On being a coach…

Last weekend, I attended a reunion of the New Mexico State University rugby team, which I coached for many years starting in the early 1980s. I think I was coach for more than 10 years. During that time, I had one team which finished third in the national championships, several teams which won regional championships and had the pleasure of coaching two fine young men who ended up being All Americans in rugby.

I wish I could say all the successes we had were because I was a great coach, but as they say — when the team wins, it’s because you have great athletes, but when you lose, it’s the coach’s fault.

A bunch of former NMSU rugby players, posing with Pistol Pete. I’m in the row that is kneeling, third from left, with NMSU rugby team founder and longtime great friend Joel Diemer on my right and former All-American Adam McPherson on my right . The young man I coached in soccer and who later played rugby, Cory Micander, is last person on the right sitting on the ground.

I also had the pleasure of coaching my two children’s youth soccer teams, beginning when they were in elementary school and going through middle school. In retrospect, I’m not convinced the difference in attention span between elementary kids and testosterone fueled college guys was much different. But that’s what makes it challenging, entertaining and fulfilling.

I’m proud to say that most of the rugby players I coached have turned out to be fine young men, with families and good careers. And most of the kids I coached in soccer have turned out to be fine mothers, fathers, public servants and career successes. And ironically, one of the kids I coached on my son’s soccer team in middle school ended up playing rugby at NMSU after I finished coaching that sport.

I’m convinced that everyone who has the opportunity should coach young men and women in some sport. It is a black hole for time and energy and is often frustrating, but in the end well worth it. Coaching rugby was particularly gratifying in that none of the young men had ever played — much less seen — the sport before. Unlike football, baseball or basketball, rugby was completely new to them and they really listened to what the coach said.

Here are some comments I got from former players following the reunion:

“I’ve always appreciated everything you’ve done for me and this rugby family. You were a great coach…”

“I’m really glad you convinced me to keep playing prop (a position on the front row of the scrum). I wanted to play flanker, but you said I could go further if I stayed with being a prop, and you were right.” (This was from a young man who ended up being one of my two All American players).

“… it’s hard to believe how much fun we had and the huge impact you had on so many players, myself included.”

“Thanks for everything you have done for us as young men and the club in general.”

It made me feel that I’ve done some good during my life.

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