England Rugby, in partnership with Mitsubishi Motors, is helping develop the future stars of the game with a series of unique off-the-pitch experiences to take players from the age-grade pathway out of their comfort zone and develop their self-awareness, communication and leadership skills.
Predominately focused around three annual activities, constructed with support from recognised learning provider Leading Edge, players have been challenged to adapt to work with different personalities and learn how to get the best out of each other.
The latest activity saw a number of players, including several from England’s age-grade sides, visit the Metropolitan Police Service specialist training centre in Kent where they were put through a series of tasks over two days.
Activities included an evidence gathering exercise where the players learned how to remain calm, aware and observant under pressure.
The players also undertook a casualty recovery exercise in a hostile environment where they had to work closely together as a small team under pressure in difficult circumstances.
A building entry task saw the players deal with a range of scenarios each requiring decision making, risk assessment and physical skill, while an abseiling exercise saw them work in pairs to overcome fear in a pressurised situation.
Communication is key
The players also experienced a shield run and petrol bombing activity in a hostile environment where they identified how to protect themselves and look after their colleagues, as well as learning about communicating under pressure.
“It’s all about working in a team, communication is key in that sense,” said former England U20 fly half and Saracens back Max Malins.
“Having the ability to listen to messages, especially in high-pressure situations is crucial, but also being able to relay that message clearly and concisely is just as important.”
The players also had a question and answer session with 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson who shared his own experiences from his playing career.
“Having Jonny Wilkinson in was hugely inspiring and I took a lot away from it, especially what he was saying about how you can dictate how you feel in certain situations,” added Malins.
“Take abseiling for example, if you just focus on the rope and how to get down then you will feel alright. However, if you take in all the elements around it then that is where the fear comes from. So in short, focus on yourself rather than the surroundings.
“You can relate that back to rugby, especially goal kicking and high-pressure kicks. Forget the crowd, the situation and think about you, the ball and how to get it over the posts.”
Another of the players in attendance was Sale Sharks and England U20 flanker Ben Curry who also says he took a lot away from the sessions.
“The biggest learning point would be from the abseiling,” said Curry.
“We were both absolutely terrified, so we used each other as support, took comfort knowing the other one was in the same position so focused our nervous energy on making sure the other one was alright. By doing that it takes the pressure off yourself which is really interesting and can be related back to rugby.”
Curry added: “One thing I’m trying to work on is communicating my feelings, and these activities have helped me go about finding the ways to do that in order to get support from the rest of the group.”
Earthquakes, Big Brother and back to school
The activity in Kent was the fourth camp the players have experienced having previously spent a number of days in Salisbury with emergency search and rescue organisation Serve On.
The group were put in various ‘emergency’ scenarios and had to work together and communicate effectively to rescue people in these environments.
The second activity saw players live together in a ‘Big Brother’ style house, where they were set various challenges to help develop their capability to support and challenge as well as give feedback.
In late 2017 they spent two days at Thomas Becket School where they put their experiences into practice in a real environment with a set of tasks.
The players were tasked with refurbishing the sixth form to create an area that would inspire the pupils as well as design and create a mural for the front of the building. Finally, they had to produce a promotional video for the school which highlighted their core values: faith, justice, compassion, truth and respect.
“It’s been really insightful learning how to deal with different personalities in different circumstances has been useful, especially when you work in a team environment such as ours,” added Malins.