Kevin Swiryn's Day to Day Experience at the IRANZ High Performance Course
Currently I’m on the plane, not exactly sure where I am, just somewhere over the Pacific. Excited, anxious, nervous, and a whole slew of other words can describe how I feel, but of all the feelings, I’m mostly unsure. I’m unsure of my expectations, unsure of why I’m here, unsure of whether or not my body is well enough to make it through, etc. These uncertainties don’t fall under my normal state of self-confidence. Normally I’m more than confident; some would even say “over-confident” at times. However, I now feel a huge lack of confidence in my rugby abilities as I’m about to begin an endeavor in a camp that hosts many ruggers from all over the world. I know my athleticism will be at least up to par, it is pretty much what has got me to this point currently; what I’m worried about is whether or not my rugby skill/knowledge is close to average. I either come home confident in my ability or grounded, in the sense that my skill, abilities and knowledge must improve drastically. I’m told there is no better place to find your rugby self than the academy I’m going to, so at least by the end I should know. Those around me have had far more confidence in my rugby playing than I have ever had, and it is for those people that I will try my best and not let down.
Quote: “Everyday is another chance to gain respect; everyday is a new beginning, to show yesterday didn’t matter; everyday is another opportunity to be a better person and athlete, but the choice to do so has to be made.”
I arrived today at IRANZ, while yesterday was an off-day for me, just hanging around the town, visiting the small downtown of Palmerston North. Today all the other players arrived and we didn’t do anything until 5:00pm, so during the day I walked around to check out the facilities, in which I was more than impressed by. I would have never expected this, but it is more than adequate to be or become quality rugby player.
After everyone arrived, we had a couple meetings followed by some icebreakers. The first one was pretty fun, everyone was given a name to stick on their forehead, they then had to ask their partner questions in order to figure out their name. Mine was Pooh Bear, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out, which made me rather upset (to say the least). We then did the name game where everyone is in a circle and each person describes themselves with a word that begins with the same letter as your first name (mine was Krazy Kevin, I know, it’s misspelled). The last icebreaker we did was rugby related, but not at first glance. It was jumping rope in a specified sequence with different teams, a competition of sorts which the coaches related to communication, defensive alignment and hustle on the rugby field.
The day was pretty interesting, but we haven’t even scrapped the surface of what tomorrow will bring. I’m beginning to get even more anxious, but ready. I’m feeling ready for what I might expect during the next three weeks, but not quite.
After breakfast we did our fitness testing, which was the M-Fits: 2x60m sprints, 400m and 1500m with 15 minute breaks in between each run. I did okay compared to the other backs at the camp, but it will be interesting to see our times compared to their database they have, which is of all New Zealand rugby players from club to All Blacks. As the distances got further, the worse I did, unfortunately, but 60m was the fastest of everyone.
A dietician came to speak to us today, which was rather basic, but I guess that’s more so because of my background. Afterwards we performed a skills test that was videotaped; it consisted of catch and pass, off the deck-leech-ruck drill, straight and angled tackling, and one-on-one’s in a 15m square. Afterwards we had practice which consisted of mostly passing and was quite rewarding. Every thing we did had a point to it and the coaches have tips to give no matter what we do.
I’m much more comfortable after this first day, after I’ve seen the other players and somewhat assessed myself against them. I’m beginning to see the potential in myself and now want to try to stand out more. I feel like that will be hard because of the American rugby stereotype. Maybe it’s just me, but whether from coaches or players, there seems to be hesitation towards me.
Quote: “As long as hard work is put to the maximum, there will never be regret for anything in life; when sub-maximal effort is given towards a goal, regret will haunt you forever.”
We’re now beginning our days at 6:30am; this morning was a nice stretching session. After breakfast we did weights testing in bench press, squat, and pull-ups. I was unable to perform the bench due to a sprained wrist, but did well with the squats and alright with the pull-ups.
With two practices on the day, both were focused on contact, not the physicality of it, but the technique. They never asked us of 100% energy, just 100% efficiency and effectiveness. I found myself knowing and performing the majority of contact technique they demonstrated, without some of the subtleties. It goes to show what great coaches I’ve had at Saint Mary’s when I travel to an International Rugby camp, where players from all over the world show up, and I know/do the right technique and no one else is. The habits that I’ve obtained from four years at SMC have proved to be effective world wide, helping my rugby ability, but more so, my confidence.
We ended the day/night with a team bonding run of 5K, carrying logs, pipes, water jug and even our own teammates at times, up hills, stairs and through water. There were about eight check points, in which new rules were put in place each time. Although very difficult and taxing, it was an amazing experience in which players instantly find out the characters of their teammates and themselves.
