Coaching the Crusaders

Coaching the Crusaders

simon thomas fitness graduate
It took 14 years for Rangiora-born, Nelson-trained rugby coach, Simon Thomas, to gain the skills, knowledge and experience needed to head the physical performance programme for the BNZ Crusaders.

The 33-year-old spends much of his time these days on the “big picture stuff”. Connecting with Crusaders players within the region. Observing how each regional programme operates, and supporting players onto pathways for success. It’s the best job in the world as far as Simon is concerned.

Simon’s interest in sports training began in earnest at age 19 during a gap year in Ireland. On the emerald isle, Simon played rugby for the under 20s, taught physical education, and helped with a training set up.

The blend of all three suited Simon perfectly, but at that stage a career as a physiotherapist was on the cards. He'd contemplated studying in Dunedin, but the cold didn’t appeal. Neither did a career inside a hospital. Simon ditched the idea of physio and enrolled on the Certificate of Applied Fitness at NMIT in sunny Nelson led by Claire Dallison. A “little taster”, as he put it, to see if it suited him.

Simon was part of the first group to complete the entire pathway from certificate to degree. He credits Claire with helping him stay focussed and committed.

“I knew what I wanted to do early on. I talked to Claire and said ‘look I want to be a trainer for a professional rugby team’ and she said ‘it’s quite a hard thing to crack into so we can’t guarantee it, we’ll see how we go’.

Simon worked hard to reach his goal, at times for free, but he also believes he was in the right place at the right time. Both the NMIT fitness programme and the Tasman Rugby Union were set up within the same period. Class numbers were small and the TRU membership base was still growing.

“It’s a bit of a dream run really. It’s about being in a smaller place. If there had been fifty people all trying to do the same thing...at NMIT it’s more like twenty-five...which gives you access to opportunity.”

In the early days, the Tasman Rugby Union was short on both money and resources. They needed lateral thinkers willing to stretch themselves.

“I probably wouldn’t have half the skill set I have if I’d learnt somewhere that was better resourced. With Tasman, because you didn’t have a whole lot of money you just learnt to be creative and cover a whole lot of different roles on your own. It has allowed me to understand the bigger picture.”

Simon’s advice for new and current students keen to study strength and conditioning or fitness training at NMIT is deceptively simple:

“Try to remain really open in the initial stages. Because it is such a broad degree, there will be things that you might not necessarily connect with initially.”

Simon found communications studies and legal studies the hardest to connect with - topics that most don’t consider ‘sporty’. Yet, as he says, these are the very skills that hold weight in the real world.

"I’m really enjoying and loving what I’m doing at the moment, but if that changes, then I’ll move on to something else and I’ll have a skill set to be able to take across to whatever I change over to."

Study health and fitness at NMIT

Fitness studies is an incredibly diverse field with multiple pathways. You can choose to focus on nutrition education, sports management, sports marketing, sports teaching, personal training and so much more. 

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