Best Pacific: Learning to Win

As Head of School for the BEST Pacific Youth Academy, Colin Tuaa helps students to gain the qualifications for today’s workforce. The first Samoan to represent the New Zealand national football team, he then became a successful coach and administrator. Colin’s desire is to see more Pacific youth gain an NCEA, a vocational qualification and ultimately forge successful careers.



For talented young Pacific people, the choice of either sport or education often arises. For Colin Tuaa, the two have gone hand in hand.


As a young Polynesian growing up in the South Auckland suburb of Manurewa, Colin loved nothing more than playing sport. The 1970s was an era where coverage on television was limited, so he spent most of his time playing rather than watching.


A proud Manurewa born and bred Samoan, whose mother hailed from Puipa’a and father from Malie, Colin would often play two different sports on the same day.


“I’d play rugby league for the Manurewa Marlins, union for Manurewa High School and football for Papatoetoe AFC. We had a pretty gun team and my football coach wasn’t that keen on me trying to cram two games in on one day,” he recalls.


“I got caught out when I arrived late and the coach, John Slecht, saw me with dirty knees and socks from the other game I’d just played. Like most kids, what he said to me beforehand went in one ear and out the other.”


But the coach, who had migrated to New Zealand from Holland, would play an instrumental part in Colin’s football career.


“John and his wife Anne were great people and real club stalwarts. John would often come and pick me up and take me to games,” he says.


“Looking back, he was pushing me in the right direction without me being aware of it. That’s leadership, which reminds me of the youth I see at BEST. You know they have the potential, they just need someone who cares enough to help them along the way.”


Colin Tuaa went on to represent New Zealand Football in 10 internationals from 1983-89. A career highlight from his debut was setting up the final goal in a 3-1 victory against Japan in the qualifying rounds for the Olympic Games.


The irony in becoming the first player of Samoan descent to represent his country was the national football side was – and still is – named the All Whites.


“I got some ribbing from the guys about it, but it was good-natured,” he recalls.


“What I mostly remember was how supportive they were, especially captain Steve Sumner. I recall a Franklin versus Auckland senior game where he gave some simple advice. We went on to draw 2-2 and I scored both goals. It was very sad he passed away earlier this year.”


Colin’s football career consisted of:

  •  275 National League matches - scoring 83 goals


  • Three seasons in the NZ Superclub league that lasted from 1993- 1995


  • A season with the Newcastle Breakers in the Australian competition as a professional


  • A season in the mid-1980s training with English club Bournemouth – now in the English Premier League, when Harry Redknapp, who went on to manage Premier League clubs West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, was in charge.


Upon retiring, Colin went on to coach more than 400 games at national league and international level, taking charge of the national under-17 team at the FIFA World Cup in Korea in 2007 and coaching national league side Auckland City He was then appointed by the game’s world body FIFA as interim CEO and chair for Samoa’s troubled national body, which had been struck off from receiving funding due to financial irregularities.


“There was a lot of debt and creditors to deal with at first and I spent a good 13-14 months turning things around, but I was successful in reinstating FIFA status which enabled Samoa to compete internationally again. It was a good experience which I learnt a lot from.”


Colin’s work led to his involvement in high performance areas coaching various national teams before returning to search for other opportunities at home in Auckland.





In 2013 he came across BEST Pacific, which advised him they were setting up a new role for the Academy.


Four years later, he’s still there enjoying the challenges and rewards the role brings.


“Initially, the young people we work with haven’t achieved an NCEA or vocational qualification, which impacts on their ability to gain employment,” he says.


“So we started with around 250-270 students with a new training programme called Youth Guarantee. Now we’re getting 500-600 coming through and have three sites across Auckland.


“What I like is the real emphasis on not only getting them towards a higher education to assist them with finding employment, but developing their self-confidence to take the next step in life. It builds strong, confident young men and women.”


He adds that the student experience at BEST is young, fun, active and involved and celebrates culture while learning about learning the skills needed to succeed and achieve their dreams – to understand that their contribution is important and that it matter.


Colin is continuing his own education path, having completed his A Licence through the Asian Football Confederation.


Thoughts of returning to the sport crossed his mind until a chance meeting with Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice Chancellor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences from Massey University.


“I met him with Rachel Skudder (BEST CEO) and he asked me if I had ever thought about studying an MBA-type programme,” Colin recalls.


“I looked into it and came across a programme – a Masters in Advanced Leadership Practice - which appealed to me. I thought it would be beneficial at this stage of my life, so I applied and was successful. Whether I decide to return to work in football, or with Pacific youth in sport in general because there’s so much potential here and in the islands, having a Masters qualification will be an asset.”


Colin sees BEST providing opportunities for those who deserve to gain an education to get a good start to their lives.


“At BEST Youth Academy we’ve created a family environment where students are cared for and have the flexibility to learn and earn their qualifications. Pacific youth have unlimited potential. The world is their oyster. I see that in my own family,” he says.


“My wife Dianne and children, Courtney, Jhamal and Madison, have shaped the person I am today. They’ve inspired and supported me in everything I have done.”



About BEST Pacific Institute of Education



BEST Pacific Institute of Education is an education provider that strives to see each and every student exceed their own expectations and ambitions, helping them discover how much they can achieve during and after their studies. For more information go to their website.




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