Where do you currently live:
TV News Correspondent
Teams you coach and why it's great to coach them:
For the last 9 years, I’ve coached within the youth program at the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club. I started with the under-8 age group when my son, Finn, was 5 years old, and I have moved up with him through the years. I’ve also served as a floater coach, jumping in wherever the team needed me on a particular year (or day) and acting as the safety and concussion coordinator for the club.
Coaching kids is all about helping them to love the game. My goal every year is not primarily improvement; my goal is to make sure kids want to come back the next year.
Did you play rugby? Tell us a bit about your playing career:
I was a soccer player at Middlebury College in Vermont and some of my teammates and friends who played rugby recruited me. After college, I played for Seattle, and then while I lived in Honolulu, I played for the Hawaii Harlequins Men’s team (oh boy), and then I moved to the Bay Area for a job and started playing with the Berkeley All-Blues. I was lucky enough to be their fly-half for 7 national championships, and I have so much gratitude for that group of women (Jane Mitchell, Kathy Flores, Jen Crawford, Dianne Schnapp, Carol Burdick, Jesse Olive, Kim Green, Alex Williams, Ashley English, Laura Cabrera, Deb Wadford, Tracy Benning, Emma Mitchell, Sarah Ulmer and sooo many others) who taught me what TEAM really means.
I was involved in the USWNT development program while I was in grad school and working crazy hours at a TV start-up. This was prior to Kathy Flores taking the helm. I was on the bubble for selections, and to be honest, I didn’t have a great experience. I pulled away to focus on work, school, and club rugby.
What has been most challenging? Most rewarding?
Coaching sucks the life out of me and feeds my soul simultaneously. But over the continuum of 9 years, seeing kids develop from literally sucking their thumbs on the sidelines to making brave one-on-one tackles, passing to players in space, and doing the hard yards of rucking is an accomplishment and joy I will carry for life.
I love trying to turn every aspect of practice into a game - passing races, rag tag for warmups, musical chairs on cones to teach defensive realignment. There are a million ways to be creative around practice planning and to bring more fun into practice.
When you look out over the landscape for women's rugby, what are areas of advancement or concern for you?
I’ve primarily coached boys for the last nine years, with a few girls sprinkled into the game. Lately there’s been a groundswell of interest in developing youth programs for girls. But the pathway to high school or college teams is challenging. From age 5-10, playing with the boys isn’t an issue; girls do well in these mixed gender groups. But at age 11, contact becomes more intense and developmental differences between girls and boys are more pronounced. At this point, I’ve seen a lot of girls drop out of the game because we can’t field an all-girls team (this happened for our daughter). Here in the Bay Area, we are trying to create Barbarian-type girls teams that come together from each team for scrimmages, but even in a rugby-rich area like ours, we haven’t got enough momentum yet.
Another concern is that girls who don’t have access to a girls’ high school team are prevented by our union from ‘waivering’ down onto a middle school boys’ team. One way to solve this problem is to have kids play by weight regardless of gender. That’s a safer option for all the kids and opens doors for girls to play in a place where they can compete.
I also want to call out one bright spot in the girls youth game right now and that is the growth of Pacific Islander girls playing the game. I remember back in the late 90’s in Honolulu exhorting the Tongan/Samoan/Fijian women who came to watch the men’s games, “Come out and play! We can get a women’s team going!” but that just wasn’t happening. Now we see great programs coming out of the Polynesian community. I am particularly aware of the SacPal Girls High School team and, in my hometown of Maui, their youth rugby club’s development has been fantastic.
What individuals have had an impact on your coaching career?
Kathy Flores: she coached me for eight years at Berkeley. She had boundaries and high expectations, but seamlessly exuded warmth and fun.
My wife, Jane Mitchell: The rugby knowledge she has in her little finger is more than I’ll ever have in my whole brain. She listens to all my thoughts and worries about my teams - that alone deserves a medal.
Tom Pulliam, Terry Shire, Richard & Kelly Ashfield, Mike Morell, Adrian Trujillo, Neil Foote & Ansel Van Zandt: Amazing partners and mentors in coaching at SFGG.
My mom, Kathy Worley: She goes through life with positivity and joy and has had great success that way. She has shown me that being a hardass isn’t the only way to lead or get results.
My kids: I’ve coached both my kids and have learned that we can thrive in those environments but that I should leave their individual coaching to others. They give me the most direct coaching feedback, “Mom that drill sucked” and have simultaneously been very generous about letting me into their sports lives and friend groups.
My professional coach mentors, Mark Francis and my sister-in-law Emma Mitchell.
What is your most sage coaching advice?
Most coaches say you should give feedback in a praise sandwich: positive point, constructive criticism, positive point. But with kids, it’s more like training a puppy - over an extended bit of time, give encouragement and catch them doing the right thing as much as possible, while occasionally offering corrections. I ascribe to 10 positive pieces of feedback to 1 piece of constructive criticism.
Tell us a bit about your non-rugby life?
I live in Oakland, California with my wife, Jane Mitchell, and our 14-year-old twins Finn and Emmy. I am the consumer/technology correspondent for ABC News/Good Morning America. I go to bed ridiculously early so I can get up at 3 am for Good Morning America appearances (that west coast time zone is a killer). I recently had the occasion to talk on the show with Robin Roberts about the professional value of having been an athlete and joked, “After playing rugby for 15 years, doing live TV doesn’t scare me.” But more than that, rugby taught me the skills of teamwork, composure, and hard work that are crucial in television. I like to ski, surf, and fish as often as I can, and I thank God every day I still have enough knee cartilage to do so.