England Rugby 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, ability to influence, 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 players spend time at homeless charity The Passage where they explored their beliefs about homelessness and examined how their own values impacted them.
“The whole experience has been a massive eye-opener; I think it’s quite easy for us to overlook these issues in our world," said England U20 flanker Ted Hill.
“I spent the morning out on the streets speaking to the homeless and when I think back to a year ago before these development camps started then I would have been a bit daunted by that experience. These camps have helped me be confident with my opinions, as well as listen to others and understand what they have to say."
The players experienced what life was like on the streets through virtual reality before going out in central London and seeing it first-hand. They also had the opportunity to discuss with the clients at The Passage the journey that they have been on and understand how homelessness happens, while also undertaking a number of tasks at the centre.
They were exposed to situations designed to challenge and provoke them and were given the space and time to process this.
Players were also asked to discuss and be open about their views and opinions, to challenge and be challenged by others and to defend their viewpoint, while they were also challenged on their ability to influence and be influenced.
The activity in central London was the third exercise the players have experienced in 2018.
In January selected players visited the Metropolitan Police Service specialist training centre in Kent where they were put through a series of tasks over two days designed to test their ability to communicate under pressure, as well as remain calm, aware and observant.
May’s activity saw a group of players stay in a ‘Big Brother’ style house where they took part in a number of scenarios and challenges designed to develop their ability to think on their feet, find positive solutions to complex tasks and give constructive feedback.
Another challenge in ‘the house’ also saw them challenged on their ability to adapt their communication style and approach in a situation far outside of their comfort zone.
Hill added:“The whole experience has been a massive eye-opener; I think it’s quite easy for us to overlook these issues in our world.
“I spent the morning out on the streets speaking to the homeless and when I think back to a year ago before these development camps started then I would have been a bit daunted by that experience. These camps have helped me be confident with my opinions, as well as listen to others and understand what they have to say.
“Communication is not just about talking, but also listening, as well as understanding and these off-field experiences have helped with that. This will all help me on the pitch.
“These experiences help you get to understand your character and that can only benefit you as a rugby player.”
His sentiments were echoed by former England U20 captain Ben Earl, who said: "The experiences I’ve had here will lead to me being a better human and that can only benefit me on the pitch, as well as off it.
“My ability to learn and be in uncomfortable situations is hugely beneficial. This is a difficult environment to communicate in and improving the way you communicate in tricky subjects can be related back to rugby.
“These experiences are really important. There is more to life than rugby and it will only be a part of our life for so long so we need to prepare for after that. These are invaluable experiences that will hopefully make us better people in the process."