This is a guest blog written by FirstPoint USA's Head of Clearing and Promotions, Brendan McGroarty. Brendan played rugby for his local club, Greenock Wanderers, from the age of 7 to 25. Today, Brendan is still enjoying a playing career in the top flight Scottish Premiership with Glasgow Hawks. Here, Brendan shares his top 10 tips for preparing to play rugby at a US collegiate level.
1. Start Early
Rugby is a notoriously difficult sport to pick up as an adult, often new players are jumping into a level with many established and experienced players. Do not underestimate how long it takes to properly manage your body, your weight and your strength in the contact elements of the game. Whether there is opportunity at school or a local club the earlier you can get involved the better to give you the longest possible time to develop. Players will be less developed and less physical the younger you start so it becomes easier to learn the skills required to advance.
2. Train & Play
This sounds like an obvious one but if you are currently an aspiring rugby player have a think about how many sessions/games you miss in a season. It is estimated that a professional athlete accumulates 10,000 hours of time on task to give them skills and experience for a chance at that elite level. When the weather is poor or training numbers are low, if you want to improve you need to grit your teeth and get on with it.
3. Be Coachable
It is likely in your young career you will have a variety of coaches, with various levels of knowledge and coaching styles. Have an open mind and take on any feedback given. A growth mind-set is essential if you wish to be a high performance athlete. I have yet to meet the perfect player so there are always areas to work on.
4. Positional Knowledge
The older you get the more likely you have found your preferred position and will be playing it regularly. Basic skills such as hand catch/pass, offloading, tackling, ball presentation, breakdown skills should be worked on regularly but starting to think more about your positional skills, the tactical side of the game and how to play as a unit. As an outside centre it is important for me to know my role in counter attacks, kick chase, set piece attack/defence and open play. Your coach should be able to help but simply playing and getting the experience plus watching some pro/international games are good ways to better understand how to play it effectively.
5. Strength & Conditioning
You will no doubt be aware that this is now a massive area of the game. You can never start this area too early, just research what is age and stage suitable. Younger players can work on functional movements (squat, lunge, press, pull, hinge, brace, rotate) this gives a solid foundation for weight training into senior rugby. Fitter and better conditioned players recover quicker and are less likely to be injured, meaning they miss less sessions and games and develop quicker. American University athletics departments pride themselves on fitness and the style of rugby grown from this is fast and intense for the full 80mins.
Diet may be something you are aware of but do not necessarily know the importance of. Again researching the food groups and what should be eaten for certain reasons. For example for pre-match and training it is important to take on carbohydrates so you are suitably fuelled and can perform to maximum effort. Post-match and training taking on protein is important to speed up recovery as there will be damaged and fatigued muscles needing replenished. Plenty of water, fruit, vegetables and certain fats should be in your day to day diet as well, again some research into this can really help, or speaking with a dietitian.
Playing college rugby in America will make you a student-athlete. Student comes first and it is the platform from which you can play your sport. In the few years leading up to going out to the States you should be studying as hard as you train to best prepare you for the lifestyle you will have for 4 years. Studying hard will also allow you to perform better in exams/SATs and ultimately give you a better chance of getting through tougher admissions departments, and possibly even attaining academic scholarship.
Training your body and your mind as hard as you are it is important to make sure you are getting enough rest, there is no exact number of hours that works for everyone but I have found getting 8hours in bed helps massively with recovery and concentration levels the following day.
There are a number of areas in which this applies, getting up early and perhaps that morning gym session before studies is a good way to prepare for life as a collegiate athlete. It would not be a good to arrive on campus unprepared for the early rises and balancing training with studies. Time management is essential. Discipline in your personal life is as important as discipline on the pitch and around your club or school. How many penalties or yellow/red cards have you had in your career? Have you ever been banned or sanctioned by your club/school? While you are a volunteer player this may not be the end of the world but if you are a college athlete is could majorly affect your place at school or in the team and possible any scholarship involved for future years.
Although much of the work being put in to playing collegiate rugby will rest on your shoulders, don't forget who else has supported you all the way to this point and will continue to do so. Much of what you have achieved has been down to family driving you to training, waiting and driving you home, supporting you in games, buying your kit, taking care of your bumps, breaks and bruises (hopefully not too often). This continued support with be needed to make a success if your time in states. Let mum know are safe and well, let dad know your score, perhaps tell old coaches you were player of the match or went All-Conference/American. Keeping your biggest fans in the loop form across the Atlantic would be really appreciated.