In January this year I received an unexpected email with an invitation attached. On the 2nd of February, just 2 days before England opened their 6 Nations campaign, I was privileged to be at the Mitsubishi Motors England Training Centre at Pennyhill Park in Surrey to watch the England team put through their paces in a training session. The invite was a reward for the volunteer work I do at my local rugby club (Dursley RFC) and came courtesy of the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme.
On a wet and windy morning 10 of us volunteers were welcomed by Simon Winman, the RFU’s Head of Club Development and Teresa Gebski, Commercial Partnerships Manager at the RFU. After a cup of tea and some time getting to know each other, we wrapped up, grabbed some umbrellas and headed down to the training ground, where we watched a well planned and well executed training session. It was very evident that any talking that needed to be done, had been done before coming out onto the pitch. Everything went smoothly (well from our point of view it seemed that way!) and everyone knew exactly what they were doing and where they should be. It was interesting to see and note that some of the same training techniques and methods used in our clubs at grass roots level are used at an elite level too – albeit at a much higher level and much more consistently applied!
The rain got heavier and the wind got stronger but it made no difference on the pitch – play continued. Some of the umbrellas succumbed to the wind and rain, but not us! One of the highlights for many, and something that was quite unexpected was seeing Jonny Wilkinson putting Owen Farrell and George Ford through their paces after everyone else had left the field and headed for the changing rooms.
Despite the wind, biting cold and rain, the players and coaches all made time to stop and have a chat with us on their way in, posing for photographs too, which was hugely appreciated.
Once the changing rooms were clear we got a guided tour of the training facility and gym, and what a fantastic facility it is! Everything an elite athlete could want. Simon and Teresa described a typical training day in the life of an England player when on international duty, which I might add, is probably a lot harder than most people think. After that, it was time for a leisurely lunch and a chat before saying goodbye and heading back to Gloucestershire.
I thank everyone involved in organising and running that day. I had a great morning and have a photo album to treasure!
“So, what exactly did you do to get invited?” I hear you ask “What’s your story?”
Well, as far as I can tell, nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that tens of thousands of volunteers up and down the country don’t do every week. I give up my time. The short version of my story is probably the same for most volunteers in rugby clubs across the country – my children started playing and I stepped up when the club asked for volunteers to coach.
The longer version has to include the fact that our whole family got something from the club while our boys were playing, and I wanted to give some of that back.
We were still relatively new to the area when my boys aged 5 and 6, asked if they could try rugby because there was a poster on the notice board at school, and that was the start of my rugby life.
We were welcomed with open arms at Dursley rugby club. The club is like one big family. When it comes to players, everyone is included and gets to play, regardless of ability, there is a place for everyone.
When they started the age group was a large one and the 2 existing coaches asked if anyone would be interested in stepping up to help. I had 2 choices; stand on the sidelines and freeze, or muck in, help and keep warm while doing so. I chose the latter. The club were great and helped put me through various coaching courses and first aid qualifications to make sure I was competent and confident in what I was doing. I also got lots of help from existing coaches. I think this is an area where we do well at Dursley. New coaches are never left feeling out of water – there’s lots of help. All coaches and first aiders at Dursley are DBS checked and appropriately qualified so parents have total peace of mind too.
I coached, team managed fund raised and organised tours at every step of my children’s mini and youth journey from U6 to Colts. And when they went on to play senior rugby I stayed on helping out at mini & youth level. 18 years on from that first session, my children are now 23 and 24 and have grown up, and I’m still coaching at the club as well as being involved in other areas!
So why did I stay on after my children had left? Well, the club asked but I also get so much enjoyment from it. It’s so rewarding watching children learn and develop, not only their rugby skills, but their life skills too. And rugby does that, it really helps them outside of rugby. I’ve had so many parents over the years tell me that since taking up rugby their child’s confidence has grown, they’ve become more social or they’re getting on better at school. In some instances I’ve also been thanked for helping improve their behaviour; the core values and TREDS philosophy (Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline, Sportsmanship) that comes into all our sessions stays with them when they leave the pitch.
I help referee schools tournaments, am part of the organising committee for the annual summer ball, and am involved in fundraising and development projects at the club too. We’ve spent the last few years fundraising for a new changing room block; one that will finally allow male and female players to be at the club, using the facilities at the same time. And one that will cope with the ever increasing playing numbers we have well into the future. It’s an exciting time at the club because once the changing rooms are finished, which is due shortly, we can move on and improve our social facilities for our membership.
On the whole, I don’t think I’ve done anything exceptional, I think my story is pretty similar to most other volunteers at rugby clubs across the country. There were 10 of us at that England training session, all volunteers from grass roots rugby clubs and from all areas of the clubs. None of us ask for or expect people to openly thank us – we do what we do because of our love of the game and our clubs. Also, not everyone there was a coach and I thank England rugby and Mitsubishi for recognising and rewarding those people that do not coach on the field but work tirelessly off the field for their clubs. Often the focus from parents of children participating is on the coaching teams, but without our volunteer kitchen staff, facilities and pitch management teams, fundraisers, team managers, development committees, painters, etc. – the list goes on, our clubs would not function and survive.
What was evident from our conversations was that grass roots rugby clubs across the country all struggle with similar issues; a need for improved facilities, a need for more playing space and the need to raise funds, as well as a need for knowledge and expertise. However, despite those things, everyone I spoke to agreed that they do their best to cope with and overcome these sorts of issues while fundraising to try and resolve them, and while they do that, they enjoy their rugby and embrace the rugby family.
So, if you thought volunteering at your local rugby club (or any sports club for that matter) could only involve coaching – think again! There are a multitude of things needed in all sorts of areas to keep a club running. Go on, have that chat and see where your skills or experience could help your club.
And if you know of someone who volunteers at your rugby club and deserves a bit of recognition, put them forward for the England Rugby Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme