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October 26, 2015
Guest Post: Tom Billups Cal Rugby

tb3This week’s guest post comes from University of California Rugby Coach, Tom Billups.  Cal Rugby has won 26 of 36 national collegiate championships since 1980 and won three straight national rugby sevens titles (now recognized as an Olympic sport). Forty-Five Cal rugby players have made a combined 670 appearances for the United States National Rugby Team. In addition to his role as a Rugby sport coach, Tom Billups, a 2015 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, has been a certified strength and conditioning coach since 2000 and has led the rugby team’s strength and conditioning program since 2003.

The University of California, Berkeley is globally recognized as one of the finest learning institutions in the world, with seven Nobel Laureates currently on faculty. It is within this campus community that Cal Rugby has existed for the past 134 years. As a coach for the past 16 seasons, I could not ask for a more aspiring work environment, where the norm is to be an expert in your given field. At Cal, evidence based knowledge is the standard and often reflected by the phase, “why guess when you can know”. This is the genesis of our partnership with Sparta Performance Science.

photo: John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr
photo: John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr

We don’t believe in taking ourselves too seriously, but we take the process of helping our athletes reach their potential in rugby very seriously. We are always striving for greatness. Applying the best practices in sport science and technology is vital to reaching our goal.

Important to the process of developing rugby athletes is making a “match”.   We work hard to make a strong match between the prospective incoming student athlete and our opportunity. If, on balance, we are the best place for a prospect, they will thrive and be able to push through the most challenging of days in the classroom and daily training environment because they value a world-class degree.

Central to our player’s experience is a strong team culture, beginning with a mindset that every player can recite and demonstrate through action. We have a handful of values, values that we believe strongly in and are the core of who we are as a team. An example of one such value is “constant performance improvement”. We believe you are either getting better or getting worse and there is nothing in between. Having a value clearly articulated within our team’s culture allows for each player to access it at every turn. In a culture like ours, there is no room for “my bad”.   Our players aren’t expected to be flawless, but if a mistake is made, they own it and are encouraged to learn from it, understanding it’s DNA so to prevent it from happening in the future.

George Gregan, the legendary Australian rugby player said recently “One thing all elite athletes are pretty good at is getting coached, because they have to be coached, so they are good at listening to instructions.” With ‘constant performance improvement’ as a value within our team, our players have to allow coaching to take place.

We pride ourselves on learning from our mistakes, and are dead keen to learn from others. We strive to leverage information from other athletes and high performing teams. By being committed to continual learning, we are able to improve as a team and grow as individuals.

Our campus community environment, team culture and values are what created a close relationship with Sparta Performance Science. The Sparta evidence-based, results driven approach fits “hand in glove” with Cal Rugby.

Being one of the largest varsity men’s teams within our intercollegiate athletic department, our challenge in strength development has always been to best service the athletes. By being able to use the Sparta software and force plate technology to design highly individualized “need based” strength training templates we achieve this critical objective. “Why guess when we can know” is demonstrated by our being able to reliably scan and re-scan athletes on the force plate, creating their Sparta signature. Adjustments are made to their individualized strength templates, based on their signature, prescribing them specific exercises that will improve their strength and performance while making them more injury resistant.

photo: John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr
photo: John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr

During two of our three distinct annual training cycles, we use touch screen kiosks in our high performance facility to access their personal templates. Each individual template lists goal weight to be use for each exercise. There are two important aspects to this technology interface. The paperless system allows for adjustment to be made to a player’s schedule as needed and trust is built between athletes and the coaching staff. Trust is built in a player when he fulfills his responsibilities in the training zone when they accurately record their efforts. During our summer off-season, the players access their workouts via the Sparta App on their smart phones. The app included brief technical videos that the athletes can view before, during, and after strength sessions to further their understanding and movement mastery.

By implementing the Sparta approach we are better able to demonstrate our value of ‘constant performance improvement’ through the objective measuring the strength training methods we use to develop rugby players. We can conveniently see if we are improving our strength and becoming healthier, or not. It is zero sum.

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October 26, 2015
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