Over 30 New Rugby Coaches Certified in Inaugural Seminar

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January 30th, 2023 | Josh Adelman

The inaugural class of 32 Rugby Soldier Coaches completed certification on January 27, 2023. The group spent the week participating in over 15 hours of virtual instruction and completing several supplementary homework assignments. Their consistent attention and challenging questions were indicative of their love for the sport.

Soldier Coaches listening to a presentation during their certification seminar

“Soldiers To Sidelines offered a unique opportunity for Veterans to learn, collaborate, and gain experience about a sport we all have a passion for, RUGBY,” said Jolene Ayres, a US Army Major who also played rugby for the Women’s Premier League. “No other sport in the world draws this amount of diversity and inclusiveness like rugby, from the players to the coaches. We value everyone’s strengths and capabilities. You see that too in the online face-to-face instruction Soldiers To Sidelines provides. It is a great learning environment.”

Rugby is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, particularly at the collegiate level and among women. Last summer, the United States was awarded its bid to host the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033; and this year USA Rugby announced its commitment to increasing access, support, and coaching opportunities at the Youth and High School level.

Soldiers To Sidelines (STS) Director of Rugby, Jennifer Durant, explains, “This is the perfect time for us to start certifying Rugby Soldier Coaches. It’s important that we grow the game in a way that centers on rugby’s unique ethos of respect and sportsmanship. There is no better way to do that than with character-based coaching from the military community.” Durant is a former Navy pilot who helped found the University of Texas Women’s Rugby team and played as a flanker for both UT and the Austin Valkyries. She assembled an impressive array of talent to help teach the first-ever STS Rugby Certification Seminar.

The week started with a bang on Sunday as USA Men’s Eagles Interim Head Coach, Scott Lawrence, delivered the keynote address. Lawrence, a former flanker for the Eagles, was the long-time Director of Rugby for Life University and former Head Coach for Major Leage Rugby (MLR) team Rugby Atlanta. His presentation echoed Durant’s sentiments about coaching with character. “Make no mistake,” he said, “there is no balance between developing an athlete’s talent and developing their character and commitment to the game. Talent comes second. The most important thing you must do as a coach is develop your player’s character and commitment.”

Monday’s highlights included a segment on Tackling by USA Football’s Senior Manager of Education and Training, Andy Ryland, and a presentation on Passing by All Navy Men’s 7s Head Coach, Koma Gandy Fischbein. Ryland is a former USA Eagle, and Gandy Fischbein is a former high-performance rugby player and Navy Lieutenant Commander.

There were three segments on Tuesday, which started with a Turnovers presentation by USA Women’s Eagles Assistant Coach, Jamie Burke, followed by Kicking Strategy with University of Stanford Head Coach and World Rugby Master Trainer, Josh Sutcliffe. Tuesday evening capped off with a Q&A session with legendary Head Coach Mike Flanagan, who led Naval Academy Rugby for nearly three decades.

Wednesday evening featured set piece presentations. To set the stage, Durant and Sutcliffe teamed up to introduce set piece player selection and dispel the myth that set piece players should be chosen based on body type. Next was a Lineouts discussion with Naval Academy Women’s Rugby Head Coach, Murph McCarthy, a Class of 2000 Naval Academy graduate and former CH-46 pilot. Scrums were presented by Brown University Assistant Coach Kittery Ruiz, also a Gold Star Family member, who said she shares a special bond with the Soldier Coaches.

The action-packed finale on Thursday included segments by MLR Houston SaberCats former Head Trainer, Mary Swanstrom, and former Head Coach, Louis Koen, now the High Performance Manager and Director of Development for South Africa Rugby. Small group coaching discussions were led by Howard University Women’s Rugby Head Coach, Kat Aversano, and Air Force Academy graduate and Head Coach of West End Girls Rugby, Sarah Emory.

“This was an amazing week of learning, networking, and growing,” said Durant. “I was so impressed with the quality of our participants, and I can’t wait to meet our new Soldier Coaches at the in-person events we’re planning. It already feels like a big rugby family.”

The inaugural STS Rugby class was exposed to some of the biggest names in rugby, but they also put in tons of work, time, and attention to earn their STS certifications. Those who persevered should take immense pride in earning the title Soldier Coach.

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