A Letter from 2017 Graduate John Gadient
Hello ND Rugby Fans and Alumni,
My name is John Gadient. I am a 2017 Notre Dame Grad and a former Irish rugby player. This last year I had the opportunity to live in Germany and teach English with the Fulbright program. I taught at a high school in a small village called Konz but lived in the nearby city of Trier near the Luxembourg border.
When I was given my placement in Trier, the first thing I did was search for a rugby team in the area. During a semester studying in Heidelberg, Germany in 2015, I had learned that rugby teams in Germany are few and far between. They tend to be concentrated around certain cities. Luckily for me in 2015, Heidelberg is Germany’s main rugby city and I had the chance to pick from 4 high-quality teams (I chose TSV Handschuhsheim if anyone was wondering). My options in Trier were more limited. There was a team in Trier and the closest alternative was almost an hour away in Luxembourg. Because I would not have a car while living in Germany, I joined the Trier rugby team.
My first training session with the team came on the same day I arrived in Germany. I chose to run from my apartment to the pitch to work the 9 hour flight out of my legs. By the time I found the field, called the Waldstadion because it was hidden in a forest atop a small mountain, I had been awake for nearly 24 hours. I was greeted by the coach, Johannes Schmitt, and told to jump right in. One of the first things I noticed was the overall inexperience of the players. It was split fairly evenly between German civilians and American soldiers. Many of the players had little to no experience playing rugby. Despite the difference in level from my time at Notre Dame and in Heidelberg, I still found the training very enjoyable. The players were all very welcoming and made me feel like a part of the team right away.
Though the first training was a pleasant experience, there were challenges the team faced. The primary issue was the commitment and availability of the players. It was rare for us to have more than 10 players at any given training. We also had trouble putting together a full 22 man roster for matches. Additionally, there were disagreements between players that made up the teams administration and the coach regarding how the team should be managed. As a result, the team lacked basic structure in their play and did not perform as a unit. This led us to a rough start to the season with 3 straight losses. We did pick up a win in the 4th game of the season, but we were forced to forfeit our 5th match because we could not put forward 15 players. I approached Coach Johannes after this to offer help with the coaching. He had plenty of experience in the backline, playing for several years for various clubs in England, but he didn’t know much about forward play. Because I had 5 years playing for higher level programs, I was brought on as the forwards coach for Trier Rugby.
With the implementation of a basic pod system for attack and a restructuring of the defensive line, we made quick improvement. We won the last 2 matches before heading into the winter break. We began playing as a team and had high hopes for the next half of the season. In addition, we picked up several talented and experienced players, one from France and one from New Zealand. Between them they brought 20 years of rugby experience to the team. One area the team agreed needed improvement was fitness. Johannes and I put together an intense strength and conditioning regime to prepare for our spring matches. Though the program was harder than what many of the players were used to, they embraced the challenge and put in plenty of hard work.
Just before restarting matches in March, Trier Rugby took a major hit. Nearly all of the American soldiers that played for us were restationed to bases all around the world. This meant that we were once again struggling for numbers. Despite this set back, Trier Rugby kept its momentum from the fall, winning 3 of the first 4 matches of the spring season fighting to a draw in the other match. With this success, we had moved from the bottom of the league to 3rd place. However, the lack of players was taking its toll. Because we did not have enough players for a full 22 man roster, many players had to play beyond their limits. This lead to several injuries. In the second to last game, we were only able to put forward 15 men. We chose to play the match despite our lack of players. We suffered 2 more injuries in a tough loss and were forced to forfeit the last match of the season. Trier Rugby finished the season with a 6-6-1 record and came in 4th place in the league. Overall, the experience was a challenging, but rewarding one, as I look back at the growth we had, and the adversity we overcame.
In addition to playing with Trier I was also invited to play for the regional 7s team in the national 7s tournament in Hamburg, Germany. I was a part of a team made up of players from all around Rheinland Pfalz (one of 16 German “states”). It had been over 4 years since I had played 7s competitively, so I was a bit nervous to see if I still could handle the sprinting and fast paced play. The team was made up of mostly young player, 18-20 years old. Though we fought hard, we were outmatched by much more experienced teams and were 0-4 in the tournament. Something I learned while playing with these men from other clubs was that the issues we had at Trier Rugby seemed to be common in German Rugby as a whole. Most teams outside of the 3 or 4 main rugby cities had trouble filling their rosters and playing full 15s matches. Many couldn’t get enough players out regularly to have proper training sessions.
My major take away from this whole experience is that rugby in Germany is in an interesting place at the moment, in many ways. It is growing slowly in certain areas of the country. They are in need of more widespread growth in participation before they will be able to step onto the world stage of rugby. Not dissimilar from USA Rugby several years ago. My experience in Germany and with German rugby was a special one and I hope German Rugby will see the same growth that we have seen in America.
University of Notre Dame ‘17
Bachelor of Arts
International Economics with German
*John is now a first year law student at the University of Georgia