Tiffany Faaee is a sporting trailblazer like few others.
The 36-year-old led the US Eagles – the country’s women’s rugby team – to a fourth-place finish at the 2017 World Cup in Ireland as captain. And although that was a sterling achievement in itself, it’s Faaee’s latest role that has seen her really put down a marker in the sport.
Faaee is an assistant coach at Rugby United New York – a men’s team in Major League Rugby (MLR), the sport’s top professional competition in North America. Among the playing roster at Rugby United New York is former England full-back Ben Foden.
It is a position that makes Faaee something of a pioneer; she is the first woman to coach in men’s professional rugby in the country – not that the role of barrier-breaker is one she ever openly sought.
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“I never see myself as someone that people would look up to,” she explains. “It’s overwhelming, it’s obviously a blessing and I sometimes do question how I got myself in this position. I think it’s the women who message me that inspire me to keep going.”
Born in California, Faaee spent part of her youth in New Zealand and Samoa, two rugby hotbeds. She developed a passion for the game there that has remained with her.
Yet in the US, where the growth of rugby remains in its embryonic stages, Faaee is aware of the positive influence she can have as a woman at the top end of the sport.
A number of female coaches have begun to make headway in other US sports in recent years.
In March, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first NFL team to hire two women as full-time assistant coaches. Four years previously, Jen Welter became the first female coach in NFL history when she joined the Arizona Cardinals’ staff.
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Faaee believes she has a duty to ensure that diversity and acceptance become the rule rather than an exception.
“It’s huge and obviously it’s an honor; it comes with responsibility,” she says of her role at the New York franchise, where she works under former US national team coach Mike Tolkin.
Faaee also hopes to encourage the growth of the game that has given her so much.
“Rugby was just so natural for me. It’s a game of give and take; you have your own skills but it’s about working as a team.
“At home, I was always the oldest and I was always having to set a tone and look after everyone else.
“Whereas with rugby, I was the same as everyone on the pitch, so it was a time for me to be a child or just have fun and make mistakes.”
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Male or female, that’s a positive message that should resonate with young rugby players.