Rugby’s now the fastest growing sport in the USA, but at grassroots level it is still in its infancy. John, our intern from Indiana University has thrown himself into sessions with us over the past few weeks. He’s well placed to give a Trans-Atlantic view on both our sport and our work. I’m delighted to introduce to you his first hand account from two sessions visits as this week’s blog article.

Coming from America, rugby was a foreign concept to me. What I quickly realized minutes into the session, however, is that the RugbyWorks program is larger than one sport. The impact that the program and its coaches have on the students is immeasurable, and certainly extends beyond the boundaries of the rugby pitch. The sport itself is simply a medium for teaching students good values including communication, respect and teamwork.

Having spent the past week learning about Alternative Provision schools in the United Kingdom and the type of students within them, when I walked into the gym I was surprised by what I saw. Public perception of these schools and their students led me to believe that they were going to all be relatively hopeless individuals with bad attitudes. What I witnessed, however, was a group of young people who simply needed someone to believe in them, and that is what Dallaglio RugbyWorks provides.

The impact that the program and its coaches have on the students is immeasurable, and certainly extends beyond the boundaries of the rugby pitch.

Over the course of the session, the young people slowly became more and more engaged. Initially, most of them were hesitant to speak up about the activities that they wanted to play, but after we began playing, they all started smiling and having a good time. The second game we played was one that was essentially tag, but instead of tagging people we practiced basic rugby tackling techniques. A group of the smaller students, who struggle to take down some of the larger students continued to refuse help as their determination to overcome this obstacle and persevere impressed me beyond words.

As the games wore on, things got increasingly physical, but after each hard hit the students were typically good about helping their classmate up. Eventually, we took a ball out and began to actually play touch rugby. The communication that every student demonstrated with their teammates was remarkable. The same young people who had been acting shy in the beginning were now yelling advice to one another, putting themselves in a position to not just succeed individually, but rather together as a team. After seeing so much growth in the students through just one session, I cannot even imagine the difference the entire program makes in their lives.

When the session ended, they all said goodbye to us, many of them asking me a few final polite questions about life in America. For someone who had never touched a rugby ball before, the session that I experienced showed me how little that mattered. Through teamwork, hard work, self-confidence, and respect you can find success on the rugby pitch and in life, and that mindset is being engrained in these young people consistently through the RugbyWorks program.

It surprised me how much different this school was compared to the last one that I had been to. I have to commend the coaches on the work they do to adapt and adjust to different environments. At this school, the young people were much less receptive to instruction and were easily distracted. Something as innocent as water bottles meant to keep everyone hydrated turned into a five minute detour of students splashing one another. Unlike the last school, these students would not have been capable of choosing which game they wanted to play. The debate would have led to arguments that could have derailed any progress. The best strategy was to jump right into playing a game, and when we finally did I could see that real progress was being made.

Through teamwork, hard work, self-confidence, and respect you can find success on the rugby pitch and in life, and that mindset is being engrained in these young people consistently through the RugbyWorks program.

The game was essentially capture the flag, and the young people picked up on the rules quickly. For a group that had been so easily distracted, the thrill of competition had everyone working together with their team to achieve desired results. Students who had been splashing each other minutes ago were now discussing a strategy about how to win as a team.

Unfortunately, the positive interaction did not last very long as two individuals had a disagreement that led to them needing to be separated before either potentially did something that they would regret. Despite this minor glitch, however, they began playing with one another again. After the session was over it was almost like the disagreement never even happened.

For a group new to the program like most of them were, I quickly saw the importance of building off of positive momentum. The coaches are tasked with the tough challenge of developing a trusting relationship with all of the students quickly, so yelling at them immediately is not always the best course of action. Instead, encouraging activity and teamwork breaks down barriers faster than words ever could. Obviously, incidents will occur, but taking positive moments from a session and trying to build on them is better than harping on the negatives in the early stages.

The coaches are tasked with the tough challenge of developing a trusting relationship with all of the students quickly

While both sessions I have attended were different, one thing was consistent throughout. In just a single session, I saw at least one positive growth or development in every young person I met. If so much can be accomplished in one session with RugbyWorks, I can only imagine the difference that will be made throughout the entire program. Even though I will be returning to America soon, I am excited to hear from the coaching staff about the progress and development these young people will experience.

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