Rugby mum

When rugby makes young leaders

When playing rugby makes young leaders

I was recently invited to participate in a youth leadership course run by the St Philips Centre, Leicester’s centre for Inter Faith work.

It was a Sunday lunch meeting, so for a rugby mum it was a rush from the club, swapping the wellies and waterproofs to something free from the morning’s mud.

Apologising for my late arrival – neatly placing the blame on my son’s away game that day – I found myself seated next to the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow.

The Bishop (let’s call him Martyn now), chuckled. “Who does your son play for?” he asked as I settled down beside him. I initially thought he was just making small talk, but he then revealed that his 14-year-old had just started playing for a local club this season. ‘Ah, so the Bishop is a rugby dad’, I thought to myself (almost smugly), as I pulled out my pen and notepad.

Handing out worksheets on what it means to be a leader, our host, Tom, asked us to discuss how we might have witnessed some of the examples of leadership listed.

As words such as ‘strategy’, ‘self-belief’, ‘trust’, and ‘collective identity’ started to rise from the table, almost immediately, Martyn and I began to do what all regular rugby parents do…talk rugby! But in this case, we were discussing leadership traits we had seen on the rugby pitch.

“I had never seen this side of my son, until I saw him playing rugby,” said Martyn, describing how he had observed his son step into a role of a leader on pitch, coordinating players, rallying up his friends during a game.

In as much as effective leaders help to organise activities and develop strategies, we discussed how young rugby players can especially develop and harness potential leadership skills through the game.

“There are many examples of leadership in rugby – from their actions and speech, to thinking, and listening,” said my son’s coach, Greg Garner when I cornered him later in the clubhouse.

“Rugby means leading from the front,” he said. “…Whether it’s making a game-changing tackle or carrying the ball hard to beat defenders to put the team on the front foot.”

Of course, everyone in the rugby world knows that it is a sport which is value driven. Therefore, Greg reminded me, one of the first values all players are instilled with is respect–players whether they are five or fifty are taught and expected to show respect to their team mates, match officials, and opposition players. “Though a squad may play ferociously ‘on’ the pitch, the culture of rugby ensures that fair play and respect are always maintained,” he said.

These rugby values also encourage young leaders to come out of their shells to inspire, organise or direct the players around them. We see this during the pre-match talk by the Captain, organising defensive line, offering praise to team mates who have done well and supporting those who might have made a mistake.

Another trait of a good leader is being approachable. Those are the players who listen and empathise with their team mates and understand the challenges they face. Greg said: “On pitch, this might be a winger who makes the effort to go and pat his front row team mate on the back after he gets up from a tough scrum, or the front row player supporting the winger who was caught defending two attackers and being unable to stop the try being scored.”

This weekend, with leadership still on my mind, I watched Syston RFC U13’s young 12-year-old Captain putting his own strengths in leadership into action. While he may not have been taught leadership skills in the corporate sense, everyone could recognise the barely-adolescent boy listening to his coaches, planning and strategising play, and encouraging and motivating his team mates. Like rugby players all over, the young Captain has started to live leadership.