Former Springbok centre ANDRÉ SNYMAN chats to RugbyRocks.com’s Simon Borchardt about becoming an American citizen, coaching in the US and his new role at Hill House School in England.
You and your family became US citizens last month, which you said was one of the proudest moments of your life. Why does it mean so much to you?
Yes, becoming a US citizen was a big moment for me and my family. It’s been an eight-year process and financially draining to get all the documentation and lawyers’ fees sorted, so to be able to say I’ve done it is great. We are also proud of this moment because it gives our South African-born kids, Keira and Cuan, an opportunity in life to choose where they want to go.
How did you end up in the US?
My wife had a green card – she had been coming in and out of the US since she was an 18-year-old exchange student – and I knew people in the rugby world in the US. They asked me to join their club, the Glendale Raptors in Denver, and we managed to get the right visas. It was not easy, but being married to Phillipa did help.
Did it take time for you to adjust to living in the US?
Yes, as with any country you move to, there will be challenges. Opening a bank account, buying a vehicle or finding a place to rent is difficult if you don’t have a credit score. Living in the US was great and the biggest difference for me was the fact that you are not a prisoner in your own home. We had no burglar bars on our windows and there are no concrete walls between houses.
Apart from the safety aspect, what were the best things about living in the US?
The convenience of the country and the infrastructure.
As a family, do you speak Afrikaans or English, or a bit of both? Have you guys picked up American accents?
We speak mostly English. There are some words we had to say in an American accent or they wouldn’t have understood us!
You were head coach of the Glendale Raptors for five years. How did you develop as a coach during that time and what were your on-field highlights?
It was great being a coach there but it had its challenges. The club was amateur and players had to pay their way around to get to games, so you could only pick your team from players who could afford to travel. The skill level was average but they are quick learners and good athletes. As far as my development as a coach is concerned, it taught me how to handle diversity and communicate/manage players better. My biggest on-field achievement was being a back-to-back championship-winning coach.
You then spent a year at USA West Rugby. Tell us about your vision to create an U12 invitational team comprising both boys and girls.
This was a great opportunity for kids at that age level to develop and experience an international tour to Monaco, where they took part in the St Devote tournament hosted by Princess Charlene. I saw a lot of female players dropping out or getting lost in the system at this age and I wanted to create something where they could continue to play and look forward to being part of something that has international connections. My daughter also represented this team.
Tell us a bit about your business, Accent Projects, which you ran in Denver.
It was a cedar wood fencing business and did bathroom remodels. I had to do something outside of coaching as the coaching positions are mostly filled by volunteers.
You were appointed head coach of Hill House School, Doncaster, in July. How did that come about and how did you feel about moving from the US to the UK?
I played for the Leeds Tykes [now known as Yorkshire Carnegie] from the end of 2003 until 2007 and made some amazing friends. One of them is currently the director of sport at a private school and he told me about this position being open. He said it would suit me, so I applied. Moving back to the UK is great because I’ve lived here before and understand the challenges here. We have more family and friends here in the UK than when we moved to the US, so the move has been easier.
Do you think you will return to the US? Major League Rugby is taking off and you may get an opportunity to coach there at some stage.
I’m glad MLR is taking off and it would’ve been great to get involved but at the time of me applying for Hill House School, no one had approached me to get involved.
How often do you visit South Africa and will you ever come back to live here?
We try to visit SA every three or four years but it’s expensive to buy four return tickets and our family motto is to rather use that money to travel somewhere else in the world we haven’t been. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself moving back to South Africa unless there’s an unbelievable opportunity or a position with job security for me and my family.