Leadership lessons from the scrum

Coast Guard rugby team

During the All Armed Forces Rugby tournament the Coast Guard's team defeated strong Navy and Marine Corps teams and tied the hosting Army squad, which placed them in the finals match against Air Force. Photo courtesy of LT Bryan Burkhalter.

Warriors gather together in a tight circle. Sweat drips down their mud-stained foreheads. These warriors are the Coast Guardsmen of the All Coast Guard Rugby Team. Together these athletes share triumphs and tribulations, and through it all learn the meaning behind determination.

Recently, the team competed in the All Armed Forces Rugby tournament at Fort Benning, Ga. making it to the finals match for the first time since 1991.

The team is made up of Coast Guardsmen from across the nation who first met four days before the tournament. Coming together with such vastly different backgrounds may sound easy for some sports that count on star players and standout performances, but rugby is a whole other story. Nowhere is this more evident than witnessing the Coast Guard rugby team form a scrum, rugby’s signature visual element.

Coast Guard vs. Navy

The Coast Guard's rugby team pushes through a scrum against the Navy's team at the All Armed Forces Rugby tournament. Photo courtesy of LTJG Ryan Lloyd.

What looks like mayhem is actually a carefully planned evolution requiring incredible collaboration. While brute strength is key to surviving a scrum, each player’s skills and talents are utilized, much like the strengths employed in the hangar of an air station or engine room of a cutter.

Rugby is quite a workout – 80 minutes of running and punishing collisions. Whether it is climbing up a ladder as part of a boarding team or the endurance needed for a four-hour marine safety inspection, the players find themselves better prepared to handle the physical demands of their Coast Guard duties as a result of their hard work on the pitch.

Machinery Technician First Class Sean Lindersmith, the team’s current captain, was introduced to the rugby team in 2001 and has gone on to represent the Coast Guard at the international level with the Combined Armed Services Rugby team.

“Rugby has had a profound effect on me personally and as a Coast Guardsman,” said Lindersmith. “I’ve learned a lot about how hard I can push myself mentally and physically. It takes a lot of hard work to be successful on the rugby field and that work ethic translates straight into my job as a machinery technician.”

Aside from physical demands, players are constantly taking part in the leadership process. Whether it is a rookie player learning the sport’s terminology, to the more experienced team members digging deep to earn each and every yard, team members must constantly listen and learn.

2010 Coast Guard Rugby Team

From air stations to the International Ice Patrol, from Seaman to Commander, the Coast Guard Rugby team is comprised of members from a wide spectrum of Coast Guard units, rates, ranks and duty stations. Photo courtesy of LTJG Sawyer Mann.

“Rugby definitely has enhanced my skills as a leader,” reflected Commander Rick Horner of Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile. “You learn to deal with different types of people in a stressful environment. Some people you need to get them fired up and motivated, others you need to encourage and prod a little.”

Each leadership lesson is deeply personal for the players and reverberates in all areas of their lives. Despite already full schedules, many of the Coast Guardsmen on the team support their local communities. Lindersmith serves as the head coach for a high school rugby team in San Diego, Calif. and finds himself as the mentor to over 90 young men on and off the field.

“I am viewed as a mentor by many of them,” said Lindersmith. “They see that my experiences on the rugby field and as a Coast Guardsman have been a great influence on my life and they see the service in a positive light.”

The team fought hard in the finals, but finished second to a seasoned Air Force squad. The defeat was bittersweet, as it was the highest finish for the team in nearly 20 years. For their exceptional play, four Coasties were nominated to the All Tournament Team: LT Callan Robbins, LTJG Josh Murphy, MK1 Sean Lindersmith and ET2 John Leo.

“The teamwork, dedication, and sacrifice in rugby is related to the challenges Guardians face every day,” said Horner. “Rugby players have to use all of these traits if they are going to be effective on the field and in the missions we undertake in the fleet everyday.”

While the Coast Guard rugby players collided and muscled their way through scrums, fighting for every precious yard, their determination and ability to come together was reminiscent of a perfectly choreographed deck evolution. Sport mirroring life underway.

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