Ben Ryan | Sevens Heaven
We were joined in the studio by Ben Ryan, author of Sevens Heaven. Ben is the most successful men’s rugby sevens coach in the world, the only coach winning Continental, World and Olympic titles.
Ben’s move to Fiji saw him coach the 7s team to Olympic Gold with the team given the prodigious accolade from the IOC as the best male team performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Ben took the Fiji team through a journey, forming relationships with the players as well as guiding them to their Olympic glory.
Ben joined us to talk about his new book – Sevens Heaven
Hi, I’m Ben Ryan, and I’ve just released my new book seven’s heaven
the story of the beautiful chaos of Fiji how I left, England. And took over a rugby team that had gone bankrupt and three years later had stepped on the podium to win the country’s first ever Olympic medal.
My journey started out on a slightly smaller mode of Transport. I kind of felt like I was a little bicycle, as I started my career. I was slow, but I could manoeuvre. The experiences and the failures and the lessons I learned allow me to speed up a little bit quicker and miss some of those bumps that I would have got in the future. And I kept moving up the career until I joined the biggest club in the world the biggest country in the world England.
And over those seven years, I kind of felt like I was in a juggernaut, is big is powerful, it can move really fast once it gets moving, but you don’t really feel like you’re controlling it you feel like you at the back you don’t have any autonomy.
My creativity on that bicycle was get chipped away every year and I realised that I’d actually become a bad version of myself and it was time to leave, time to take a risk. And from a message on Twitter to a Skype interview to a sacked CEO, to taking the job on, I turned up in Fiji.
And I didn’t know how long the contract was for. I didn’t know how much I
was going to get paid. My boss was a dictator of the country. My chairman was a convicted murderer. Their union was bankrupt. They were commercial Partners that all disappeared and all the best players have gone overseas. However, when I stepped on the field with the players they were so grateful, they were so happy and they were so humble. That I realised rather than jump on the next plane home.
I had a blank piece of paper that I could create something special if I got the foundation’s right and I needed to create the right environment. I needed to use the right resources and I had to make sure I had the right leadership. For the environment, we didn’t have any money.
So it is a fairly easy start point for our budgets, but you can get people fit and you can create guardrails black and white everybody understands what’s required of them simple things that don’t cost money timing, respect, understanding alignment within those guardrails you do your thing. Outside of them, you know that you won’t be protected from the consequences of your actions resources in modern sport in modern business even in Fiji, especially in England huge amounts of noise really hard to find the signal.
You want to find those scolding signals amongst the noise so that you can really get your program to sing. And so for Fiji, we only used anything that we knew would absolutely make the team better. We cut everything down. We only involved those that are involved we cut down the layers. We kept everything simple and we slowly built the program up and then my leadership I couldn’t come in as a left-handed, short-sighted Ginger Englishmen and start telling them how to do things.
I had to listen I had to take stock of what the culture was. Utilise the best points of it the village the team the togetherness take out some of the bad stuff Fiji time, the dictator and start to utilize my leadership. And I listened not to answer but to understand and they trusted me and from that trust came the
environment the right resources, and the team started to get better and better and better because all three of those things had created security for the players. They felt they could talk to me. They could tell me there was they could tell me their highs.
I understood each one, not by sitting down opposite a desk of them and having a formal meeting every quarter, but the informal conversations at breakfast,
dropping them off at home after training to gleam more information, treat them as individuals give them respect and understanding so that when they wanted to say something to me, they didn’t feel like I was ever going to judge them.
That gave them status. They didn’t feel that they were part of the machine. They had autonomy. They were autonomous and able to effect change. Very powerful within a team to feel like you are actually part of that guiding principles for the program, and that makes you feel like you’re being recognised that you have achievement.
I’ll give courageous conversations when I need to, if I have to be critical of them, but also be positive and give them feedback all the time and consistently. Because that’s going to give them belonging, and that’s going to give them purpose. And when you get those things in your environment and you put people first and you get them to be the best version of themselves, you get alignment and then you get Enlightenment and when you get that some amazing things can happen.
And we went to the Rio Olympics and we worked our way through the group stages. And we knocked out the All Blacks in the quarter-final, and we won our semifinal and we’ve got to the finals to play my old team Great Britain. They were on the right and the tunnel, stiff chins, shouting looking nervous, looking worried looking fractured.
Fiji on the left, dancing smiling laughing relaxed not because they were overconfident but because they were over competent, not because they felt worried but because they felt aligned, not because the pressure was coming down at them from their heads, but because the pressure was lifting them up onto each other’s shoulders. 30 seconds into the final our first try five more followed by halftime and record score and a gold medal was gleaned.
We came back to Fiji. They knighted me, gave me a medal. They even chucked me on their Bank notes and their Bank coins. Gave me land made me a chief and took me into their culture as one of them, and the one thing I learned with all of those.
Gifts and adulation was a Fijian word that kind of encapsulates our entire journey. I think it’s so important. I even got it tattooed on my wrist to remind me daily love each other put others first, treat people with respect create a community where Synergy and success can thrive. And the Fijian team shows you that you can be World Champions, Olympic gold medalist, ruthless achieve all your goals, but you can be relaxed.
You can do it with kindness. You can do it with understanding and you
can do it with very little money.