Andres Lopez is one of MICR’s original coaches. Since 2012, his leadership, energy, and commitment has changed hundreds of students’ lives while setting the bar of excellence for coaches everywhere. As a teacher, Coach Lopez introduced rugby to his school. With his students, he created Freedom Prep’s rugby program which has dramatically inspired a culture of achievement- leading to championships, scholarships and so much more. The lessons he shares below can only be taught through experiences- yet his articulation of coaching fundamentals can be a highly useful reference for any coach- especially those serving low-resourced communities.
Parents, players, other coaches, school administrators, and stakeholders all notice actions and implicitly turn those into expectations. Play a kid who wasn’t at practice this week? Your other players just noticed they don’t have to show up either. Dropped off a kid for the first three rugby practices? You have officially become their uber after practice for the rest of the season. Ask players and parents to arrive at 2:30 PM but you show up at 2:45 PM? You’ve inspired their future tardiness. Plan and prepare every action with detail- because people will read into your actions for better or worse.
Follow through on communication: 1 on 1 conversations, parent phone calls, and all other rugby communication is paramount to consistent success. If players, parents, administrators, teachers, and assistant coaches know you will follow up with them about problem/opportunity/attendance “X”, it shows that you mean what you say and you will hold them to your expectation. In addition, it builds respect from these people, which means they are more likely to meet expectations or go the extra mile for the team. Every small action, positive or negative, from a player or parent warrants a quick text, phone call, or in person conversation.
Our student-athletes are children- even the ones who are 18 and drive themselves have parents/family they answer to. That means it is CRITICAL to get parents as much involved as possible and to communicate with them as regularly as possible about everything: absences from practice, grades, transportation problems, behavioral problems at school, attitude in practice, outstanding work at practice, showing leadership, killing an exam, teachers bragging, etc… The more you communicate with parents, the more they will respect you and see you as a legitimate entity in their child’s life. Don’t just limit it to negative communication- if you do, they will see you (and rugby) as a pest as opposed to a tool for building upstanding gentlemen and ladies. Even when you ask your students if they are attending or OK with something, make sure you finalize your line of questioning with “Cool, so family/parents know and are OK with it?” Lastly, take into account their time and driving. Want your kids to show up 2:30 PM for a 4 PM game? You’re asking a parent to start driving at 2 PM, do nothing form 2:30 to 4 PM but sit, then watch their child play from 4 to 5:30 PM, and drive back home and arrive around 6 PM at earliest. How many of us could say we would chunk out 4-5 hours of our day for one of our multiple children’s hour long rugby matches? The converse holds true- if you want to have a 1 hour conditioning session at 5:30, I leave at 5:20 get them there late at 5:35 PM by the time I get home I have to drive back to get them. Consider the sacrifices being made by all stakeholders involved with what you are planning for the team.
From camp scholarships and college visits to starting positions and an extra pair of socks- everything for your team should be earned and not expected to be given. “Earning” looks different depending on each student and the opportunity- it could be perfect practice attendance, improvement of grades in two classes, recommendations from teachers, paying part of camp dues, taking up community service, helping player-coach, etc. Make it known from day 1 things are earned, and remind players and parents every now and then extra things can be earned- A/B report cards get a printed out photo of the player, attending an optional workout sessions gets a free pair of socks or group selfie on the MICR Instagram, a parent driving to Millington gets a free team T-shirt and no entry fee.
At some point you will, hopefully, become a stakeholder in your students lives and can have some powerful conversations and actions which will have enduring impact- but you would be foolish to think you can (or should) be the only one carrying that weight. Along with parents- Ask Assistant Coach X to daily text-check in with Alexis, call Erik’s Church Pastor to talk about changes in his behavior, and always rope in Dean of Students or Principals. Captains and even players are also critical stakeholders- because sometimes talking to someone your age or who who has known you since 5th grade is what you need. Find everyone who can have an impact and get them in your corner- which is also incidentally your student-athlete’s corners.
Stay tuned this summer for more fundamentals, insights, stories, and chapters from Coach Andres Lopez’ blog series. Thanks for reading, and please share with coaches and educators in your community!