Meet Lee Garrett:
Bar Supervisor & Coach slinging drinks, rugby balls & inspiration
As Bar Supervisor at Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon, and Coach for the Banff Community High School girls’ rugby team, Lee considers himself lucky to work at both a job he loves, and a volunteer position where he’s in his natural element.
A hospitality professional by trade, Lee moved from Sydney, Australia, to Banff in 2012, and he’s been coaching rugby with the Banff Bears High School Rugby Club since 2015.
As the Bears wrap up one of their best seasons in recent memory, we caught up with Lee to hear about why he loves coaching rugby and working in hospitality—and how the roles complement one another.
Lee Garrett: For me I love the huge challenges you face individually and as a team. These challenges are both physical and mental, but anyone can play—whether you’re big and strong, or small and fast. All body types are welcome, and they can be used in different ways to overcome challenges the other team brings to the pitch.
BLC: Why do you think rugby is a great sport for kids/young adults?
LG: It’s hugely empowering for them. To have a sport where you can take any body type and empower that person to use it to their advantage—that gives everyone their own sense of belonging within the team. In a world where a certain body image is often the focus, rugby embraces all. On the physical side, it takes only your first few minutes on the pitch to realise you’re not made of glass.
It’s also a truly self-policing game, and a “gentleman’s (or woman’s) game” as they call it. You go out there forcefully and aggressively, but whatever happens, you shake hands with the other team at the end and have a chat with them. I don’t know many physical sports where you can build animosity for 60 to 80 minutes and then still be friendly afterwards!
BLC: Where did your passion come from? How long have you been playing?
LG: I’ve been playing since I was eight or nine years old. I grew up in a really small country town in Australia, so I didn’t have the opportunity to play team sports until our family moved closer to the city. My mother wanted to sign me up for soccer, but I liked the rough and tumble sports much more—so rugby it was!
BLC: What inspired you to start coaching?
LG: After I’d been living in Banff for a while, I heard the Bears were looking for a backs coach at the high school, and the rest is history! Unfortunately, rugby isn’t a sport that you can play competitively for your whole life (or at least, play very well), but I was keen to stay involved in the sport outside of my work in hospitality, so coaching was a great fit. I had been a swimming coach in Australia, so it was useful to have that coaching experience on top of my own time spent playing rugby.
LG: In the past two seasons the participation has been really consistent. We’ve had just under 40 girls, almost allowing us to have a junior and senior program, which really helps. You want around 25 players on a team, ideally, but only need 15 on the field. We train twice a week and generally have one game a week. We also try to enter one tournament a year, which is a lot of fun.
BLC: What do you enjoy about being a coach? How would you describe your coaching style?
LG: Seeing the growth in players’ confidence and passion for the sport is incredibly rewarding. As a coach, I try to be as approachable as possible. I think it’s important to coach from the bottom up, as any team is only as strong as its weakest link. I try to bring the qualities of my own favourite coaches I’ve trained with, along with some things they may have missed, which I took time to learn myself. I want my players to get as much out of the experience as they can.
BLC: Could you share some of your proudest moments as a coach?
LG: Our 29-12 win against arch-rivals Springbank in spring 2018 will stick with me for a long time. After losing the finals to this team for the past four years, the girls had just had enough! We trained for that game all season, and they brought so much determination and willpower. It was a win of tenacity and mental strength. The emotion was something else! I was very proud of their great performance as a team, which they pulled off in challenging, wet conditions.
And, of course, hearing about girls continuing to play after graduating from high school, after having so much fun with our team—that’s always a great feeling.
LG: We have lots of stand-out players—there’s the big ones, of course, like Holly Phillips who was named to the 24-player roster of the Canadian women’s Under-18 national rugby team, while she was part of our club in Grade 11, and has since played for elite team at university England. Then there’s Ashah Payson, who has played for the Prairie Wolf Pack, and is now with The Vikings in Victoria, BC—probably one of the best university sides in the country right now. And the list goes on, with girls playing in university and all around the place. Our current group seems very keen to continue after graduating high school, which is fantastic.
BLC: How long have you been working at Wild Bill’s? What do you enjoy about your role?
LG: It will be six years with Bill’s in September 2018, and it’s been a blast. I love meeting new people every day, hearing stories about what they’ve done in the National Park and what they love about it, while I serve them. It’s a fun job and you meet people from all walks of life.
I love the people I work with, too—from those who have grown up in Banff, to those like me from all corners of the globe. It’s about coming together and putting out a great product, and often it doesn’t feel like “work”! When we’re busy, I love the challenges we work through—it’s “head down, work hard”. We have a great bar team, and we serve huge numbers of people—some nights with very small teams—and we do it well!
BLC: How do your roles as Bar Supervisor and Rugby Coach complement one another?
LG: Some of my coaching seeps into my work at Bill’s. Like in rugby, you’re only as strong as your weakest link the workplace, too. Since I have a good amount of hospitality experience, I like to help my co-workers learn new techniques, and give them ideas that can help us get even better. Just like out on the pitch, I’m happy both teaching and listening. I’m grateful to work with two excellent teams.
*Following this interview, the Bears once again beat Springbank to ‘bring home the banner’ as the Alberta South Central Zone’s Senior High 2018 Champions. Congratulations, Lee and team!
Want to join our team of great people like Lee? To find out about employment opportunities at Banff Lodging Company properties including Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon, visit: bestofbanff.com/career