Stormers coach talks about faith, family, forgiveness and success
“I’m delighted to speak about God”, were the opening words of Allister Coetzee, senior coach of the Western Province(WP) and Stormers rugby teams, as I sat on the Grand Stand at Newlands Rugby stadium, to speak with him about his life and relationship with God. A man who is diminutive in stature but from my observations of his interaction with his personnel, is one who commands huge respect with the players and his coaching staff. Displaying a humble spirit and an approachable demeanor, Coetzee spoke at length, not only about his illustrious career as a rugby player and coach but also about his love for God, whom he says, is the chief cornerstone of his life.
Coetzee hails from Grahamstown, a small, sport-loving community in the Eastern Cape, with great historic significance. In humble conditions, he grew up with his parents and two brothers and a sister, all of whom went on to establish their careers in the teaching profession.
Today, Coetzee lives in Welgemoed, an affluent suburb just outside of Bellville, with his wife Dianne and his daughters, Melissa and Mariscka. Melissa is currently in her final year at Stellenbosch University and studying towards a degree in teaching, while Mariscka is completing her matric this year.
“Spending quality time with my wonderful wife and daughters is extremely important to me. After all, my success is greatly attributed to their sacrifice and support over many years”, said Coetzee.
Coetzee’s parents clearly had a great influence on his Christian life. His mother, Elma,who was always the spiritual pillar of the family, had to “hold the fort”, after Coetzee’s father, Phillip died in a car accident when Coetzee was in his teens.
“The progress I’ve made in life is largely due to the godly character portrayed by my mom and the biblical values which my parents instilled in us as children. Today, I still hold dearly to these biblical principles and my wife and I rear our own children with these very same values. I’m also very fortunate that my parents in law (Freddie and Lydia) have similar traits to my parents and that ensures that our entire family shares the same religious values and values in general.” he said.
Coetzee also has fond memories of his father, and the impact that his dad had on his rugby career. “My achievements as a rugby player, are largely due to my father’s achievements on the rugby field. As a youngster growing up in Grahamstown, the locals always reminded me of my dad’s (who was affectionately known as “Koetie” in those days) great exploits on the field. That served as great motivation for me to do the same.”
After kicking off his rugby career as a scrumhalf for the South Eastern Districts rugby Union in the “70s, (under the then non-racial body, South African Rugby Union), Coetzee went on to represent Eastern Province (EP) from 1982 to 1992. During this period he also represented EP in the SA Cup from ’86 to ’92. With the emergence of unification in Sport in 1992, Coetzee went on to play for the amalgamated EP rugby team from ’92 to ’95. His playing days culminated in 1996, when he represented the first Junior Springbok team, against Namibia.
Coetzee’s sparkling, thirteen year career as a rugby coach commenced in 1997 with Port Elizabeth Harlequins and included coaching the EP Currie Cup team from 2001 to 2005. During his tenure with EP, he also coached the Emerging Springboks with Heyneke Meyer in ’98, was promoted to senior coach of EP and was appointed as head coach of the SA Under 23 team, as well as assistant coach of the senior Springbok team, with Jake White. In 2008, Coetzee was appointed as assistant coach of the Stormers and in 2010 up to the present, he has taken over the reins as senior coach of the Stormers.
“Having taken the Stormers to one Super Rugby Final and two semi-finals, as well as back-to-back SA Conference titles, are achievements that I’m extremely grateful for but winning the World Cup in 2007 with Jake White and the Springboks and clinching the Currie Cup with WP in 2012 (after two near misses in the semi-finals), are undoubtedly the highlights of my rugby career”, Coetzee added with a glow in his eyes.
In addition to his successful rugby career, Coetzee was also a cricket player of note, having represented EP as a wicket-keeper /batsman.
It is, however, Coetzee’s faith in God, that is the mainstay of his life and about which he speaks with such passion and conviction. “I could never have achieved success without God. He is and has always been the chief cornerstone of my life. When I reflect on my life over the past few decades, I can see the favour of God on my life and the plan He set out for me”, said Coetzee.
