Rugby Values Made me a Better Coach

December 12, 2019

By Matt Tarzon

My entire life has been spent proving myself time and time again. You see, I was born with one hand. People meet me and, unless I keep my hand hidden, immediately assume, ‘He can’t…”  That went for everything in my life.

That was until I found rugby.

In high school, I was cut from the football team my freshman through junior years, never really getting a shot. I made the team my senior year and had a pretty good season.  After the season ended, I was asked by a friend’s dad if I’d like to try rugby.  I told him I knew nothing about it.  He told us that half the kids who will show up are in the same boat.  So, my brother and I gave it a shot.  Very quickly, we were hooked.

I continued my rugby playing into college (and beyond).  At San Jose State, I met head coach Mike McDonald. He was a tough Irishman who loved rugby and was tough on the players to learn but he still gave me equal chances. Soon I was starting at flanker mostly, second row other times.  I was given an opportunity and I was able to excel.

Matt Tarzon fell in love with rugby

I firmly believe that the values in the game of rugby led to my success. The inclusive nature of the game led me to be accepted. In rugby, people of all sizes, shapes and athleticism have a role on the team and pretty early on in my career I was making an impact.

I went on to help coach college rugby at San Jose State University and later helped start a local youth rugby club in the Bay Area. After my playing days were over, I picked up the whistle and continued coaching.

While I am still active in rugby, I have also taken up coaching baseball and football. Lessons I learned from Coach McDonald and the sport of rugby still resonate with me today.


Respect for your teammates, opponents, the referee and coaches is inherent in the sport.  It’s something I’ve tried to adopt as a football coach. Coach McDonald was tough and demanding, but he always treated us with respect. I try to emulate that as a coach today. While other coaches may yell and assert dominance over members of their team, I take a different approach, one of mutual respect. I have found that players are more responsive and willing to ask questions. It is better learning environment.


Acting with integrity is important as a coach. As the leader of the team, you set the standards. Coach McDonald and the game of rugby taught me that playing the game the right way was more important than winning and losing. Today I take the same approach as a football coach.


Building team chemistry is critical to success on any team. The sense of community and bonds that form between rugby teammates is second to none. On the rugby field, you put yourself on the line for the 14 other guys out there with you. It is truly a selfless and team game. I try to build that sense of community in other sports that I coach.

The values of respect, integrity and community I learned from rugby changed my life. Coach McDonald lived by these values.  He gave me an opportunity that many other coaches in other sports never did. Now, as a football and baseball coach, I’ve learned to pay it forward. Everyone gets a fair shot to play a game that they are passionate about regardless of circumstances.

Rugby has truly changed my life and made me a better coach.

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