Graphic by Maahir Ur Rahman Mohamed Shibly

Smells Like Team Spirit: Coach Peter Dicce

The first part of an interview series on the evolution of traditions within NYU Abu Dhabi's football team.

Mar 5, 2017

“Now you can't break the ties that bind, You can't forsake the ties that bind.” - Bruce Springsteen
When NYUAD opened its doors in 2010, the inaugural class had the opportunity to build the university as we know it from scratch, conscious of the legacy they were leaving behind. At a university that prides itself in its newness, we enjoy the privilege of making our own legacy to a greater extent than, say, students at NYU in New York do. Yes, we create our own legacy, but we also build on the legacies of the first classes.
We have chosen to focus on the two football teams not because football is the only sports team that has traditions worth mentioning — it isn’t — but because we have seen their traditions evolve first-hand, both having joined the teams in our freshman year. As a member of the Class of 2017 who will play her last match soon and a member of the Class of 2018 who is studying away and misses his teammates, we know how strong the bonds that bind the players on NYUAD’s sports teams can be. But what creates those bonds? How did this sense of community and family arise? How has the sense of community changed since the inaugural class?
Our first interview of the series is with Coach Peter W. Dicce, the Director of Athletics, Intramurals & Recreation and Head Coach for the men’s football team. This interview is the first in a seven-part series in which we will interview members of each class from the inaugural Class of 2014 to the Class of 2019.
####When you think about tradition or community and the football teams, which memories come to mind? Some of my fondest memories are the bus rides to and from practice. Singing “Happy Birthday” in multiple languages. … I remember Big Mo [Mohammed Omer, Class of 2014] lip-syncing to Barry White on the bus rides back and forth. It was one of those things where it just seemed to be, it got louder, noisier. … Within blocks of the campus it got noisier and noisier and noisier and louder and louder and I think they just enjoyed spending time with each other. … And then a tradition that we’ve sort of carried on even to today, when they got off the bus, I would either shake hands with them, hug them or give them a fist bump or something like that. … One of the rules we have with the men’s team is you need to say good morning and shake somebody’s hand or give somebody a hug every morning when you come to practice. There’s something about that sort of personal connection that we’ve tried to continue even though we don’t have the bus ride to campus, to the fields anymore, we still try to find a way where we can connect on a more personal level.
####What are some key differences between football back during the Sama days and now? Al Muna [the original training ground] was sort of the place to be for a student on a Thursday night. If you weren’t playing [intramurals], you were on the sidelines, enjoying each other’s company. Those nights were a lot of fun. … [A student would] regularly put the ball over the fence, which almost seemed impossible to do, but he would do it every week. … [W]e would just yell, “Ball! Ball!” until some little kids or somebody from the neighbourhood would attempt to throw the ball back over the fence and the game would continue.
I think we had such a close small community, [that] we were able to build those interpersonal relationships early on. What I didn’t want to do is move to a big campus and then lose that. I thought those interpersonal relationships were the most important thing. When I look back at a lot of those early years and those early classes ... we didn’t win any, or very many, games back then, but they still had wonderful memories of playing together and being with each other. We are a community and just because we have beautiful facilities now, we didn’t really have facilities at all back then, but we had something special, so how can we have both? Can we have beautiful facilities and a beautiful campus, but also that sort of connectedness that we had with each other?
I think it gets challenging as we get bigger because we have a philosophy of inclusivity but there’s only so many people we can bring to a training session before it becomes unworkable. … When thirty players show up for training on one field, it’s really challenging. How do you work on what you need to work on, but at the same time include everybody? It’s challenging but I think that the players understand the importance of community, family, inclusivity and everybody brings their own special talent to the table. … I don’t think we have an environment where people are judgemental. ... I think over in the future the success will be just based upon that commitment. Not so much talent level, but that commitment. We have unbelievably committed players that are maybe not the strongest technically, tactically or physically, but some of the leaders on the team, who people look to as some of the best players, speak the world of these players and recognise their commitment, that they are improving as players based upon the hard work that they put in.
By the end of the year, we will have had over a hundred practices, training sessions. That’s a hundred opportunities for us to connect in a unique way. You multiply that by the three or four years, that’s hundreds of times that you’re together with some of the same people. … What compels you to get up in the morning at 7 o’clock and get there? For the soccer team I think it’s to be around each other, and to start your day knowing that you’re going to get a hug, a handshake, on occasion a kiss. And I think that that’s powerful, knowing that you belong and that people care about you, I think that’s powerful.
####One player on the men’s team said that one key lesson he learnt through the football team has to do with the idea of masculinity. What are your thoughts behind that, what are you trying to achieve? Joe Ehrmann recently wrote a book called “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.” … And he talks about false masculinity and one time I brought it up and talked to the men’s team about it, about what it means to be a man. I think what Joe would say is that those are the most dangerous words in the world to say, “be a man,” … you’re trying to force them into a certain mould. “You can’t show emotion, you gotta toughen up.” I had a discussion to say that the locker room that I grew up in was very very different to the locker room nowadays and that over time the locker room has evolved to be, in my opinion, a much healthier place with regards to respecting women. … Masculinity is not about sexual conquest, it’s not about money, it’s not about power, it’s about your ability to connect with people.
One of the things that I thought about at the end of the fall semester, because we were going to lose a lot of players … we were thinking about how we were going to say bye to everybody because we had some players leaving and some players that were going to stay. So the players that were leaving, I lined them up on the inside of the circle facing outwards, and the players that were staying were on the outside of the circle facing inwards. And then one by one they just said goodbye to each other. They rotated and at the end I think it was a pretty touching moment for a lot of them.
Sports is a platform that you may look at differently. I think that’s the challenge for me as a coach, is that people on the teams that I coach view the game in different ways, through different prisms. Some of them believe the game should be very direct, some of them believe that the game should be very possession-oriented and I think that comes from the experiences that they’re bringing to the table. The challenge for us is, can we get them all on the same page? … And if we do that, it gives that common goal where they can come together and accomplish something that’s bigger than themselves, and then find that sense of community or family.
####The annual Interclassico match, how did that tradition start? Interclassico was the Class of 2014 wanting to play the Class of 2015. Each class wanted to show the other that they were a stronger team. So it was just going to be a match … instead of calling it the El Classico, which is Barcelona and Real Madrid, I called it the Interclassico. And it’s sort of taken off since that time. … I would love for people, when you guys come back and this is especially important for me for the Class of 2014 because they never made it to this campus, so it’s not like they’re coming back to a campus, a physical campus. Chances are when they come back in 20 years, the people have changed. But what are the traditions that continue on? Maybe Midnight Breakfast or Interclassico or Defend the Nest or those sort of things, but I would love for them to come with their children and say, “Oh the Interclassico, I played in that one when I graduated from NYU and have fond memories of that.” … [Someone on the football team] said, “There are people that I have never met, that are part of Musbah FC, but I know I’m part of their family. They don’t know me, I don’t know them, but I know that we’re connected somehow.
Nikolaj Nielsen & Yi Yi Yeap are contributing writers. Email them at
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