Jock Talk: SF Fog coach
is calm, but in command
by Roger Brigham
So often we think of coaches as loud, demonstrative demons, posturing for the cameras as they bewail and bemoan every perceived grief. The best coaches, however, are those who needn't shout to be heard and listened to, who can direct with clarity and compassion.
There is calmness and command when Kathy Flores, the out, veteran rugby coach for the San Francisco Fog, stands on the sidelines, surveying the action and giving directions. Her demeanor is utterly approachable and without a hint of nonsense – even when her eyes sparkle as she enjoys a good joke or a well-designed play goes bust.
"As a player, I was already always kind of a coach," she said. "I've always been interested in coaching without thinking of it as coaching."
Flores, a former javelin thrower and field hockey payer, was introduced to rugby at the age of 23 while she was a graduate student at Florida State University.
"I loved football and played quarterback," she said. "Someone told me there's this sport where you can actually tackle someone. Actually tackle them."
So she started showing up, but at first it was total frustration.
"It was completely foreign to me," she said. "It was an ego thing for four to six weeks, when I was wondering, 'Why can't I get this thing?' Then I fell in love."
And into the sport that was to become her life. Since then she's gone on to be a player on national championship teams and coach of the USA women's team. Currently, in addition to the Fog, she coaches the women's team at the University of San Francisco and the women's Berkeley All Blues.
"Kathy is the critical link to the All Blues' tradition of athletic excellence and the bright future of American rugby," said Alexandra Boskovich, president of the All Blues. "Her commitment and ability to develop any player or club distinguishes her in our growing sport and community. It is a rarity and a tremendous gift to have someone like Kathy, whose knowledge of the game runs as deep as her dedication to the club and our members."
When Flores was approached about taking on the Fog a couple of years ago, she jumped at the chance.
"I had always wanted to coach the Fog," Flores said. "I love the sport and I want to expose as many people to it as I can, particularly young women. It's important for their confidence and self-esteem. With college girls, after playing rugby they start thinking better of themselves and realize what they can do better. You see them walk into interviews differently. Working with gay men, I see the same things. After playing a little bit of sports, there's a whole change in how they see themselves, kind of like a flower blooming."
Flores said she likes the bashes after the matches as much as the bashing during the matches themselves.
"I like the camaraderie," she said. "In rugby, what you learn is after you fight on the field, you host each other with food and drink. What other sport do you get that in? You learn more than just competition."
Flores described herself as an army brat, moving around with her family throughout childhood but spending her high school years in New Jersey. She came out while she was a sophomore in college.
"My father would make homophobic jokes," she said. "I think he knew but couldn't face it. I already knew what I was, but my freshman year I had an experience that scared me. My sophomore year I just decided I am what I am. Then I was get-out-of-my-face-I'm-gay."
Now 58, Flores still remembers what it was like to tackle the sport when it was still all new, foreign and distant to her. She works to help younger athletes take it on.
"Coaching and playing: people try to compare them," Flores said. "It's just not the same. Often players will gravitate to coaching because we miss the physical energy. But you really have to switch gears. It's a process."
A process she embraces.
"People discovering themselves – that's one reason why I've always wanted to work with the Fog. I feel like I'm a good coach and they deserve a good coach who would help them feel about themselves. Whatever I ask them to do, they do. They trust me."
The SF Fog has a mission to help bring diverse and underrepresented groups into the sport of rugby. The men and women's squads train on Treasure Island on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Previous experience is not a requirement to join. For more information, visit http://www.sffog.org.