My Fiji 7 Journey - From Going Bust To Becoming Olympic Gold Medallists
Ben Ryan 's story is one of sporting history but so much else besides. A former player and teacher he transitioned into coaching seamlessly. Coaching England Sevens for their longest and most successful period was really only the hors d'oeuvre for what was to follow. Given only a few minutes to decide on accepting the role of head coach of Fiji Sevens - Ben said yes. That short word catapults him onto an almost unbelievable journey that will take him into a world of ancient tradition and dictators, mind-bending dawns and catastrophic cyclones, life-long friendships and bitter rows, subterfuge, and nation wide parties. It ends at the Rio Olympics with a performance that not only delivers the first ever Gold Medal to a Pacific Nation but touches new heights for rugby union. Ben is now consulting for some of the biggest sporting teams and bodies on the globe. Here he shares a little bit about the highs and lows of his Fiji journey....
In my first week in Fiji when I joined the Fiji 7s team I was told:
- The Fijian Rugby Union had gone bust.
- World Rugby funding had been frozen.
- I'd have to do the job for free for most of first year - I had no contract.
- There was no training base.
- There were no contracted players.
- There was no sponsor.
- On top of that, I didn't speak a word of Fijian and I'd never been to the country before.
"I'd have to do the job for free for most of first year - I had no contract"
Fast forward three years later...
- The team were double world champions.
- They were Olympic Gold Medallists.- They were recognised by the IOC as the male team performance of the Rio Olympics.
- I have been made a chief, given land and awarded the highest award in the Fijian honours system.
- My face goes on the new 50c coin and $7 dollar bill - a decade before, it was the Queen's face.
The improvements were all around people, not rugby. We worked together on plans to disrupt the status quo, but not to derail it. For us, it was all about process, not performance at all costs.
"During this period, I learned more about myself and how to build a world-class programme than I'd ever thought possible. The Fijian team
showed how to deliver results whilst managing to have that success built upon kindness, empowerment, and simplicity."
We built the programme up and put systems in place that show that in any culture, and with any amount (or lack of) resources, you can maximize your talent to make them the best in the world. I didn't follow a manual or copy others. I took a huge risk leaving the comforts of England. But by being bold, backing instinct and being consistent in my thinking and actions, great things are possible. Don't listen to the naysayers or critics who say it can't be done - smile and show them the road less travelled can provide the most beautiful vistas and journeys.
Ben is an inspiration to us all in showing that situations can change and things can turn around no matter what adversity you are up against - even in these circumstances, it is possible to succeed expectations.
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