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Dons players inspired by Gold medal-winning coach

Ben Ryan's speech offered a different perspective ahead of new season

6 August 2021

An uplifting speech from Wimbledon-born coach Ben Ryan provided inspiration to our first-team squad heading into the new season.

Ben, who guided the Fiji Sevens to Olympic glory five years ago, becoming a national hero in the process, provided a sense of perspective when he chatted with our players in the build-up to our League One opener at Doncaster.

The speech included Ben’s story of developing a squad that went onto achieve history from humble beginnings, including visiting the home of a player whose family scraped together their limited funds to pay for his rugby boots.

It was certainly far removed from the usual team meeting and our players loved it – several asking questions at the end and thanking Ben for taking the time to inspire them.

Nesta Guinness-Walker said: “In that meeting there was a certain buzz around the room, Ben really captivated everyone. It was a really inspiring and interesting story about when Ben went out to Fiji. There were a lot of things to take from his story and the ethos of the players that he had there, which we can relate to. Thanks to Ben for giving us that speech and hopefully we can take some of what was said into the new season.”

Ethan Chislett said: “It was brilliant, and I felt really motivated after Ben’s speech. It’s something that we probably need to do more in football – to push the importance of mentality in the game. We have seen people in the Olympics pulling out due to mental health problems, and it’s a massive thing. If you build your mentality in the right way the confidence comes with that, and it can have a massive impact on the pitch.”

In an interview after his speech, Ben talked about the vibrant atmosphere that Robbo has created at the training ground.

“I’ve chatted to Robbo about what his vision is for the club, and the history of the club – where it has come from. I am a fan of what AFC Wimbledon are trying to achieve and what Robbo is trying to do with the team. It’s an underdog story, but it’s an adventure, and potentially there is an amazing story at the end to be told. They are right at the start. I was watching the team train, and it’s quite an exciting and energetic place.

“It’s a young team, but with that comes possibilities for them as individuals and as a team. That’s quite exciting and with a Head Coach who has boundless energy. His heart is in the right place and he’s a very good coach, so I think there are exciting times ahead for the Dons.

“Hard work is definitely at the heart of what they are trying to achieve, but also working smart, and I’ve seen a lot of that. I am really fortunate in my role that I get to see a lot of elite sport. There was a lot of good energy and good ownership by the team. You always want a leaderful team, not just relying on one captain, and it looks like that’s what they are trying to achieve here.

“Sometimes someone coming in from another sport just gives you a different perspective. It depends what your background is coming in, but I think it can freshen up your thinking sometimes. As coaches, we all want to be curious, and Robbo is certainly that. He talked to me about how much he learned from Eddie (Jones) when he visited here, and he’s open-minded. That’s really important as a Head Coach.”

Ben, who now works for UK Sport and the French Rugby Federation, is a Brentford supporter, but he has a lot of affection for the Dons – and he can’t wait to visit Plough Lane.

“I nearly got to come to Plough Lane the other week (for the Brentford game), but my mate got pinged on the NHS app," added Ben. "I grew up around the corner from Brentford and I’m a lifelong fan, but most of my mates are AFC Wimbledon supporters. They took me to a pre-season match at Kingsmeadow for a friendly against Brentford, and I enjoyed it so much. After seeing the players now, and being made to feel so welcome, I will be jumping at the opportunity to come down.

“When I was 13 or 14 all my friends were Junior Dons, and they went on the terraces at Plough Lane. I would go and watch with them because it was a fun thing and the club were in the First Division. I remember the year Wimbledon won the cup and all the celebrations in the village. We went up there as young kids because it was exciting. I remember Lawrie Cunningham going past in his car and all the team. For my mates to see this journey that the club has been on – all that they have been through – is amazing. For the town to have Wimbledon back is brilliant.”

Click on the link below to listen to the full interview with Ben.

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