Australia who England beat in the pool stages. It is an acquired skill to be able to perform under such intensity which players can learn through participation in the IRB Sevens.
The players also benefit from being part of a small travelling squad, far from the comfort zone of their clubs and families, living, training and playing with players of various ages and experience from different clubs.
As you can see very much a learning experience for a player on and off the pitch.