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Atavus Rugby Camp in Gaithersburg

1 year ago By Dan Soso

Several Exiles attend Atavus Rugby Camp

Camps & Clinics
Ruggers Young and Old Enjoy Atavus Rugby Camp in Maryland
By Alexander Diegel | 05.31.17

In Gaithersburg, Md., 59 ruggers shared the pitch for two days of drills and games at Atavus’ USA Rugby Academy Training Camp. Yale University’s Director of Rugby, Greg McWilliams, and a handful of local coaches led the Memorial Day weekend camp.

The players on hand included men, women, boys and girls aged 14-29. The wide array of experience and skill level created a unique rugby landscape. It’s not every day you see a 240 lbs eight-man offload to a scrum half that might just come up to his waist. The contact drills in particular were interesting, and Rugby Today was able to dig up some rare footage.

Just kidding. But the array of size and experience did create some specific challenges for McWilliams and his coaches. “If we have 59 players, they may be in three or four separate groups. We have good coaching staffs here and each of them will take a different group that we feel a player will slip into based on their age, or based on their experience.” Obviously, any drills with even the slightest bit of contact were separated by age. But some of the touch games featured middle schoolers passing to seasoned club veterans, which created a true “community” feel to the event.

However, the weekend wasn’t just for teaching youngsters. All players who attend an Atavus camp are entered into a database featuring a little scouting report. It’s possible a player who was discovered at an Atavus camp could work his or her way up to the U.S. National team. “We tag players, players that we feel have the ability to play at another level,” explained McWilliams. “We might have somebody who really shines and being in an elite environment might suit that player. They can either trial at the Olympic Training Center or they might go to an Atavus select side. We can monitor that player and test that player at an elite environment to see how they cope with things like time keeping and how they are around the rest of the team. At the end of the day, talent is one thing, but talent with the right attitude is the player that we really want to progress forward.”

So not only does McWilliams have to contend with players of different size and experience, but also players with different goals. Some may be at the camp because their parents signed them up or their college team got a group rate and their buddies are doing it. Others might be trying to get noticed by the National side. So how does Atavus ensure that all players feel engaged and challenged, but at the same time not overwhelmed?

“I think the key thing for us is to design a weekend that first is fun. Number two, it has to be well-organized,” said McWilliams. “People pay money to go to rugby camp and it’s our job to give them the best experience possible. We try to make sure that we keep that in mind whenever we are organizing a week. It’s for player enjoyment and it’s for a development of skill.”

One aspect of the game that the camp heavily stressed was something virtually all American ruggers of any experience level can improve upon: the pass and catch. “For me, passing is always the most important thing in the game of rugby. I think the more that USA Rugby can go around and teach [players] how to pass the ball from both sides, that’s really important.”

The coaches also really worked on offloads. Day one emphasized the pass as well as the offload, with games that encouraged offloading to get players to have that mental expectation to give and receive those kinds of passes. Day two had some more of the same, but also split players into position groups to work on positional specifics. The second day was also where tests were run to get players’ ten and forty-meter times, as well as a vertical jump measurement. These records were then entered into the Atavus database.

So whether you’re a young rugger hoping to learn the basics or a high-level athlete looking for the chance to make it all the way to the U.S. National team, check out the next Atavus camp that comes to your area. And if you’re somewhere in between, go anyway and pick up some tips on improving your pass. You need the work. Just ask your teammates.

Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for the Potomac Exiles. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.

Updated 23:57 - 1 Oct 2017 by Dan Soso

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