Friday, December 12, 2014

What's A Rugby: Taking Apart the Tiger Approach

Before getting into the meat of this, it's important to establish the difference between Tiger and Tiger Academy. For many the two might seem interchangeable, but there is a stark difference between the two. The academy is focused on high-performance development of athletes, while the Tiger touring side is primarily focused on high-performance competition and on-field success. Now that all that has been sorted out, let's get back to the good stuff.

The number of rugby players is increasing more and more each year, and as more players flood the market there are going to be more and more that want to commit  fully to the sport and see where it can take them. For those players in Ohio, Tiger Rugby and Tiger Academy have become the go-to organization. The Columbus-based academy is owned and run by James Walker and Paul Holmes, and it serves as a way for players to come and take the talent in the state to the next level.

The idea behind Tiger is simple: focus on high-performance programming, give back to the rugby community and provide opportunities for players - something Holmes had wanted to do long before joining forces with Walker and establishing Tiger. Holmes said his travels and lifelong experiences with rugby showed him all the opportunities available to people involved with the game as well as how rugby can impact people's lives; and it was the combination of these experiences that gave birth to his academy once he landed in the United States.

"When it comes to Tiger Academy we don't go out and recruit the best players from other clubs," Holmes said. "What we will do is recruit what we believe are the best athletes and have the ability to develop into the best players."

Once he found what he wanted to do and knew how to do it, the process was far from smooth sailing at the start.

"As with anything, funding is an issue, not to mention that rugby in the USA, in terms of business, is not a common attraction," he said. "Also, the image that rugby has had here has not helped with necessarily being taken seriously by businesses either. That image is changing though and one just has to know a plan along with a vision and follow through."

Tiger triumphed over its initial troubles, though and turned into a well known and respected name in the rugby world. According to Holmes, every day has been a learning experience and the process of progress for Tiger has been shaped by everything from the economy and politics to scale and the need for players. But as those issues arose, the people at Tiger and the academy found ways to survive and thrive. Part of that formula is bringing in players and the other part is people coming to them.

"We obviously hope our Academy will be developing those guys and that Tiger gives them a pathway to playing at the highest level," Holmes said, but he also wants people to remember that players can also take the initiative and come to them. "They need to contact us and then come out for a free week trial, that way we can fully look at them and give them honest feedback."

The hard work and honest feedback that is the Tiger hallmark has reaped rewards. Tiger players have played in domestic tournaments as well as those held abroad. While the teams have had success, there have been a select few who have caught the eye of higher-level coaches and programs.

"We have had many top USA and International players play for Tiger," Holmes said. "However, Perry Baker is the most recent to have attended our academy and been in the full time environment for 18 months prior to making the USA Sevens squad. Martin Iosefa wasn't at the academy but we gave him the opportunity to play in Australia, where he excelled and is now on the USA squad in Dubai and South Africa."

With the success of Baker and Iosefa, among others, it can't be disputed that the Tiger approach is effective but putting players on the national scene isn't the sole long-term goal. He wants his program's profile to be more positive among other clubs. Holmes hopes in the future clubs will see them as a resource for players, a place where they can receive training that will help them learn new tactics and develop their skills. Holmes hopes the local talent development and international competition will go farther towards strengthening the Tiger name in the rugby game.

"I would like to look at us ten years from now and know that we have impacted young people's lives all over the world," he said. "I would like to know that we are a brand that is truly respected and feared on the field."

Holmes hopes Tiger imparts more than rugby know-how to his Tiger participants. Rather than just creating good players and strong athletes, the aim behind Tiger is to create good people at the same time.

"I would like to know that young people have grown up and decided to give back, and use rugby as a means to help others because of their experience with Tiger," he said.

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