By John Arthur
The Glendale Raptors opened their inaugural season of professional rugby with an unblemished record, the only undefeated team after eight weeks of Major League Rugby. Sitting firmly atop the league standings, the Raptors confirmed many preseason suspicions about their strength and resolve. But the weekend battles on the pitch only tell part of the story. Constructive, intelligent training, paired with facilities any professional sporting organization would be thrilled to occupy, the Raptors’ preparation sets the team apart.
Integral to that preparation is the team’s recently completed, state-of-the-art gym: a space known in Glendale as the Rugby Training Center. From demolition of an existing structure to completed construction in just six months, the facility represents not only Glendale’s unwavering commitment to the sport of rugby, but also a quantum leap in the extent to which the sport is being embraced in the United States. The Raptors training space was previously located in one of the city’s municipal buildings, a space that wasn’t ideal for weightlifting and exercise. Completed early this year, the 4200 square foot training center is brand new and specifically designed for rugby training. Josh Bertrand, Director of Public Works for the City of Glendale and Infinity Park, was tasked with overseeing construction – but he wasn’t alone: “The coaches were really involved in the design process, especially on the front end,” he said. “They expressed their wants and needs and we worked to meet them.” Asked if any of the existing structure was included in construction, Bertrand remarked: “Everything is brand new. The only things we saved were the two locust trees out front.”
The Glendale facility offers the Raptors an exceptional space to prepare for their ongoing inaugural season of professional rugby. It includes new water service, a dual, redundant HVAC system, and specialized recirculation fans to keep temperatures optimal. A request from coaching staff, the facility features nearly 1000 square feet of synthetic grass surface, permitting players to push sleds and perform running and agility drills indoors. Restrooms, a utility space, and a washer and dryer round out the indoor amenities. Particularly beneficial for visiting teams, the the training center features a garage door entry, helpful for loading and unloading specialized workout equipment. Bertrand says that the response from the team has been wholly positive: “The feedback I’ve gotten is that everyone loves the facility. It’s their space and they can access it whenever they need to. That access is really important and sets us apart from other clubs.” Raptors Head Coach David Williams, a native of England, notes that the facilities in Glendale are truly world-class: “The access we have to our gym is something not many clubs in the U.S. have. What we have in Glendale is on par with, if not better than, any Premiership club in England.”
Williams is appreciative of the new training space. With a strong background not just as a rugby player himself, but also as a long time strength and conditioning coach, Williams knows the importance of preparation, especially when competing at the highest level. The professional Raptors squad is in Glendale for workouts three days a week, lifting, and completing strength and conditioning training – in addition to team training and skills sessions on-field. Utilizing the high-quality weights and workout equipment in the training center, the team does lots of lower body and Olympic lifts, speed work, bag conditioning and wrestling, and top-up conditioning work. Coach Williams says that speed and power are the most critical metrics for his squad: “I’ve got a background in strength and conditioning, and I think that’s a major component of the game moving forward. If we get that bit right, then we get the skills part right, we’re on to a winning formula. I put a huge emphasis on physicality and speed during our matches, so if we don’t train properly, I can’t expect that on the pitch.”
Not limited to their new facilities for novel training techniques, the Raptors have also embraced technology as an integral aspect of the future development of the team. During both training sessions and during matches, Raptors players wear small GPS devices, tucked into a pocket sewn into their jerseys. The devices allow Williams, Raptors Assistant Coach Ted Browner, and the players to monitor their performances, specifically looking to increase intensity over time, rather than abruptly. As Williams puts it, “We want to make sure we don’t over train our players, but make sure we don’t under train them either. The GPS provides information on running distance, acceleration, meters per minute, sprint meters, impacts, player load, and more,” he noted. “We track that over the week and then over longer periods. To ensure we’re training and playing at an appropriate intensity. You can’t do that just by your eye.”
The Raptors’ training and preparation goes beyond facilities and tech, however, as the team employs a host of professional coaches, trainers, and physicians. The dedication of Glendale’s impassioned, professional rugby organization is the lifeblood of the team’s success – though excellent training facilities and a culture dedicated to the best rugby programming in the country certainly don’t hurt.