What makes you a real man? We ask Connacht’s Pat Lam

Are you a metrosexual, retrosexual, himbo or plain confused?

Connacht rugby’s head coach Pat Lam  says today’s man needs to be open and brave enough to just be himself. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht rugby’s head coach Pat Lam says today’s man needs to be open and brave enough to just be himself. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

How to be a Man is a series exploring masculinity and the challenges men face in Ireland today. If you would like to add your voice to this series, email howtobeaman@irishtimes.com

Are you a lad, a new man, a metrosexual, a retrosexual, a himbo or just plain confused? What is it like to be a man right now, where there’s no rule book and no guidance on how today’s man ought to behave?

There’s arguably no manlier sport than rugby so we asked Connacht Rugby head coach Pat Lam what he thinks about life as a man.

There’s no doubting that Lam is a very modern man. Confident and with a sense of purpose, he is happy to talk about his feelings, what’s important in his life and how he works on being a coach and leader, a husband, father and friend.

He acknowledges that discussing your feelings is not an Irish trait. “Yes, there is a past culture in Ireland about not talking about yourself or what’s happening and I understand where that comes from in your history. But your history does not define you,” he says.

To break the ice with his team back in 2013 when he first arrived in Connacht, Lam prepared a PowerPoint presentation – a pretty standard management practice. But the presentation was not about rugby skills or tactics but about himself and what was important to him. “I just told them about me and my family and where I came from and who I am. I wanted them to know me.”

Bit of bravery

Sharing who you are and being open about who you are does take a bit of bravery if you are not used to it, he concedes, but the benefits are worth it.

“I asked everyone on the team to make up their own presentation after that. What came out was how important family and friends are to us and that’s what is important in life. When you break down barriers, you can be real and that’s when true friendships and a team spirit develop.”

Guys who had been playing together for a long time found out things they didn’t know about each other and it reinforced what mattered to them, Lam says. ‘It helped us create engaging relationships and a very strong team spirit. When you ask anyone what they loved about rugby when they retire, they don’t say the training and the game, they talk about the mates they made and the people they were with, that’s the important bit.”

The former New Zealand and Samoan international puts his own culture at the centre of his life as a man. “The Samoan culture is very religious and very family orientated,” he says.

“The Pacific Island culture is about closeness. We do a lot of dancing, singing and being with family. Everyone is family, even when they are not. All the men are bros together and we call each other cuzzybros even when we are not cousins. We are extremely close and that translates into the love of sport and rugby and how you can just get in there and tackle and fight and let off steam with your bros on the field but it is all about friendship and family.’

Another family

Today, on the other side of the world with his own family, he has created another Connacht rugby family, rooted in respect and openness.

It can be tough to be a man today, he suggests, but only if you are not being true to yourself.

“You will not be happy in life if you are not comfortable with yourself. I really think about my life and where I am going and how I can make a difference in this world.”

Lam says today’s man needs to be open and brave enough to just be himself. “You need to take a look at yourself as a partner, work colleague and best mate. The value of a good friend can change someone’s life. We need to step up and be there for each other.”

Good times will never change a character, he believes. “All our moments of greatness come from tough times.” When Lam played for Samoa, the team was everything, he says. The game is no different today. Rugby’s core values are widely considered to be all about teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship but at Connacht there is one value Lam puts before all others.

A sign pinned to the wall in his office is headed ‘True Team Culture’ and underneath is one word – Love. We have a skewed view of what love means today, he says. To Lam, love is about sacrificing oneself for the benefit of others.

“No matter how successful I am, I am always reliant on other people. My loving wife, my family, my friends and my teammates. We always need to be loved and have people we care about around us. That is where the emotion is.”

He believes that the world of sport mirrors life. “You go through so many emotions when you are playing and that’s the same in life and it’s how you deal with those emotions that will define who you are.”

Emotional man = tough man

So an emotional man is actually a tough man, according to Lam. Your confidence in yourself is key, he says, and the hardest lesson is to ensure you don’t get your sense of value from what other people say. “The hardest thing for any man (or woman) is to be judged, and you need to be strong enough and happy enough with yourself not to get dragged down by what you hear.”

So for Lam, mental toughness to be is not about being macho and strong all the time. “You won’t get anywhere by being defensive and aggressive, that is not being a man. To me mental toughness is about being able to do what you need to do, when you need to do it.”

Balancing his work life and his life at home as a father of five and a husband takes work, he says. “I don’t do it alone. I have a very supportive wife and again communication is everything. We value quality time. I could be the house all day but not really ‘there’ at all. My wife would rather I gave her 15 minutes quality time to listen and be present and it’s the same with our children.

“What most people want is honesty and truth. If my wife is not happy, she will tell me. When you ask someone what they want from a coach, most people say honest feedback. It comes back to being truthful.”

For Lam, a real man is truthful, with himself and others. “We can build people up or knock them down. If you don’t feel happy with yourself, it’s hard to be happy with anyone else. Every man needs a sense of purpose and the knowledge they can make a difference. That’s what makes a real man”.

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