Always humble and passionate, Tiffany Faʻaeʻe became the first woman coach in U.S. men's professional rugby when she took the position as assistant coach with Rugby United New York, a Major League Rugby expansion team (ESPN).
A decorated international player, Faʻaeʻe was a member of the USWNT from 2015-2017. In 2017, she captained the Eagles in the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland, where the US finished fourth.
A native of New Zealand, she played for the New Zealand Rugby League Selection Squad in 2014, and the Samoan Women’s Rugby League Team in 2011. In 2014 and 2017, Faʻaeʻe was the team captain of the New York Rugby Club.
In addition to serving as the Head Coach at Life West, Faʻaeʻe has been the Program Director at ROOTS Rugby, the Youth Program Director at the New York Rugby Club, and the Head Coach of men's and women’s rugby at Monroe College in New York.
Where do you live?
I live in New York City but am currently based in East Palo Alto, California. I’m the Head coach for Life West Women's program.
Tell us a bit about your playing days:
I played rugby and rugby league growing up in New Zealand. I represented Samoa in rugby league and USA Eagles in Rugby Union.
How did you get into coaching?
Coaching felt like a natural next step for me after the 2017 World Cup. I had been coaching programs throughout my playing days while keeping my office job in finance. When I retired from playing, some opportunities to coach full time developed so I made the switch.
I enjoy learning the impact the sport has made on so many. I like sharing what I know and listening to how others see the game too.
What do you love about it?
I love how coaching challenges me to be better - to show up with intention - to keep evolving with the game and the athletes. I’m a passionate coach so being around people with goals fires me up. Their goals can be to try a new sport, have a run for the day/night, or develop to compete at elite levels.
What’s most challenging for you as a young coach?
Like most coaches, I like to be creative with my methods of teaching so I’m often designing my own or looking for effective development activities. Sometimes they go better than expected other times I lose the players in the intro (haha).
The biggest challenge for me was the transition from athlete to coach. As an athlete you’re aware that you are constantly being watched and evaluated; you’re there to impress. I find it can be difficult being in the same evaluative space as a coach. As a coach, when you express yourself through your work, you can't seek external validation the same way you did as an athlete.
Team(s) you coach and why it’s great to coach them:
I help coach various programs from 7s, 9s, 10s to 15s at the youth, college and senior levels, social and competitive. I like to mix it up for my own learning and growth; to challenge my way of thinking. I’m embracing being called a ‘corny coach’ at Life West, but they are all great because they trust me with their goals. 😊
Individuals who’ve had a big impact on your coaching career:
So many, but the passing of Kathy Flores really hit home. Kathy and I met at the start of our 2017 World Cup Tour. I could not have imagined a more perfect send off - to know some of the women who literally built women's rugby in the USA. Kathy captained the 1991 Rugby World Cup Champions. It was a very special moment for me to meet her. The perspective I gained chatting with Kathy helped me feel more connected to the history of our team. It helped me find more purpose, to lead a team she would have been proud of, and as a way to say thank you for building the sport.
When I heard the news of Kathy passing, I realized how safe I felt knowing she was out there, breaking barriers, giving us a voice and visibility. It's great to see there are so many more of us out here now, contributing in our own way. She helped build it and we need to continue because there is still so much work to be done. We lost a warrior and our game is her legacy
Areas of the game where you see advancement or concern?
It’s great to see the investment and support in women's rugby around the world like Super W, Allianz Premiere 15, Tik Tok Women's Six Nations, NRLW, etc.
The Women's Premier League has been around a lot longer than those competitions and it's still a “pay to play” model. The league now has 10 teams from all over the US and part of the pathway to USA Rugby. A league wide sponsor for more access and more resources focusing on athletes, coaches, referees, and leadership development will help grow interest
It’s also great to see younger players picking up the sport. The competition in the younger tiers is growing especially with the youth and collegiate programs.