RugbyWorks coach Mike gives an insight into daily life on the programme at Latimer Academy. 

Every Tuesday morning, I exit Latimer Road station and catch sight of Grenfell tower, the scorched shell that now stands as a monument to that awful night and all it represents. Delivering RugbyWorks at an Alternative Provision academy in this community humbles me every time.

Last week, I arrived at the school and several of our cohort were waiting for us in good spirits. I used the time before the session to check in with some of them in what is very valuable time for us coaches as well as the young people. In these informal conversations, we foster the crucial relationships that elevate us above just a rugby coach who comes in once a week. The young people at this school are very inquisitive and as time has passed, I have become far more open with them about my life experiences, probably because my trust in them has begun to solidify, as I hope theirs has for me. When all of the students were ready, we walked down to the local pitch that the school hires out for our session. On arrival, the group were eager to get started and we can now trust them to warm themselves up independently as we set up the games we have planned.

The young people at this school are very inquisitive and as time has passed, I have become far more open with them about my life experiences, probably because my trust in them has begun to solidify, as I hope theirs has for me.

In recent weeks, we have seen a considerable improvement in the skill level and therefore self-confidence of the group. With a RugbyWorks Tournament only weeks away now, we decided to test these young people with some rugby specific games. We began with a strategy game, our more physical version of connect four. Through this, we focused on the vital skill of good decision making under pressure. The group struggled at first to grasp the new game which is challenging as it requires the students to constantly adapt their strategy and respond to where the other team places their marker on the grid.

It can be a hectic and frustrating activity; a difficult thing to manage in a group that does not like to lose. With this in mind, we played a number of times to allow each team to learn what is required to win. It became evident early that my team was struggling, as our effort level was not matching our opponents’. I emphasised to them that the game requires an equal balance of physical effort and mental processing; something we spoke about transferring into the next phase of the session.

For the first time at this school, we proceeded to look at rugby specific skills and ran a drill that focused on beating a defender in a 2 on 1 situation. This required a more traditional style of coaching in which the group repeat the skill and learn through trial and error. We knew this approach was risky as it requires an increased level of teaching and our students often struggle to concentrate, preferring to remain active over listening to instructors or coaches. Throughout the activity though, the group exceeded our expectations and began to understand the concept of how to draw a defender and offload the ball.

To seasoned rugby players this may seem a very simple skill, but for some of these young people who struggled even to catch a rugby ball 3 months ago, this was a huge achievement. We then wanted to see if the group could effectively deploy what they had just learnt in a game situation.

It was amazing to see her fully engaged in the game, applying what she had learned in the session.

One of the group whose skill level has evidently improved in recent weeks is Katie. In every session, we have seen clear progress in her physical, mental and emotional state. She is now confident in skills where previously she was afraid to take part in any form of physical activity. When we began the game of touch rugby, we quickly realised how far she has actually come. It was amazing to see her fully engaged in the game, applying what she had learned in the session. By providing her with a supportive platform in sessions to learn from her mistakes and develop her skills, we have seen her confidence improve dramatically. In my opinion, this rise in physical ability and confidence on the pitch can be the start of positive transformation in a young person’s life off it.

As the sessions come to an end, we always encourage the group to shake hands and congratulate one another. This is an important moment for us to give praise and positively reinforce the values of teamwork and respect that lie at the core of what we do. The last memories of a session tend to be what stay in a young person’s mind, so we strive to make them positive where possible. After this session, I emphasised how impressed I was with their efforts as I understood how challenging it was for some of them to focus and be patient. We praised their maturity and willingness to apply themselves in a positive way to get the most of the session. Now it’s in their hands to maintain this level of behaviour for future sessions and more importantly in the upcoming tournament. However, we know this is a two-way street. Alongside their efforts, we have a responsibility to design sessions which offer them the best opportunity to develop and succeed.

I am really looking forward to the rest of the year with this group. It will be an amazing opportunity to take them to a RugbyWorks Tournament and watch them play with the same outstanding spirit they do week in, week out.  The power of sport to transform people’s lives for the better is a truly phenomenal force. So far this year, this RugbyWorks cohort from the shadow of Grenfell have served as the perfect example of that.

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