Arkansas-born coach Tim Lewis is back in New Zealand where he has pursued most of his rugby coaching.
He writes for us an update on how he has been doing. – AG
I attended Peter Thorburn’s Elite USA World Cup coaching camp in San Diego back in 2007 and was asked this question by several of the American coaches there “ that if I had been all around the world for the past 20 years playing and coaching rugby, then why had they never heard of me?”
My guess is that living and coaching on opposites sides of the globe would play a big part in flying under the radar of American coaches. Their questioning my caliber was justifiable and I will endeavor to shed some light on my rugby coaching history, thus so far, in this update.
In 2006 I had just finished IRANZ elite coaching course and a season coaching in Nelson, New Zealand while completing a coaching internship with the professional Tasman Makos. This allowed me the opportunity to observe and take part in trainings with DOR Todd Blackadder (now the Canterbury Crusaders Super 15 coach) Dennis Brown (NZ U21 coach) and Bevan Caldwell.
Since then I have coached Tauranaga Sports Club, Reporoa RFC and King Country’s provincial team, all teams New Zealand’s North Island. I spent a season down in Tucuman, Argentina as a coaching advisor and last year I coached Santa Monica as well as assisting the University of Arkansas team. I currently coach in New Zealand with the Napier Pirates Premier club along with doing an unofficial internship with this regions rep team, the Hawkes Bay Magpies. This is the second time I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a fully professional New Zealand team.
Since 2007 I have enjoyed four very successful and productive seasons. I started 2008 coaching Tauranga Sports in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand with Errol Brain (former NZ Māori All Black Captain and current Head coach of the Portuguese national team). I gained a great amount of knowledge from working alongside Errol, particularly man management skills, and we worked well together as a coaching team. Our boys were a dedicated and talented pool of players and we finished the season by winning the Premier Bay Wide Championship.
In 2009 I took up a coaching position in Reporoa, New Zealand with Steve Axtens (currently Head Coach for King Country). The boys had a great season which was capped off by winning promotions from the 3rd division to 1st division in the Bay of Plenty. This same season I was named as one of two coaches for the King Country Provincial team.
At the end of 2009 season I travelled to Tucuman, Argentina where I meet up with some old rugby contacts established from my days coaching in Park City, Utah. I was appointed as their club coaching advisor and spent the preseason butchering Spanish while implementing new coaching strategies, skill, drills and tactics. The Argentina rugby community is very passionate about their rugby. Life at the club was full of cherished memories and building everlasting friendships.
I had the opportunity to return home to America in 2010 and coach Santa Monica RFC. This was an interesting experience because it allowed me to experience first-hand the obstacles that American rugby faces. I have to say the athleticism of the American players and their attitude and willingness to work was outstanding. Santa Monica was successful in making it into the final eight of the D1 National Championship, losing out to none other than Belmont Shore.
Near the end of 2010 I returned to my home town, Fayetteville Arkansas for a bit of a break and some of mum’s home cooking. I ended up helping coach the University of Arkansas team win the Heart of America Division 2 Collegiate Championship. University Rugby is a bright light in American Rugby for me. Not only is the potential growth rate exponential but the blueprint, facilities and influx of young athletes are all accessible. In the future I see every university being a potential rugby academy.
It is now nearing the middle of the 2011 season and I am coaching the Napier Pirates club in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. At this stage in the competition, with one game left to play in the first round for the Nash Cup, we are currently tied for first place. This year is the Napier Pirates 150th Jubilee so it is a big year for the club with celebrations planned in June.
The level in play between what is available in the USA and what I experience in NZ six days a week is incredible and is what has kept me coming back year after year to learn from the best. To give an example from my current club here in Napier, I have three young players that have played for NZ Universities which is the same team that toured the USA, going undefeated against San Francisco Golden Gate’s Super League Team and USA Under 20s twice. In reality, the NZ Universities team is just a throw-together team of young club players. At the club level here, I have coached six players that have gone on to play for Super 15 franchises and one player that represents New Zealand in 7s, plus numerous players that have gone on to the professional level of representing their province.
My everyday involvement in the NZ rugby scene is a constant learning experience. Due to my coaching abroad, I realize my absence may have hindered my progress within the USA ranks up to this point. However, hunting the best pathway to becoming the most knowledgeable coach I can be has allowed for tremendous growth. At the end of the day I hope my sacrifice will benefit the players and teams I’m involved with in the future. I don’t believe I would have gained the knowledge or expertise of being a successful rugby coach without continually challenging myself in different environments among the world’s best rugby cultures. I think in teaching circles they refer to it as “total immersion”.
Along with coaching Napier Pirates I’ve also been accepted and encouraged to attend the Hawkes Bay Magpies sessions and games. The Magpies are a first division fully professional ITM Cup team. I am learning first hand from Peter Russell (NZ Coach of the year 2009 and former Highlanders Super 14’s coach) along with Tom Coventry (the newly appointed forwards coach for Waikato Chief’s Super 15 Team). The rugby environment down here is over flowing with talent and knowledge which has been hugely beneficial towards my development as a coach.
My ultimate goal is to make a successful career out of coaching. I am at a point where I am confident I have the knowledge, skills and track record to succeed at higher levels. I feel it’s just a matter of time until I am on the radar of the right organization. Until then I’ll keep my head down.