How England Rugby are developing the next generation

England Rugby is helping develop the future stars of the game with a series of unique off-field activities.

Over the past year England Rugby, in partnership with Mitsubishi Motors, has exposed selected players from their age-grade sides to a number of off-the-pitch experiences to take them 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.

Earthquakes, 'Big Brother' and 'Grange Hill'

In January, players 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.

Dean Ryan, head of international player development at the RFU, said: “Once you are in a Premiership environment it is pretty difficult to stop and reflect so hopefully these activities will come at the right time to help support the players to be aware of what characteristics will be required of them to be successful at the highest level."We wanted the activities to be unique and experience-led."

“We wanted the activities to be unique and experience-led and compress experiences we have in life. We don’t want to define the end point, we want to create environments where people could develop and learn as well express themselves at their own pace.”

Saracens forward Ben Earl, who was also a member of England’s World Rugby U20 Championship squad in the summer, says the three activities have had a meaningful impact on his development.

“The first activity was about learning about yourself,” said Earl. “We were set some physically demanding challenges such as carrying people through fragile buildings and getting people out of tunnels as well as dealing with an earthquake-hit environment.

“The second one helped develop learning about others and the third at Thomas Becket School was about putting it all together in a real environment.”"You need to be able to co-operate, communicate and work under pressure."

Earl, who also helped England U20s to Six Nations glory earlier in the year, added: “It’s all about developing as an individual and building those off-pitch relationships so that you work hard for each other on it.

“You can only do that by understanding how others operate. When you are in those tough moments on the pitch, whether you are a try down or a man down, you need to be able to co-operate, communicate and work under pressure.”

Lance Bradley, Managing Director of Mitsubishi Motors in the UK, said: “We are proud to support England Rugby in developing the next generation of elite players. Our staff have been directly involved with these camps, working alongside the players to help them learn and develop, and it is fascinating to be a part of this innovative and pioneering project."

The activities have been designed by Leading Edge and owner director Patrick Marr said: “Creating and delivering valuable life learning experiences condensed into a few days, that raise self-awareness and gives the guys new skills has been an exciting challenge for us this year. 

"We’re proud to have been able to bring our experience from global business and leadership development and have been impressed by the commitment of the players and support staff to really making a change.”

Back to school

The most-recent activity saw the players spend two days at Thomas Becket School where they 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.

Head teacher Ciran Stapleton believes the players would have learned a huge amount from their time at the secondary school.

“I hope the players have experienced the virtues and values of the school,” said Stapleton.

“Most importantly, for their own development I hope they got the chance to be taken out of their comfort zone and were given the opportunity to be leaders in a different context, we hope we provided a setting for them to be able to grow as individuals and take all the lessons they have learned and bring it back into sport.”

Connect with the players

These important activities will continue into 2018 and Ryan believes the players will benefit from the experiences both on and off the pitch.

“We wanted to make sure, through the different elements we were able to experience and capture, that we could connect with the players outside rugby to offer support and a plan of how to develop,” said Ryan.