He recalls how challenging life was, growing up in a disadvantaged community but the fortitude that enabled him and his family to “weather the storms” during those tough times, were deeply rooted in Christian values, the foundation of his family life.
“Life to me is about helping others. Don’t just be a Christian by name…live like a Christian. It is important to show kindness and compassion and to serve others, just as Christ did….like my mom and dad did”, he said.
Coetzee said that his Christian beliefs and values also have a great influence on the manner in which he approaches his coaching and management role of the WP and Stormers team.
“I make it very clear to the players…good people, make good Stormers. It is not your ability on the field only that matters but is also about your ability to fit into the Stormers culture of care and respect for others, regardless of race and religion”, said Coetzee. He is acutely aware of God’s master plan for his role as rugby coach and for his life. “I seek God’s advice on everything I do. I pray about my game-plan first, before I take it to the team”, said Coetzee.
Coetzee spoke with great conviction about the lessons in forgiveness and love that God had to teach him. “When my eldest daughter fell pregnant a few years ago during her first year at varsity, I was very disappointed and angry. But God spoke with me through Ephesians 4: 32, which says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” God showed me that my daughter’s needs are more important than mine. What I hadn’t realised was that she was so disappointed in herself, that she had not forgiven herself. However, about a year ago we spoke about it in detail and I realised that she had only forgiven herself then. What I learnt from this was that you cannot make decisions in the heat of the moment. You sometimes need to take a step back before reacting to something which might seem like a traumatic situation at the time. By waiting, and not immediately reacting to a potentially explosive situation, you must allow for the dust to settle and not let your emotions affect your decision-making process. God restored my relationship with my daughter and now, by the grace of God, she is completing her final year in her teaching degree at Stellenbosch University. As grandparents, we now have the greatest gift of all – our grand-daughter, Marissa. I’m now also able to help others, who have perhaps experienced a similar crisis.”
Coetzee and his family attend the Congregational Church in Bellville. While he is unable to be involved in the ministries of the church as much as he would like, due to the stringent demands of his job and extensive travelling commitments, he actively participates in church events and activities, when in Cape Town. He also enjoys a good relationship with the church leaders and members.
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Bible provides blueprint for dealing with life situations
“The Bible is my blueprint for dealing with all situations in life. So, whether I’m interacting with the players, management or media, my response to any challenging situation will always be informed by my Christian values. God helps me to keep perspective and respond to criticism in a composed manner and with the right attitude”, said Coetzee. He firmly believes that if you operate with integrity, and treat people in a dignified, non-judgmental manner, you will earn the respect of most individuals…. even your fiercest critics.
For the next few years Coetzee has set his sights on goals, other than just rugby. While he ‘makes no bones’ about the fact that his future as coach of the WP and Stormers rugby teams has an expiry date , the thought of which bringing a measure of anxiety, he is not unduly concerned about it, as he is trusting God to direct his path. “The things that I cannot control, I leave with God”, Coetzee said.
“I’m determined to strengthen my relationship with God, and grow as a husband and as a father. I would like to explore new and exciting opportunities with my family. To share my gifts and talents with others and tell them of God’s goodness, are things that I will focus on in years to come”, said Coetzee.
Coetzee’s advice to young Christians involved in sport is to respect their bodies as the temple of God. He also believes that real success and meaning in one’s sporting career, lies not only in remaining physically active and honing your skills but about understanding the bigger picture…God’s plan for your life. His encouragement to the youth is to spend time in prayer and ask God to show His plan for their lives and then to honour God by working hard at being the best they can be.
“You must leave your ‘mark’ wherever you are. Show people what God has enabled you to do and excel at it. Also show them that you are doing it, not only for yourself but also for others and most importantly, for His glory. Don’t make material possessions the priority of your life. Those things are temporary. Pursue godly values…they last for a life-time and will bring you true fulfillment in life”, was Coetzee’s final, impassioned appeal to young people.