Ayr’s ‘Rugby Life’ programme aims to help young players on and off the pitch

Ayrshire Bulls Super6 squad help development officer Stuart Fenwick in raising performance standards and enjoyment levels

Stuart Fenwick delivers a coaching session to members of the youth section at Ayr RFC. Image: George McMillan
Stuart Fenwick delivers a coaching session to members of the youth section at Ayr RFC. Image: George McMillan

IN a rapidly changing world, it is incumbent on rugby to adapt in order to not just stay relevant to the young people who come into contact with the game, but also help provide them with the personal tools required to make the most of life on and off the park.

Ayr Community Trust’s ‘Rugby Life’ programme is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at achieving these twin aims. It is offered to youth players, male and female, from under-13 to under-18 age-grades, at Ayr RFC with “the club’s core values of respect, enjoyment, lifestyle and achievement at its heart”.

The programme runs through five blocks over the course of the season, and delivers sessions aimed at developing players’ physical competence, technical skills and tactical understanding, as well as off-pitch considerations such as nutrition, mental wellbeing, goal setting, performance analysis and media awareness. It is also aimed at developing the club’s coaching and volunteer network.

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According to the programmes’s supporting literature –

Ayr RFC has identified it has additional responsibility to its young players and members in an ever-changing society where demands and pressures on young people are growing. Sport (rugby in our case) should be and is a form of escapism and release from external pressures, however, these pressures do exist and often hinder a young person’s enjoyment or ability to take part in their chosen sport.

Rugby Life hopes to provide additional support to young people allowing them a safe/fun environment with staff capable of helping them find support should they require it. This should help them develop skills, knowledge, experiences, networks and competencies that will ultimately help improve the employability of young people at Ayr RFC. Rugby Life is set on developing young people that value the club, the sport and remain involved in the game beyond playing, providing lifelong involvement.

Rugby Life provision is about developing young individuals as well as rugby players and athletes in partnership with key stakeholders including UWS, South Ayrshire Council and Scottish Rugby – developing individuals through experiences and values associated with rugby to create an environment for individuals to thrive. Experiences will promote confidence and greater awareness of: leadership, communication, engagement, discipline and resilience.

Stuart Fenwick, Development Officer for the Ayr Community Rugby Trust, is the driving force behind Rugby Life. “We’ve run a club academy at Ayr for quite a long time, and three or four years in we were looking at it and trying to make sure we were actually delivering what the kids want and need,” he explains.  “So, we did a bit of a survey across the whole youth section on what they were looking for from us as a rugby club and as a community trust.

“We found that the kids want to be in the academy so they can dip their toe in that performance environment, but for some of them the reality is that it is a bit full-on. So, we looked at the club as a whole and thought about whether we could offer more as our basic provision and support them a bit more, without it being the full academy programme. So, that’s where this came from.

“It started off being a bit of a taster of what strength and conditioning might be like, and a bit more of an understanding of what they should be doing in the gym, and then we started thinking about what else we can wrap around the programme.

“We know that some of our members have had challenges around mental health so we wanted to do something around about that, and we’re really lucky that we have a relationship with the University of the West of Scotland, who run the mental health nursing course out of Ayr campus. One of their lecturers is a member of the club, so he tailored a module for us in a rugby environment.

“Then we looked at things like nutrition, and anything really that we thought would help contribute to our young players’ development, so things like social media awareness and so on. It is really about helping them become more rounded athletes, and more rounded people.”

The programme launched at the start of this season and Fenwick has been delighted with the response. “We’ve had great numbers,” he said. “It is going a lot better than we hoped. I thought if we got 50 percent of the squad coming along then we would be doing well but, actually, it is pretty much a full squad buy-in at most sessions now.”

The involvement of the Ayrshire Bulls Super6 squad is an example of how the performance and community arms of the sport can work together in order to promote traditional rugby values.

Bulls players have an active role in the programme through delivering skills sessions to a different age group each week, including a 30-minute ‘work-on’ at the end of each session which passes on position-specific knowledge, tips and drills to incorporate into the aspiring players’ training sessions.

Peter Murchie [the Bulls head coach] is going to do a performance analysis session with us, and also talk to the guys about his time in pro rugby as well,” says Fenwick. “The guys really enjoy hearing about that sort of stuff and learning from it.

“These guys have a lot of pro rugby experience and good coaching backgrounds, so it is great that they can pass that on. It gives them a real presence in the community, and gives the kids role models to look up to, which helps grow what we are trying to do with the Bulls.”

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About David Barnes 3957 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

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