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Parenting Place with NZ Rugby: A chat with Sid Tauamiti

New dad Sidney Tauamiti isn’t really a new dad at all – as a coach, he’s been ‘fathering’ young men for years. Parenting Place’s John Cowan got him sharing his wisdom.

Isaia Tauamiti has not missed a rugby game in his life. He is there every Saturday and turns up for training three nights a week, which is pretty cool – considering he is only nine months old! His dad, Sidney, coaches three teams, including the University of Canterbury Premier team. Sidney is dedicated to rugby, but he is also a dedicated dad as well. “On training days I only get to see Isaia for half an hour at home so Rachel brings him to training – I wear him in a back or front pack while I coach.”

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Is Sidney spending too much time coaching? “They estimate that community coaches commit about 20 hours a week, but my wife reckons I do more! Rachel doesn’t come from a rugby background but she enjoys my passion and dedication, and sees how it plugs us into a rich network of relationships, so she is very supportive of it. On the nights I’m not coaching, I love to step up and do the bathing and feeding, spending time with Isaia – it gives Rachel a break.”

You might think Isaia does not stand a chance – that he is going to be so soaked in exposure to rugby he will automatically love the code. “Rachel and I talk about it even at this age. I am committed to exposing him to a range of sports. If he chooses to play hockey or soccer, that’s okay.” (Those were Sidney’s words, but was his voice cracking just a little bit with emotion as he said them?).

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Lots of things impact Sidney’s training sessions. For a start he is a qualified coach. “Actually, I never finished the training,” he confesses with a bit of a giggle, but he learns a lot from other coaches and loves the way coaching has changed. “In the past, there was just one style of coaching – ‘direct instruction’. You told them what to do and they did it – maybe. Now there is an understanding that the guys have different learnings styles – some are visual, some are verbal and so on, and one coaching technique might not work with all of them. The other thing coaches are learning is that you need to give more than just physical skills – emotional and psychological development is just as important. Coaches have to understand their guys’ backgrounds, home lives and motivations.”

Another thing Sidney brings to his coaching is his experience as a professional youth worker in the justice system. “With the young offenders, I take a strengths-based approach. Instead of focusing on their faults and what they cannot do, I make the most of what they can do. If you keep reminding offenders of the things they have done wrong, they can’t envision themselves as anything but a criminal. It is the same in coaching. As coaches, we do have to be critical, but we should highlight what players have to offer the team. I once dealt with a player who really beat himself up. He played well until he made a mistake or perpetrated a penalty. Then he would ruminate and it would affect his game. He needed positive affirmation around the things he was good at and what he had to offer. Doing this boosted his self-esteem, especially so when he saw that his team mates held him in high regard.

Young people need a sense of belonging. Young offenders often talk about not getting it anywhere except from being part of gangs, or with girls, through inappropriate romantic attachments. That’s why I want to facilitate an environment where players feel a real sense of belonging.”

Perhaps the strongest thing Sidney brings to his coaching is his father heart. If you want to talk to someone about how coaching impacts parenting and how parenting impacts coaching, Sidney’s your guy! He thinks deeply about the topic, and his thoughts are worth listening to. “I didn’t have a dad growing up and I often think how that impacts me as a father. But I had a good mother – I model a lot of my parenting on her – and my father-in-law, many dads in the Samoan community, some uncles living close by, and many good men in the rugby world. I was blessed by all the mentors I’ve had.” His own experience as a father is far longer than just the nine months of Isaia’s life. “It’s a Samoan thing – my younger siblings looked to me as a father figure, and I would look out for them.”

But Sidney did not always see the connection between fatherhood and coaching. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years. There was a time when I did not take it all that seriously – I thought coaching was simply passing on knowledge and skills. Then the mother of a teenager I was coaching thanked me for being a role model to the young men on the team who did not have dads. That really struck me. I knew how significant the men were who had mentored me and took an interest in me. I was also taken aback because I knew I wasn’t being a great role model at all! Sometimes I wouldn’t even turn up to games because of what I had been doing the night before. What made it worse was my younger brother was on the team and if I was supposed to be a role model to anyone, it was him. I changed my philosophy because of that mother’s comments.”

The word Sidney uses more than ‘training’ is ‘influence’. “When you’re at school you have lots of influences – family, school, friends, media, church (if you go) – but after you leave school, the rugby club becomes very powerful for young men. If they go into a team that drinks heavily, for example, the natural thing is for them to learn that. And vice versa – a good club culture is such a great thing.

When I was coaching the Colts (the under 21s) at Sydenham I was very conscious of this and so I didn’t do ‘court sessions’. Court sessions are a deep-seated ritual when players are brought to task and given penalties. We did it a lot when I was playing as a young guy. It was all in jest, but it involved a lot of guys being forced to drink and did not allow them to make their own decisions about alcohol. So instead, we facilitated an environment where those who wanted to drink could, but those who didn’t want to still felt included. They didn’t have to drink to be part of the team. I think all the time about influences.”

He also encourages the players to come up with values that they want to be distinctive of the team culture. “I set some values but I urge them to come up with their own. Sometimes they’re ones you would expect like respect, courage, professionalism. But sometimes they surprise me with words like ‘hissing’! It’s teen jargon – they’ll say ‘We’re coming in hissing’ – like a boiling pot, 100 percent passionate! You actually have to speak their language.”

“Coaches want to develop their players cognitively, to be good thinkers and decision makers, and we do that exactly like a parent would. We put them in imaginary scenarios they will face on the field and get them to rehearse their responses. Also, like a parent, coaches know that posing good questions can be more important than telling players what to do. We get them to reflect on their actions and decisions. ‘What was the outcome? What decision would you make next time in the same situation?’”.

What does he see parents do that a good coach wouldn’t? “They can push too hard. At the premiere level, winning is important. But in the younger grades, coaches look for something even more important than winning – progress. It’s the process and development that counts. I see parents pushing their kids to attend academies and clinics, thinking they will be healthier and kept out of mischief. They may be right, but their expectations are focused on a certain type of success – winning. Rachel and I have discussed the values we would like to see in Isaia, and more than anything, I want him to be selfless and to have a heart for service, no matter what he chooses to do.”

“I enjoy seeing the guys I used to coach successful in rugby but also in life, business and so on. And they are good dads! Rugby can be a positive influence, especially as coaches become trusted by the players, who adopt their example. I think my guys love seeing me coach with Isaia. They see my fathering and I hope it has a good influence on them.”

This is an excerpt from the bespoke edition of Parenting magazine created by Parenting Place in collaboration with New Zealand Rugby | Written by John Cowan | Photography by Stephanie Soh 

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