It’s been a whirlwind year for Ben Ryan since guiding Fiji to an historic rugby sevens gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics last summer.
Three acres of land, a Companion of the Order of Fiji and his face printed on a limited edition currency were just three of the gifts presented to the Englishman following the islanders’ extraordinary Olympic success.
Regarded as one of the most in-demand coaches in sport after three golden years with Fiji, everyone wants to know one thing – how did he create a successful culture that led a small island to the top of sevens rugby?
But for now, life as a mega coach has been put on hold as he mentors CEOs in America, consults with NBA teams and rubs shoulders with some of the best paid sports stars in the world.
“If there are two things I’ve toned doing what I’ve really enjoyed, the first is Sevens Rugby. It’s that feeling of playing a tactical game of chess at tournaments, where the team weaves its way through to the final stages and you have injuries and suspensions. I love that,” Ryan told Sport360 exclusively.
“The second side is creating a positive cultural environment for athletes and players to perform to the best of their ability and to create a psychologically safe environment.
“I’ve been going in to do MOP with lots of organisations and teams to look at how they are running things and where I think they can improve and where I think they can look to get a better environment, and often these solutions don’t include spending money.”
He added: “It’s to do with how they are looking after their players and managing their coaches, having relationships and communicating with players. I really find that fascinating.”
Away from the red carpet events, the gala dinners, the pitch sessions and ambassador roles, the Wimbledon-born man has a book planned for May and is the star of a Hollywood movie on the sensational Fijian rags-to-riches story.
It may be a different route for the 46-year-old to pursue but sport continues to enthuse his mind and this can be reflected in the demand for his services worldwide.
It’s easy to see how his sparkling presence is well valued by some of the top business and sports people in the world, but after experiencing all these new pastures away from sevens, has it changed his perspective on the game?
“We look at some of the values we hold in rugby around team-ship and the behaviour to coaches and each other,” the 46-year-old said.
“Rugby is in a very good place compared to other sports on some of those standards, and then you see other things that are happening in other sports that you think ‘ok that system is much better than rugby’.”
“Every experience I go to I get more experiences all the time. You go into a football club, then a basketball club or a governing body, and you can use these experiences in other places and make them better, but I’m really fortunate that I’m allowed this access.”
Since stepping down as head coach of the islanders after the Olympics, Ryan has been carrying out various consultancy opportunities with World Rugby, HSBC, France 7s and the New York Knicks.
He has been inundated with offers from all over the globe – turning down the Edinburgh head coach job – and recently using his magical touch to steer France in a more positive direction ahead of the new HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series season.
It’s a significant boost to see Ryan still involved in sevens, and the sport is perhaps robbed without his influence on a full-time basis.
However, he does have prospects to return to coaching in the future, but is yet to confirm when that will be.
“I’ve yet to have the bug to go back into one job in a new team, but rugby is number one,” he said.
“I think somewhere down the line I’d love a season with an American professional franchise like the NBA or the NFL. I think that would be class.
“I think I see where my rugby knowledge and running a programme would be of value to them.
“I’m not teaching someone about how hit a three pointer or throw a 40 yard pass. I’m talking about the other things that go into training a team on and off the field.”
With the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series kicking off in Dubai in five weeks, South Africa look the team to beat after an impressive campaign that saw them crowned champions after five wins from ten tournaments.
“South Africa have lost a few of their key players but will get them back from Super Rugby at different points of the season,” said Ryan.
“I can them not having the same consistent success last year but I also think they will be able to win a second successive series.”
“The biggest mover I think will be New Zealand. They’ve got a new coach and they’ve changed their training base. They have also brought in some new returning players and exciting young players. They NZRU have put various measures in place to achieve success.
“I think both those teams will be fighting it out at the end of the season.”
Former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan returned to the UAE in his role as an HSBC ambassador where he coached youngsters from Hamdan Bin Rashed School Dubai.
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