Glendale Coaches CornerGlendale Merlins Rugby
Creating a Legacy of Positive Impact
As told by Glendale Merlins WPL Coach Jamie Burke
Coaches Blog, Glendale Rugby Date 10.18.18, the location – Glendale Rugby’s third floor offices
When I stumbled across rugby at the University of Virginia as a first year in 1998, I had no idea the adventures, opportunities, friendships, and incredible life experiences the sport would bring me. I just started playing because it seemed like the perfect sport for someone who had played high school soccer, basketball, and football – and regularly got in trouble for being too physical.
Photo by Seth McConnell
Once I started, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough. I loved the physicality of it, but also the strategy and finesse. But more than the sport itself, I loved the community and family that abounds in the rugby culture. My college rugby coaches became like a second family. My USA teammates were like sisters. They were my support structure through life’s ups and downs. That sense of camaraderie and connection really pulled me in.
By the time I stopped playing, I had spent more than half my life as a rugby player. Some of my closest friends came to me through rugby. My partner (and subsequently my daughter) was the result of rugby connections. Being a rugby player was my identity. When the moment came to hang up my boots and step away from that identity, as a rugby player, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
The saving grace was that I knew my relationship with rugby was not over, just my role within it. I had coached to differing degrees throughout my playing career. Sometimes I took on the role because there was no one else to do it. Other times it was a way to stay involved while recovering from injury. But more and more, I found myself with a whistle guiding practice.
Initially, I felt quite inept. I knew how to play the sport and how to do the things physically, but I couldn’t find the words to convey that knowledge to the players I was working with. I found myself continuing to coach by just getting in there and showing players what I wanted because the words were failing me. But slowly over time, I started to hone my craft as a coach. I found that coaching actually made me a better player because I was forced to look at the bigger picture of the game in a way I never had to before. It also allowed me to fine tune my own performance because I became more reflective and able to self-evaluate in a constructive rather than critical way. But still, I was a rugby player through and through.
It wasn’t until I finally accepted that my playing days were done, that I fully immersed myself in that newfound role. And that, in itself, was a tough transition. In 2010, I found myself at the top of the game, being named to the All-World Team following the World Cup. Yet just four years later, while I was excited to be named to the 2014 World Cup squad, I could see the tide shifting. There were younger props coming up that were now on a trajectory to be better than me. I wasn’t the starter I had once been, but, instead, had become a finisher. That was one of the biggest factors in my decision to retire. I wanted to leave the game as a player on my terms, and not be forced out because I became irrelevant. But in that shift, I also saw an opportunity. If I was going to step away from this team I had loved for so many years, I wanted to leave it in capable hands. So I committed to making sure those young props knew everything I could teach them. I guess you could say I started that full-fledged player-to-coach transition through that decision. And I’ve been coaching ever since.
I started to treat my coaching like I had my playing. I wanted to get better and I started to seek out opportunities for that to happen. I started out with the basics. I had previously gone through the training curriculum put on by USA Rugby. But once I felt like I was implementing the lessons learned there, I looked for more advanced opportunities. I entered the USA Rugby Elite Development Program, where I received mentorship from incredible coach educators, who challenged me and helped me think differently about my coaching. After completing that program, and started to put it into practice, I was invited to take on being a coach educator by USA Rugby. And much like becoming a coach made me a better player, becoming a coach educator made me a better coach.
And now I can finally say that my identity within rugby has firmly shifted to that of a coach. Whether it is the Colorado High School All-Star Team, the WPL Glendale Merlins, the USA Eagles, or even youth flag rugby, I love seeing people start to master new skills or fine-tune their existing ones. And, it is coaching that lets me be a part of that process. I also love being able to be a support person for players trying to figure out their place in the world. Being a coach allows me to be part of something bigger than myself and even bigger than just a team.
I think of my college coaches as an example. They were teachers, mentors, friends and family to me. They set me up for success, both on the rugby field by teaching me those fundamentals, but also off the field by supporting me to become a better person. I was one of thousands of players they have impacted over the years. Their impact is now being magnified many times over as their players have gone on to do incredible things in the world of rugby. They have created a legacy of positive impact.
It is my hope that someday, when I’m retired from even this role (not for many more years to come), that I can reflect back and feel that I have had even a fraction of that impact and created a positive legacy to my name.