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The Pro Coaching Plan

  • 17 Feb 2016

Let’s fast-forward 10 years and entertain the vision of rugby team franchises operating in a healthy professional league. Kids are watching their teams play on television, and they idolize both the players and the coaches on the sidelines. A generation of high school players who want to develop a professional rugby career – beyond the pitch – emerges. How would one cultivate such a path? The first step is finding the right college to help realize those aspirations.


If there’s anyone qualified to talk on that subject, then it’s Karen Fong Donoghue (pictured). The creator of the Rugger’s Edge, the college counselor specializes in connecting high school students with college rugby schools. Fong Donoghue admits that very few of her clients are inquiring about rugby professions right now, and that families view the sport like a pastime: Where can I go to school and possibly receive scholarship money to play rugby?


“One reason that the idea of coaching rugby in terms of a career hasn’t taken off is because there isn’t a lot of modeling for that,” Donoghue said. “There aren’t many teams that have paid high school coaches, or even college coaches, so until that’s more of a norm, these high school kids won’t have anyone in their lives to model.


“If the PRO league takes off and there are more professional job vacancies, then hopefully kids will start thinking, ‘Oh, that could be a job path I could take.’”


When that day comes, a prospective student should first find the sports management school that hits all of his or her criteria. Rugby schools like UT Austin, Ohio State, Oregon, Clemson, Texas A&M, UNC, Minnesota, South Carolina, Penn State and Michigan are among the country’s best sports management schools, which are typically the DI NCAA institutions. Additionally, Texas A&M, UNC, Ohio State as well as Auburn, Fresno State, Syracuse, Bowling Green State offer sports coaching minors.


But when considering the career of a professional coach, Donoghue Fong indicated that the choice of major might not be so obvious. Business, communication, education, finance and psychology are just a selection of the routes that a student might take, and address the many concerns for a head coach.


“For one of my first work experiences, I interned with the Oakland Raiders for a few years,” Fong Donoghue remembered her UC Davis days. “I have a very interesting insight into the operations of a professional sports team. Your head coach is, to some degree, not involved in the on-field coaching. They have the overall vision, but they have to release some of the specific direction to position coaches – or like in rugby, a forwards coach, a backs coach, strength & conditioning coach, team manager. A lot of your duties have more to do with off-the-field duties.”


Fong Donoghue referenced Cal head coach Jack Clark’s presentation at the National Development Summit. Clark detailed the building of the Golden Bears’ program and all of the off-field work that needs to be done as a head coach.


“He talked about how you have to understand your budget, finances, how all of the different moving parts connect to each other,” Fong Donoghue said. “He works with the university itself, athletics, facilities, students and advisors – there are a lot of people, and a degree that acquaints you with the management of people would help prepare someone for a career in that field.”


And that’s why finding the right school is so important, because the right program will introduce some of those practical elements into one’s education.


“If you’re in the sports management track at the University of Oregon, you’re in those classes but you’re also working in the athletics department,” Fong Donoghue explained. “You’ll understand how they handle the management of the football or basketball team – the travel, the budget. You’ll experience working in those different departments while in college.”


Students should start coaching rugby, beginning at the grassroots level and working up the ranks over time. They should take leadership positions on their school rugby teams, serving as president and learning how their microcosm works. Those who continually diversify their resumes will become the attractive employee in the future.


“They need to go out of their way to find opportunities,” Fong Donoghue spoke to building one’s experience. “When I was in college and interned with the Raiders, that internship wasn’t advertised or available. I just e-mailed and called people until someone – the director of internet services – called me back. He said, ‘You sound like you’re really motivated, so come down for an interview.’”


Fong Donoghue had actually contacted every professional sports team in the Bay Area and ended up commuting to Oakland from Davis three times per week for years.


“Do you want this path? Then you can’t wait for that opportunity to drop in your lap,” Fong Donoghue said. “If you go to college in the Bay Area, I think you should reach out and see if you can intern in the new PRO league. Get your foot in the door and gain experience with a team. Just be proactive and break from the mindset that someone will offer you a job sometime, because that’s not the case.”


To recap, if you want to be a professional rugby coach in the U.S. and plan to work toward that goal beginning in college, then:


1. Find a reputable sports management program that pairs practical experience with schooling.

2. Consider a range of majors with an eye toward people management.

3. Start coaching. Begin at the lower levels and work your way up the ranks.

4. Take leadership positions on your school rugby team

5. Create opportunities for yourself to learn more about professional rugby organizations


The Rugger’s Edge serves the college-bound rugby student, so visit for information on college seminars, individual advising, and much more.

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