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A Special Book Review of Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Still giddy from the lively interactive session last night with Ben Ryan, I am eager to share my takeaways from Ben Ryan's book but also our discussion on coaching, life and sporting excellence.

Undoubtedly, a surreal experience meeting someone famous on a live Zoom meeting. It surpassed my own expectations and my heart is filled with so much gratitude to God for this amazing opportunity. Silently, I wanted to meet a successful coach early in my new journey as an aspiring one. And God delivers, exceedingly and abundantly more than anything I had hoped for. So star struck highs aside, I am wonderfully surprised to discover that the Ben Ryan, author and main character of his book, is the same Ben Ryan, who is a world-class coach and 7s rugby legend in Fiji. Duh.

I read the book twice. The first time was when I had bought the book for my husband when it was released a few years ago. I was impressed at how captivated Eddie was, after every chapter he was relaying some significant fact or event. So I had to read it for myself. And yes, agreed, Ben wrote this book for his die-hard fans.

Ben Ryan’s book Sevens Heaven was selected as the book of the month, for Our Shared Shelf Book Club (a collaboration between Marama Alliance UK and The Platformm). Thanks to The Platformm’s Creative Content Director and genius, Miriama Suraki, who had the foresight and initiative to recommend this book and reach out to Ben Ryan. I gladly re-read the book, but this time, I was tuned in as an aspiring coach.

I was immediately drawn to his coaching style. He has an impressive education that matched his work experiences as a teacher and coach. His life experiences really set him apart. From the get-go, receiving the heads-up that Fiji Rugby was looking for a new coach, and intuitively taking that leap of faith and risking a secure career and life for an adventure of a lifetime - said yes. Well, he had my undivided attention. I absolutely enjoyed reading it this time round - note taking and reflecting too.

My key takeaway points:

Spiritual fellowship as in lotu bound them - loved how Ben describes this in his book. Christianity remains a significant part of life in Fiji. Ben recognises that it is the glue that holds the team together, providing the spiritual uplift and mental focus. Ben wasn’t religiously-inclined but he saw real value in lotu and encouraged it, even engaged in lotu – singing Fijian hymns too. Rugby and religion is almost synonymous in Fiji, and South Pacific as a whole. The spiritual discipline lends itself to building up physical and mental strength. It plays an important role in my life, and my coaching journey.

Simplicity is a recurring theme in his book, from his leadership style and simple rugby-coaching framework. It worked perfectly without financial resources, a structure or system in place; Ben Ryan had a beautiful blank canvas to create his masterpiece. All he needed was a team of Fiji 7s rugby players with raw talent and immeasurable potential. With a small dedicated management team of 3, it was easier to maintain clarity and focus on building those key relationships with the players, gaining their trust and buy-in as early as possible.

His approach was all about empowering his players, not imposing his set of beliefs or extensive technical and expert knowledge but giving them the space to come to that self realisation that they possessed incredible raw talent and with physical training and conditioning, they would be phenomenal on the pitch. Their sidestepping and offloading skills were second to none, instinctively gifted and naturally favoured. I couldn’t agree more, that self-realisation and self-awareness are powerful methods to empower and bring about transformation in people. It paid off big time.

Meekness is not a weakness. It is strength under control.

One important point raised and discussed was the players’ lack of confidence in their intelligence. Agreed they were naturally talented yet possessed an element of imposters’ syndrome. It is often linked to their humility and meekness. Ben Ryan intuitively picked up on this straight away, and utilised opportunities to communicate in appropriate ways by getting the messaging out consistently – telling them what they knew, that their knowledge of the game was powerful and they were the brightest players which proved to be effective. The occasional reminder that we have what it takes, we have arrived, we are going to be okay doesn't go amiss.

‘It was less what I had learned as a teacher and more why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place, to get the best out of kids, no matter where they were from.’

My favourite line in his book for sure, it is exactly why I wanted to become a coach. It is the reassurance and inspiration I needed to push me on in my coaching journey. It is no wonder that he encourages children and young people to dream big. He knew that it was not impossible to reach your full potential, you needed the right blend of a support network (coach), cakacaka (hardwork) and lotu (faith). In addition, his mantra was also the code of conduct he instilled by example. Simply put, ignoring bad behaviour is a reflection of your character than anything else. His qualities as a person, humble, sincere, empathetic and a man of integrity, made him a coach of his calibre.

The standard you walk past is the standard you become.

Maybe a simple storyline is too simplistic, coach transforms a team from within; but there is no denying that there were extreme external challenges of mega proportions. Who can beat the coconut wireless in Fiji?! It definitely added to the plot and twist to make up the subtitle ‘the beautiful chaos of Fiji’s Olympic dream’ and taking the underdog story to new heights.

I will never forget that simple truth or takeaway Ben shared, that being present is what he wished he did more of, to appreciate his experiences in Fiji, in the midst of the drama and chaos. It was what he admired so much about Fijian life, but with lack of proper planning it didn't end well in some cases. With the value of hindsight, he is more present, mindful and intentional here in the UK.

Yes, who can forget the 'sega ni leqa' and 'don't worry be happy' island motto that describes what Ben is referring to here. There is power in being present in the now. I am grateful for this reminder and it is what makes Fiji unique - where happiness finds you.

And on that final note, veilomani was what captured Ben Ryan's heart in Fiji. So eloquently put, a familiar Fijian phrase:

And a precious reminder to myself and our Fijian community here in the UK, who long to be with loved ones back home during this pandemic where time and distance seems so unbearable. Take comfort, ‘home’ is always in our hearts and veilomani too!

Leonora x

Ps. We should've ended our book review session with a hymn for good measure!

The content expressed here is my own personal views and opinions of the book, not intended for anything else but an experience shared and invaluable lessons learned from Sevens Heaven. The book is available to buy from Amazon.

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