More than just rugby | Cohan Politini’s philosophy and coaching

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The Nadi 2023 team after a session at the sand dunes in Nadroga. Picture: SUPPLIED

WITH the Rugby World Cup 2023 now well and truly behind us and this year’s rugby season is over for most, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on all that has transpired.

In the midst of that reflection, for those who may set some goals, it is time to decide on the next part of their rugby or sports journey.

In doing so, some may come to the conclusion that it’s time to hang their boots. However, that does not mean they have to completely sever their connection with the sport.

They can continue their association with the sport in other capacities; as club and union administrators, coaches, referees etc.

For those who aspire to one day done the national jumper, it is a fact that only a select few will get to wear the coveted white jersey, a bigger number will wear the provincial jersey and much more will actively play rugby at the club level.

It’s just the way it is. As you go higher, the number of players will decrease. So, it’s important to show our young and maybe not-so-young people that there are other opportunities within rugby.

For the time being, there are at least two very good examples of this. One is Nacani Cawanibuka, more commonly known as Master Naca, who is the head of Athletic Performance with the Fijian Drua. He was also part of the coaching team to the RWC 2023.

Prior to that, Cawanibuka was also an integral part of the 2016 and 2021 Olympic gold medal winning teams.

The other is Cohan Politini. He has been coaching Farebrother Trophy holders Nadi for a while now and like Cawanibuka, also represented Fiji at the age group level. When his playing days came to an end, Politini took the next step and moved into coaching.

Describing himself, Politini said: “I am a 47-year-old male. Born in Labasa to a Tongan dad and a Samoan mum. I am the eldest to three sisters and a father to three daughters. So, I have been around females most of my life.”

He is married to Mereani Maramanisokula who is from Vuna, Taveuni. Of his wife, Politini said: “She has been the reason I have been so successful. Her support and advice for me has been unwavering and I am blessed to be her husband.”

Their three children are Leilani 19, Mirtila 16 and Taliamailagi 8. His rugby journey began when he represented the Natabua High School under-17 team. He was then 15 years old.

Apart from representing Fiji at the age group level, Politini also played a season the 1997- 1998 season in France where he teamed up with the great Waisale Serevi for Stade Montois team.

They won the Pro D2 competition that year. A decade later, Politini moved into the next phase of his rugby career.

“I took up coaching in 2007 with my Nadi Airport Rugby Club. It just happened.

“I had been watching numerous club games and realised I was enjoying trying to pick out the efficiencies and inefficiencies in how they were playing. That piqued my interest and so decided to actually use a team to demonstrate what I thought was a better way of doing things on the field.”

Throughout it all, he accredits his wife for being his “biggest driver” who encourages him on a daily basis to push on. In terms of pushing on, Politini is a World Rugby Level 3 15’s accredited coach and he also lately got his World Rugby Educator certification However, rugby has not been the only sport in his life.

As a youngster, Class One to Form 7, Politini said he was “heavily involved” in swimming.

“I come from a swimming family where both my mum and dad coached and all my sisters swam for Fiji.”

However, it is his love for rugby which has endured first as a player and now as a coach.

“I started with my Nadi Airport Rugby Club coaching for three years before I began with Nadi for the past 12 years.

“In 2022 I coached Natabua High School and also in 2023. I also coach Fiji Agape Primary School. I am currently head coaching the Army Sukuna Bowl Team for 2023.”

Having won the Farebrother Trophy would be an achievement in anyone’s books but that is not the only gauge by which Politini measures his success.

“I firmly believe in God’s sovereignty and his purpose for which he blessed me with the success I have had.

“For me coaching is more to do with mentoring and building relationships. As we all know rugby can be compared to any other journey we take as individuals, the lessons in it and the lives you touch and impact for the better is what matters far more than any accolade. Nurturing and mentoring better sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, uncles and aunties, leaders and members of our society is what matters more. And rugby is my catalyst to do that.

“There’s a saying ‘it takes a village’ to build up our rugby champs and I like to give it my best with my small contribution to progressing them to bigger and better things in their lives.

“I have coached and mentored a lot of players who have gone through to don our national jersey including Vatemo Ravouvou, Semi Kunatani, Setereki Tuicuvu, Vilive MIramira, Kitione Taliga, Savenaca Rawaca and many more.”

Rugby can be demanding at times given our scarce resources and he does his best to help where he can.

“We all understand that the high demands of rugby and time away from the family strains relationships and from time to time, I like to assist where I can – whether it be financially or through counselling or finding employment, overseas contracts for boys etc.”

While some may think that coaching is solely about winning, Politini likes to see himself as an enabler and a guide.

“My main goal as a coach is to guide and create an environment for players to properly develop and demonstrate their God-given talents.”

When questioned about life after rugby, he said: “That is of the uttermost importance. As I had mentioned earlier that for me it is more mentoring than coaching so a principled approach to coaching coupled with being approachable builds that personal relationship with players which then opens you up to proper guidance and counselling to individuals especially in setting priorities and the responsibilities that come with those priorities – the most important being family.

“Building a better person through rugby has always been my coaching philosophy.”