Rob Rafeh’s path in life wasn’t always set on sports and academia. His first love was business, but after going to a friend’s volleyball class in college, he found a new calling, coaching and sports administration. He quickly switched majors and jumped headfirst into his new passion. After a journey involving multiple stops at various schools, he’s found a home as the Athletic Director of Bentley High School in Lafayette, Calif.
When Rafeh got to Bentley, there were very few people in the athletic department. He was able to lean on the relationships he had established to help him while he built it up. Relationships are important to anyone looking to be successful, and Rafeh made a lot of them along the way. He attributes much of his success to the people he’s come to know. “What I learned about independent schools is their culture is mostly about building relationships,” he said. “Whether these relationships are with students, families, or colleagues and co-workers. Moving from school to school … allowed me to get to know a lot of people, build a lot of relationships, and network myself.”
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Programs Included
One of Rafeh’s biggest accomplishments was building Bentley’s athletics program from the ground up. Bentley is a small school of 320 students, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to field teams. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Rafeh said if the students would have their way they would offer every sport imaginable, but the key to managing which programs should be added is to determine its sustainability.
“In today’s day and age, nobody has money to just throw away,” Rafeh said. “If a bunch of seniors all want to add a program like lacrosse but only a few underclassmen do, then that’s not sustainable.”
Size and type of program also play an important role in whether it can be added. Track was an easier add, Rafeh said, because you can put a team of one out there. The sport doesn’t necessitate a broad range of skills. You only have to be good at one thing, so it appeals to a wide range of athletes. Under Rafeh, the track program grew from a single student to 52 in just three years.
Unique Ideas Lead To Life Skills
One of Rafeh’s unique initiatives can prepare his student-athletes for life after high school. The Captains Council is comprised of all varsity team captains. An application process includes writing a letter detailing why they want to be a captain and why they think it’s valuable, a section where they can detail their experience and why they would be a good fit for the role, and a final segment that asks for references just like a real job would.
Once the applications are in, the kids go through an interview process. The first year they tried the program, most kids showed up to interview with nothing in hand, so Rafeh and his staff coached them through that. Now kids get dressed up for the interviews, bring in multiple copies of their documents, and treat the process with a more serious attitude. It’s a life skill; not something that will make them a better athlete but something they can use down the road.
The first thing Rafeh and the coaches do once a decision is made is meet with each of the kids who didn’t make it and explain why they didn’t get the role.
Then they gather the kids who were chosen and tell them as a group because that’s what they are now, a team. They inform them of the expectations and then the coaches go out to tell their teams.
“We know they’re kids, and if they’re sick or something we’ll make it up for them; but the general idea is if it’s important for you to be a captain and a leader, you understand that being a captain and a leader means you’re willing to provide service,” Rafeh said. “It’s not just a title, it’s a practice of service so they really need to understand what it is they’re applying for and what the expectations are if they get the job.”