Saint Mary’s first Rugby National Championship

Saint Mary’s College of California’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien had led the Gaels to numerous National tournaments before but this year’s D1A National title victory is undoubtedly a pinnacle for the St Mary’s team. After the disappointment of the 2013 final slipping through their grasp, nothing was left to chance in their preparation for 2014. This time in the deciding game when they went blow for blow with the undefeated Running Eagles, they were up for the challenge to claim top spot.

Team captain (and MVP of the 2014 D1A Final) Cooper Maloney says, “There is no single MVP on this team, it’s every player. The coaches and players did so much work to get here. Ever since the last Final we’ve been training. From the first man to the last man, top to bottom, it’s been a team effort. We have tremendous coaches. They know how to coach every type of player.” He goes onto explain,

“The difference between this year and last year is our ability to come back from mistakes. Once we’d have that one hint of losing we’d spiral down a slippery slope. This year we were able to keep our heads, and just turn that around and keep our confidence.”

It’s not unusual for the Head Coach to let his players and the results speak for themselves. This softly spoken, humble, family man has immense passion for the game and drive to create a winning culture within the Gaels team. A former star California rugby player, national team member and longtime coach of the Old Blues rugby club, since his appointment to the St Mary’s head coach position in 2001, he has been revered and highly respected by past and present players.

One of the defining factors of the team’s success has been Tim’s ability to engage his players to take on personal responsibility for their effort and results.

“I could drive my players but it makes more impact if they are able to drive themselves. I can’t be on the field with them in a rugby match, so they need to be accountable. We practice like we play, we bring our best consistently.”

Tim says that it hadn’t always been the case and he and his coaches have worked hard to build this culture within the team. It demands a tireless commitment. Setting high standards for his players was the first step and his ability to get them to maintain these high standards has proved the difference. “Strategies that were implemented at training were taken into every game by the players and they took full responsibility for it.”

As one example, before and after each practice, Tim would get the team to do breathing exercises to get them to relax and focus. “This simple technique proved to be crucial in the championship final as the atmosphere was intense and the game was close. We had narrowly missed out last year and there was a lot on the line for the team. With this well-rehearsed exercise, the players themselves used it in the final game to get in the right place mentally and emotionally.”

Tim’s exceptional knowledge about the game and his attitude towards getting the best from his players has earned him the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the league. With acknowledgment in the past by AmericanRugbyNews.com naming him College Coach of the Year, there is undoubtedly more to come.

Bo Hanson and Athlete Assessments worked with Tim O’Brien and the St Mary’s rugby team for the first time in their 2014 year on team culture, leadership and mental preparation.

“An article in USA Rowing on the topic of synergy caught my attention. As I started to read it, I immediately searched to the end to contact the author and found that it was Bo Hanson. We had been so close in three previous championship games and I knew this was the missing link. It was through Bo’s assistance that we found a way to get closer to team synergy. He helped us look deeply into the mirror and build honesty with one another. Ultimately, the trust we created was what provided immense value to the end result.”

– Tim O’Brien

This article was featured in our latest People+Sport Magazine: Team Success Edition which is available to read online and in PDF here.

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