When I woke up I was completely and utterly exhausted. Right now, at the end of the day, I realized that this mentality in the morning set me up for failure throughout the rest of the day. They knew we felt tired, so we played games to have fun and create laughter, which increases testosterone. We then did the jump rope again, which constituted competitiveness, which also increases testosterone.
We had another mental toughness session (had one yesterday), which described the importance of the power of the mind and the capabilities it can have on the way people feel emotionally, physically, and actively.
Our training sessions slowly moved into team patterns and player positioning throughout the game. We used colored bibs and cards as vision tools to help scan the defense and then quickly react. The first practice proved to be very poor for me, dropping two balls in this drill, of which I normally never do. I was eager to read the defense as first receiver, and never even caught the ball. The next part was very forward involved, but not too complicated; with simple patterns, there was a need for perfect execution, otherwise it doesn’t work.
In our third practice we did contact in the ruck area. We had to decide when to bridge or completely clear out, which would provide quick ball. I felt out of it, after not performing well in the first practice, it made it difficult to be capable in the second. It was a day to forget, having been the worse day training for me yet. I need to erase the excuses of: I’m sore, tired, frustrated, etc.
Quote: “If every day was a good day, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the good from bad, hence we would have no good days.”
Today was interesting because we backed off intensity and really worked in our team patterns from set piece. It was also less practice time overall, but more information to remember. It was an average day performance wise, which is good considering the melt down I had yesterday.
We had a long talk with the nutritionist just before we left to the supermarket to get snacks. It was pretty funny watching the guys go completely against all the things she had just talked about, one guy getting three bags worth of junk.
After the market we went to a local high school to cook our own dinner. This was a nice twist, getting off the academy to do something unexpected, and well worth it. Before we cooked dinner, they had a chef who taught us some simple cooking ideas to help guys who lived on their own. He then compared his pricing of the meal and time it takes to finish cooking to that of driving to the local fast food store.
From the cooking and nutritionist, to mental toughness, rest/recovery, and then the rugby stuff, this entire camp is based around what it takes to be a professional athlete. I’ve never been in a camp this organized and well-rounded, even the little things become very important to the staff.
Today was a low key day in the sense of training, going from three-a-days to just one practice today. We spent all our other time doing one-on-ones with coaches, nutritionist, doctor and the physio. It was really nice to watch myself on video, something I’ve never done before. Things I thought I’ve been doing correct, are clearly not being performed like I thought. They keep telling us about the little things, and it’s funny how the little things in rugby change major outcomes. I don’t want to be a typical American, who hits hard, lifts heavy weight, a good runner, but can’t pass, kick, etc. But having only played rugby for four years, that idea is pretty much out of the question. I’ve done some great things at this camp in this first week, showing off some speed and strength even some technical skills with presentation and rucking; but as of now I know my pass in not sufficient, my kick is abysmal and my knowledge is average. It takes a lot of hard work and I get that, but so does everything else I’ve ever done in my life. The opportunities are widespread with rugby and the experiences are even greater and I want to take that on with open arms. We have the weekend off, some guys are leaving while others are just staying at the academy (I’m one staying). My goal for next week is to stay mentally tough and balance that with my performance each day of the week.
After the weekend I felt I would be well rested and rearing to go, but I woke up this morning exhausted, unsure why. We did weight training in the morning, a few meetings, and then practice based on defense. After the defensive discussion, I wish I would have asked the questions I had, but I realized now that they were negligible anyways, not having an affect on my play or understanding. We split up today in backs and forwards, mostly just going over defensive alignment for set-piece play.
We had a very cultural experience throughout the day and night, taking part in a customary Maori welcoming ceremony/dinner. There are five different parts of the “Powhiri”, which is the ceremony. For example, the “hangi” is the dinner, which is prepared underground and takes 4-6 hours to cook. Having an understanding of other cultures is one of the best parts of traveling; it shows what kind of people the Maori are when they spend so much time to welcome foreigners in this way. I was honored to be a part of this tradition and was truly touched when we sang song and my Maori teammate spoke in his native tongue thanking everyone.
Quote: “Being tired is a state of mind, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get over it.”
Practice today was all about team runs and building team patterns based on different situations. We placed finishing touches on phase play, scrums, line-outs, as well as going over kick restarts. The team was good at times, but great at others. We have two 1st 5/8’s (flyhalf), one far better than the other, which in part is the reason for our ups and downs during the practices. You can’t blame it on one player by any means, but it is hard when guys lack confidence in him, they begin to digress also.
