Marcus Tupuola has revealed how a shift in mindset has contributed to a change in fortunes on the pitch.
Tupuola made his HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut for the USA in March 2019, helping the Eagles claim gold in front of a home crowd in Las Vegas.
He has since played 75 matches on the Series but was not part of the squad that competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July 2021, and also missed out on selection for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 last September.
Watching those tournaments from home, he admits, was tough but ahead of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 Tupuola resolved not to take coaching decisions too personally.
It is an approach that has paid dividends this season. Tupuola has appeared in all three tournaments in the 2023 Series so far and, having helped the USA win bronze in Cape Town last month, he currently sits sixth in the DHL Impact Player standings.
“All those things are giving me fuel,” he told World Rugby. “It's just really incredible, I hit a different mindset after I didn't make the World Cup.
“So, I was just kind of like, I’ve just got to have fun. I’ve got to worry less about those Olympic [and RWC Sevens] teams and focus more on having fun with the game because it can be devastating if you don't get picked.
“But at the end of the day, this is what I love to do, so I’ve got to remember why I'm here… to love what I'm doing and just to keep the joy in it and at the same time have my goals and whatnot.”
Rolling with the punches
Tupuola spoke to USA coach Mike Friday about what he needed to do to become a more consistent presence in the Eagles backline but says his switch in mentality was a personal journey.
“I can't let coaches dictate what my worth might be,” he added. “Because I didn't make the team, it doesn't mean my worth is diminished or anything.
“If I didn't get picked, I didn’t get picked, I can't take it too personal.
“That's the name of the game, sport is… not fair and you’ve just got to roll with the punches and if you can adapt, you adapt, and you’ve got to keep evolving.”
Tupuola and his USA team-mates head into the HSBC New Zealand Sevens at FMG Stadium lying fourth in the standings, only three points off top spot.
A second successive podium finish in Hamilton and another positive result in Sydney next weekend would consolidate their place in the top four as they chase qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“These next two [tournaments] are probably going to be really important to separate ourselves from the crop,” Tupuola said. “We're fourth right now, we're tied for third, so the better we do in this one, the more we can separate ourselves.”
The USA qualified for Tokyo by finishing second in the 2019 Series, and that is an achievement the current Eagles hope to replicate this time around.
“That’s the goal,” Tupuola added. “Four years ago, we ended up being number two, so we’re trying to emulate that again with this new group, it’s a totally new group.
“We’re just trying to continue the legacy that our past team-mates have built.”
LA 2028 target
Following that runners-up finish in 2019, the USA’s form in the Series has slipped somewhat and last year they finished sixth – despite reaching their first Cup final since that campaign in Dubai.
Tupuola says lessons dished out in the 2022 Series, however, have helped the Eagles make a fast start to this season.
“It was a learning curve for us because last year we struggled a lot,” he said. “I think we learned from that and this year we're just red hot and hungry.
“Everyone's bought into each other, the coaches are getting better, the team cohesion is just there, everyone's competing in training. We're just all on the same page, which is great and that's how we're kind of just moving forward.”
In terms of his own goals and aspirations, Tupuola insists he is not looking further ahead than the next two tournaments in Hamilton and Sydney.
However, with the sevens tournament at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games set to be played in his hometown, Carson, then there is a sizeable carrot dangling on the distant horizon.
“For the LA Olympics, I'm not looking past Paris but that’s where I want to finish,” Tupuola said.
“That would be phenomenal man, because I’ve got a big family supporting me as well. So, for them to see [that] I came so far, to see the fruit of my loom, it's more of an ode to them.
“It’s an ode for me as well but I would love for them to see that, and they would love for me to be there as well.
“So, it would just be a big, big celebration for not just me, but my family and the people who've helped me get this far.”