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Categories:  Faculty

On a quest for World Cup with USA women’s rugby team

John Coumbe-Lilley

John Coumbe-Lilley, a former rugby player, is the team’s mental/technical skills coach. Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

UIC faculty member John Coumbe-Lilley, a former international rugby player himself, is headed for Paris as mental/technical skills coach for the USA Rugby Women’s National Team.

The team is in pursuit of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014, competing in the Aug. 1-17 tournament.

Coumbe-Lilley, assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition, is a former Brit who played in the Scotland Rugby League until an injury ended his career in 1996.

He was mental skills coach for the USA Men’s Rugby Team in 2002-03 and the assistant and head coach for national women’s divisions of Rugby Canada from 2005 to 2009.

Coumbe-Lilley is one of four coaches for the 26-woman squad. Twelve teams are competing for the World Cup.

Asked what is the hardest thing about his assignment, Coumbe-Lilley said, “Working under testing circumstances at the top of my capability every day.”

And the rewards?

“The relationships with colleagues and players,” he said. “It’s fantastic to be part of a community of committed people who have a sense of humor, too.

“The experiences I am privileged to have you can’t put a price on.”

Coumbe-Lilley is blogging about his work.

He comments in one dispatch: “At this level, complimenting extreme effort is like congratulating the mailman for delivering a letter. Effort does not win matches at the highest level. Physicality, technique, decision-making and concentration do!”

The women’s rugby team was in Wales and England from June 23 to July 7 and moves to Normandy July 19 before heading to Paris July 30.

USA's women's rugby team

The USA Women’s Rugby team competes for the World Cup next month.

The team has been playing warm-up matches, winning its first against Wales.

“On game days,” Coumbe-Lilley writes, “my role is to lead the warm-up, keep the bench mood positive, settle the kickers before they kick and pass messages between the coaching staff and on-field captain.”

Coumbe-Lilley started preparing for the coaching task at the end of 2012 with some reading that had little to do with rugby.

First was a book about the polar explorers Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott.

“Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth was very instructive because it dealt with all the aspects of performance: selecting the right people, measuring what you do, balancing interests, values and needs, failures/successes of leadership … and more,” Coumbe-Lilley writes.

“Then I read Stanislavsky’s An Actor Prepares, Andre Agassi’s Open, and finally my favorite book, S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche tribe’s successes and failures.”