Coaching boys into men via the sports field

The ties between Mark Wadie and Jackson Friend go back three generations.
The ties between Mark Wadie and Jackson Friend go back three generations.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

Coaching Boys into Men is an initiative set up to engage sports coaches as mentors for young athletes, teaching them the importance of respect for themselves and others, particularly women.

It has run successfully in the United States and has now been launched in Australia, with several sporting codes gathering in Canberra on Monday for a training clinic.

Facilitated by Mark Wadie, founding director of the I Respect Initiative and violence prevention advocate, the program centres around training and motivating coaches to teach their players about healthy relationship skills and that violence never equals strength.

But it does so much more than that.

"Coaches play a hugely influential and unique role in the lives of young men," says Wadie.

"They are in a key position to positively influence how young men think and behave, both on and off the field."

Wadie says sport can perpetuate many myths of what it means to "be a man".

"Be a man … boys don't cry … boys will be boys … It's only locker room talk … these are things we hear too often when it comes to sport," he says.

"But you've only got to look across sports fields on a Saturday morning to realise that sport is a unique opportunity, where we have a captive audience, to teach our boys about becoming better men."


Wadie's father, Brian, died when he was just eight. Wadie went to school the next day, played soccer with his mates - "I just cut myself off from my emotions and grew up with a lack of identity about what it meant to be a man," he said.

It wasn't until he was 33 and he attended a rite of passage weekend in the foothills of Bellingen that he realised what his new path would be.

Wadie, now 47, came home and asked one of his father's best mates, Brian Friend, if he would be his mentor.

Brian, and Wadie's father were classmates at Canberra High, playing rugby together on weekends. Wadie later became mates with Andy, Brian's son, when they both attended Canberra Grammar School. Andy, the former Brumbies coach and now Australian Rugby Sevens coach, was "like a brother," Wadie said.

Andy is the CBIM program ambassador but was unable to be at the launch due to his overseas Sevens commitments.

And now, Andy's son Jackson has been brought into this group of men who realise the importance of being there for each other.

"When Jackson injured himself recently, his rugby career over, I said to him, I've got you, I put out my hand."

Jackson, 20, said being involved in the Coaching Men into Boys program was too good an opportunity to pass up. He has moved into a coaching role at Easts Rugby Club and will look for ways to pass on the positive influences he has received.

"I've seen what influence good men can have on boys and I want to be part of that," he said.

"Dad was definitely my number one role model," he says.

"I have a lot of respect for him. I have no shame in saying that out loud. He's taught me a lot of things and I am the man I am today because of him.

"And it's great having Mark in my corner too."

More information about the 12-week program can be found at