This evening we had a leadership session with Todd Blackladder. It wasn’t very long, but it was a highly positive experience. We went over the ideas of being a great leader all the way to being a great teammate of a leader. Qualities like leading by example, respect from others, walk his talk, but most of all make those around him better, were all discussed. Leaders must call their teammates out (not let them get away with detrimental actions to the team), have a close relationship with their coach, and must delegate to his other “lieutenant” players so the team doesn’t just hear one voice. Afterwards we voted on who should be captain, I voted for Hick, a prop from New Zealand. He earned my respect early in the camp and I’m sure he will be named captain for our first game.
Today was game day, although it wasn’t like most game days. We had a 2 ½ hour team run before lunch, then a team run, specialist work, and one other team run after lunch. I was honored to be named the vice-captain for the day, which told me that I had earned respect of guys, as well as showed some leadership thus far.
There are many ex-All Black players, one for each position basically. It’s amazing to see so many in the same room, even though I don’t really know any of them. It was incredible to see the attention and faces of the Kiwi players though. After our first team run we met the “coaches” (ex-players) individually, my coach was Jason O’Halloran, not a premier All-Black, only earning one test, but a great coach and definitely had had a superb rugby career in the Super 14 and NPC levels of New Zealand. We went over strengths and weaknesses of 2nd 5/8 and centre, isolating key points of each position, which turned to be quite useful.
During the game, which we won, every quarter the coaches came out and talked to us about how we were doing, right or wrong. Saying this was helpful is an understatement, the idea of having your own coaches to point out mistakes and then try to correct them throughout the game makes for a far superior understanding of the game itself. This really helped with maintaining a high level of concentration because each time we broke apart we had to refocus our thoughts and fix or continue what we were doing for the next 20 minutes. There was far more kicking that was done in the game than anything I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was troubling at times; nearly every time a player broke the line he would chip ahead, resulting in loss of possession. The intensity of the game was very high, with a very aggressive and technical contact area, more so than I’ve ever been apart of. The overall speed wasn’t that much faster than last year in Canada or even in certain games at Saint Mary’s (when we’re really in the mood to run around). It’s just the skill level and complete understanding of the game and it’s situations by all players, not just a few.
I woke up this morning with an inflamed bursa sac in the hip, sprained shoulder and sore just about everywhere else, I knew it would be a long day. It was physical game, but waking up reminded me that it was even more physical than I thought.
We started the day off with video analysis, which was quite impressive. Jason wasn’t there, so we (centers) sat in with the 1st 5/8 and would meet with Jason tomorrow. The video program broke down every ruck, maul, tackle, pass, catch, support, etc. for every player.
The trainer said I should sit out of any running today, which of course I didn’t listen to. It’s just one of those things that doesn’t make sense to me, if I can run, whether it hurts or not, than why sit out. I’m not a stupid guy, I know why I should sit out, but that still doesn’t stop me. Showing my teammates that a little injury isn’t going to hold me back is important to me; as well as the fact that I’m at this camp to learn, not vicariously, but through my own doing.
Eddie Jones put us through a video analysis goal setting session, in which we discovered what was good and bad about our game. We wanted to improve the bad and continue the good, so we went on the field and ran through drills that would allow us to progress in the areas we lacked in (i.e. scanning the field on offense). This is a great day- after game practice session because it allows you to think about those important things that were missing, no matter how remedial they are. Most our mistakes were remedial, which is often what happens in game situations, therefore, conducting remedial drills aren’t bad things to do.
Today we were leaving to River Valley Lodge, which is a get-a-way weekend for the players, without coaches. This also meant we had to get all our practices/meetings done before 3:00pm. Today was also my day to analyze film, which helped me to see some of things I need to work, such as not running decoy lines, but running option lines. I already knew this, but didn’t realize how off I was.
Later on we worked with Eddie Jones again, mostly focusing on defense, but the drills actually work both offense and defense. The drills were fun, but tiring, and even harder when Eddie starting picking on you; he’s pretty good at getting under your skin. In one of the drills I could see some players wanting to have a go at him, that’s how frustrating it got at times. He’s truly a great coach though, not allowing anyone to get away with even the smallest of things, making sure you answered his questions and not letting excuses get in the way, all while complimenting the guys that deserved it.
After lunch and before we left for our trip we had a self-message session, which was pretty nice. We performed different stretches and message techniques, many of which were difficult because of my sore hip and knee.
