Dallaglio RugbyWorks is an intensive, long-term skills development programme based on rugby, through which we aim to get teenagers outside of mainstream education into sustained education, employment or training.

As our ranks have swelled over the summer, we have welcomed nine new coaches to the delivery team across four regions of the UK. In this article, London-based coach, Mike, gives us his perspective on his first few weeks delivering RugbyWorks. 

Sport, in my opinion, can help shape ideas about how life works and how we might want to behave both on and off the pitch. This had always been clear to me throughout my previous coaching roles before joining Dallaglio RugbyWorks in June this year. Before joining the charity, I had worked with young people in a variety of settings within sport and education. Through these experiences, I discovered that young people thrive most when they are exposed to a positive, respectful and safe sporting environment. The opportunity to deploy this knowledge in the unique environment of Alternative Provision is an exciting new challenge.

I first became aware of Dallaglio RugbyWorks in my second year of university, while researching potential dissertation projects around the subject of the use of sport to develop positive behavioural changes. RugbyWorks gave me the ambition to marry my passion for sport and my desire to help young people. The chance to work for this organisation presented itself at an ideal time for me upon completion of my degree and I’m privileged to have been given this opportunity.

I’ve always felt comfortable in a coaching environment. However, delivering to our RugbyWorks young people has forced me to adapt my coaching style quickly to meet the incredibly varied needs of each group. Every young person requires a particular, tailored style of communication and management within the sessions.  What has struck me most in my initial sessions is just how important our first impression as coaches is. Of course, in any walk of life, first impressions are critical in building a foundation for a relationship to prosper. In our environment, it is possibly the biggest challenge that we face as coaches.

 Knowing little about the participants we expected to meet in my first sessions, I was walking into the unknown. At first, the young people seemed to take time to express emotions or elements of their personality to me. However, the games we have played and the tone I have tried to take has started to foster trust with many of them already and I am now beginning to get more out of them.

The sense among the coaches as to why our young people struggle to engage during our first meetings with them is that they struggle to cope with change and are especially slow to trust adults. This is sadly often a result of a turbulent home life that has often made them anxious of anybody or anything new. As well as these issues, I have also found that many of the young people we work with are new to rugby, which can affect their response to sessions when we first meet them.

That said, I have found that if we can promote an environment of support and positivity for them to take on the challenge of a new sport, many surprise themselves with what they are able to achieve. I began this new coaching chapter with Dallaglio RugbyWorks as I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment, understanding this to be the best way to grow and develop. As our young people try their hand at a new sport, I am trying to use this understanding and support our young people as they also step out of their comfort zone in a similar way.

What I have enjoyed most in the four schools that I am working in is watching the young people enjoy themselves in a session, especially when many of them were sceptical of at first. I have received many comments from teachers at the schools who are noticing personalities and qualities coming out of the young people that they have never seen before. This is a particularly rewarding feeling, affirming my belief that sport allows people to learn about themselves and each other in a very unique way.

One of my preconceptions of the young people on the programme was that many would have similar behavioural issues and be in Alternative Provision for similar reasons. However, since learning the background information of many that I work with, I have come to realise the very wide range of difficulties that affects our young people and their schools as well. At times, the scale and nature of these issues has shocked me. It has really made me see how crucial it is to understand each young person’s story and learn how to treat them in their own individual way.

Going forward, I am excited to build on the relationships with the young people that I have begun and to try and make a positive impact in their lives. At this moment, I have had limited experience in developing their ‘work ready’ skills through the employability side of RugbyWorks. This is an area I am very passionate about. Trying to support the young people in gaining ambition and setting goals for a brighter future beyond school is a new challenge I am excited to embark on.

Since beginning my time with Dallaglio RugbyWorks in the summer, it has been inspiring to work with likeminded individuals who want to make a positive impact on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to join this team and I am looking forward to working with my schools in trying to provide the best opportunities for our RugbyWorks young people to succeed.

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