Meet Old Glory DC’s New Head Coach Josh Syms

Written By Joe Harvey I Photos By Paris Malone

On the final day of October 2022, Old Glory DC unveiled its new Head Coach. That Head Coach comes in the form of Josh Syms, a New Zealander who will marry his role in Major League Rugby with his pre-existing position as Head Coach with NPC Bunnings’ side, Hawke’s Bay Magpies.

As a player, Syms would play two first-class games for Manawatu, but it is as a coach that the 42-year-old has really made an impact. 

Committing himself to both the development of players and the teams he is involved with, Syms coached the Thailand national team in 2008 before coaching numerous Auckland-age grade sides between 2009 and 2012.

In the years that have followed, Syms stepped into the professional game with teams like Southland, and in 2018, he became an assistant coach with the Magpies before taking on the head coaching position in 2021 following the departure of Mark Ozich.

Described as having “outstanding coaching ability,” Syms arrives to an Old Glory side that finished the 2022 season with a 3-13 record in the regular season and was 34 points off the playoff pace.

“Like anything, you don’t have to be far off for things to go wrong, and sometimes losing becomes as big a habit as winning,” Syms said. “Unfortunately, they got into a losing habit last year, which is hard to shake sometimes.

“I know they lost five games by less than six points this year, and the previous year won five games by less than six points. It just happens. I have got some confidence to manage the side, and the top brass has re-signed a lot of the team and retained a lot of the talent.

“They have a strong club ethos staked within that was sent out by the league to try and grow rugby in America, and part of that is growing the collegiate level, and for me, you can only work with the willing.

Photo By Paris Malone

“My understanding is that they are keen to be successful, it will take time building a winning habit, but hopefully, we can start creating that over the first six months.”

Syms’ initial connection with Old Glory came through the team’s star scrum-half, Danny Tusitala, and the 42-year-old certainly arrives with an impressive pedigree. While only taking up coaching once his playing days were behind him, Syms has been surrounded by coaches his entire life.

His father, David, coached alongside the legendary All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry for a time and, while attending Palmerston North High School, was taught English by current All Blacks assistant coach, Joe Schmidt. 

Following in his parent’s footsteps and former English teacher, Syms took to the classroom when he completed his geography degree. Then, starting his coaching career in cricket at Tauranga Boys College, where one of his charges was Kane Williamson, the current New Zealand captain.

Having been immersed by coaches for much of his life, it should be no surprise that Syms has excelled in his career, as his experience teaching has allowed him a strong ethos in how to get the best out of his players. 

Photo By Paris Malone

“For me, coaching is about relationships,” Syms said. “The challenge for a coach is to build relationships with new people, and socio-economic standards dictate that, and language, ethnicity and culture changes the way you interact with people and understanding where people come from.

“For me, a lot about the way a person is going to react under pressure, and sport is pressure, is where they have come from, what their background is, what their upbringing is, and what their understanding is.

“A lot of that is the reason people react the way they do. Going and coaching is more about coming up with how you speak to players, and you can only get experience from doing. 

“So, the challenge for me at DC is that it is a totally different environment, a totally different system, completely new bunch of players from incredibly diverse backgrounds.

“There’s Kiwis, South Americans, Europeans players, from vast experience to limited experience, so players with two or three years playing rugby and people that have played 20 years of rugby.

“That’s the appealing thing for me; how am I going to get all of these guys to think the same and take the same approach and empathize with each other. That’s the great challenge of coaching and rugby aside, that’s the appealing part for me.”

Photo By Paris Malone

In the hope of surpassing last season’s sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2022, new General Manager, Marcelo Blanco, has been hard at work to retain talent and bring in new players.

Danny Tusitala, Cory Daniel, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, Jack Iscaro, and Stan South have all recommitted to the cause. At the same time, Tito Diaz, Lautaro Bavaro, and Fermin Martinez will all now call Segra Field home.

Syms is in no doubt that there is a challenge ahead of him with DC. Having to rally a side following a disappointing campaign, the 42-year-old believes that a positive campaign begins by ensuring his players are happy.

Photo By Paris Malone

“In any sports organization, you have got to create an environment that players want to be in; you have got to acquire talent, and that all links to the next bit; you have got to win relevant games,” Syms said.

“Sometimes you win games that matter all the time, at the right time of the season, lots at home to create momentum to help win things when they’re on the line. That’s the third step of anything.

“I am certain that we can create an environment that the players want to be in. I am pretty happy in understanding that the club has acquired the talent. Our key is to win the relevant games, win the games that matter, create some momentum, and try and ride that to wherever it goes.

“These things take time, but no one is saying you can’t win the games that matter, start to create a wave, and who knows where it could take you. That is the hope. That is the way sports work.

“You have got to get lucky, sometimes you have to have the bounce here and there, and that is why when you do win championships, and you do win important games, you enjoy it.”