We then went off to River Valley where the rooms sleep 6 and guys have a choice of river rafting, bungee jumping, or horseback riding. I chose to do bungee jumping, we’ll see if I follow through.
We arrived back at the university on Sunday after a pretty nice team bonding experience at River Valley. It was nice to see guys in a different atmosphere, well at least some guys. You get an idea of what guys are really about when you’re not in rugby situations, and there is no one watching (coaches). I did the bungee jump, which was ridiculous. It was a 120 meter high bridge (80m free-fall) over water that is within a massive gorge. I was one of six to do it, two of which did it in their underwear only (remember it is winter here).
I struggled through practice today, Monday, just barely making it through the last contact session. My knee, hip, shoulder and wrist are telling me to stop, but I don’t. I want to be ready for game day, but I know that will only happen if I rest, which I also don’t want to do. This is the last week; I figure I’ll have time to rest when I get back.
I owe myself, the sponsors, and the USA rugby foundation to not sit out and take away everything I can from this trip, which is hard if I’m not in the drills. It’s only a three week short camp and even one session may be detrimental for my progression as a rugby player.
They told us today that we have to write speeches and present them in two days time, which should be another fun twist. The humor in the group is quite impressive; hopefully guys can put that into their speeches.
Today was pre-game, which was far more low-key than last weeks pre-game. We went over goals for the game within small groups: attack, counter, turnover, defense, contact area, scrums, line-outs, and game plan. Afterwards, we made individual goals for ourselves, of which I wanted to not miss a tackle, have 3 steals and not make any handling errors.
It seems most guys are ready for the camp to be over, or are just eager to play in this last game, either way the week has been lack-luster by the players. I’m even falling into this camp-wide mentality by not doing the extra work I was putting in during the first two weeks. I hope guys are ready for tomorrow, I would hate to have such a great team camp and then end it by losing. I’m sure this won’t be the case, but it’s obviously in the back of my mind.
We worked with Jeff Wilson the last couple days and it has been very beneficial. He has been very quick and tidy with his drills, making his points, not over-using the drills, and then moving on to the next one. Sometimes I feel like I could play winger just because he is so involved and exciting to watch.
Quote: “Knowing what life is about is to know about other people’s cultures and lives, but more importantly knowing about your own life. You must have an understanding of yourself before you can understand life and its purpose.”
Today was the last day of real camp type stuff, as well as game day. The game went very well, winning once again. There should have never been any doubts that this team, this group of guys wouldn’t get it done; even if the week’s practices weren’t up to par. In any case, I feel we played great defense, holding them to a scoreless first half once again. After some substitutes came in to start the second half, we gave up two early tries, and then held them off the scoreboard the rest of the game. The game as a whole was more fluid and faster than the previous one against Taranaki. I achieved my goals of 3+ turnovers, but not sure if I didn’t miss any tackles or if I didn’t have a ball handling error.
After the game we went off campus to eat with all the coaches and staff, which was somewhat of a celebration of the camp and its successes. They handed out awards to players and I was more than honored, and in fact very surprised, to receive the MVP of the camp award. I knew I had played well, showed leadership throughout, but wasn’t expecting this one. I guess this means I exceeded my expectations for the camp.
Quote: “Today may be a day of certainty, but tomorrow could quickly change that; enjoy it while it lasts because certainty is never a sure thing.”
I arrived back in America safe and soundly. When referring the trip to rugby, it was short, when referring it being away from my girlfriend, it was long. So in that case it was nice to be home. I know I’m a different player, whether large or small, only time will tell. The biggest worry I have is the difficulty of implementing the tools I’ve gained from this trip. The techniques, knowledge and skill I’ve gained can only go as far as the coach or team that implements the proper patterns and techniques. Overall, it was an amazing experience that allowed me to grow as a person first and foremost, but also as a rugby player. Having played more sports than I can count, it is most apparent to me after this trip that rugby is the greatest sport I have ever partaken in. Each day I cherish the opportunities I have received from this great game
Of all the things I’ve learned from this trip, the greatest thing is that I know what I want from this sport and what I may achieve now as a rugby player. I’m excited for my future in the sport, wherever it may go, and hope I can begin to fulfill the potential that I thought I never had. Lastly, thank you to the United States Rugby Football Foundation, ITI America and Design Pine, Tim O’Brien and Johnny Everett, my Girlfriend and Family, and all those teammates along the way, from Saint Mary’s to Pacific Coast and All-Americans to everyone at IRANZ, Thank you!
Quote: “Love something and you may do it; believe in something and you may achieve it; know something and it is already done.”