Jesse had written a few diary notes of his time in Stevenage
August 2018 This is where it all started for me. Freshly arriving from New Zealand I was new to everything from the culture, rugby and the children. My first task was to run a rugby summer holiday camp over a course of two weeks. From Monday to Friday at 9:00am - 3:00pm with about ten kids a day ranging from 8 years old to 14 years old. Before I arrived, I had already planned for the camp and I knew I would have to adapt but I didn't know how much. This was important for me because I was there to coach but the most valuable thing to me was a chance to learn. Originally, I had planned the camp to mimic professional/rep rugby camps however I realised the workload was too much for the kids. I adapted the camp to represent more of a summer holiday programme with a theme of rugby. Fun was the bigger motivator rather than grinding away at rugby skills. This set my approach for the remainder of the job. I believed it is important that kids are having fun foremost September 2018 Schools were returning from their summer holidays and I would now be moving into secondary schools. For this month I worked specifically with Thomas Alleynes Academy which again gave me a chance to learn. Transitioning from a smaller group of ten to large classes of 25-30 so lessons would have to change to accommodate for this. As well as understanding the general ability of classes since they ranged from year 7 to year 10. The PE staff at TAA were really welcoming and supportive so working with them made my job a lot easier. In their curriculum each year group will do rugby for three weeks which is 6 lessons. The goal is to reach a level where they can play a real game of rugby so every lesson was important to continually improve. At first, I found the boy's attitude towards rugby was hesitant, a little disinterested because it isn't their natural sport. However, building their confidence looked to change their feelings towards rugby and they seemed to be enjoying it a bit more especially during the contact side of things. It was also the beginning of the 1st XV season. I had no problem fitting in and that was because of the guys within the team were really great. So in terms of chemistry, on and off the field was perfect for me. However, I did soon find out playing rugby wasn't everyone's highest priority like back home. In New Zealand, Saturdays is an unwritten law that it is rugby day, and nothing should be booked on that day. Over here most players have families and children of their own so rugby would naturally take a backseat. It took a while for everyone to organise rugby back into their lives. Which is why I believe we had a shaky start to the season. The original plan was to work with all teams within the youth/minis program, however a vacancy occurred with the U7s&U8s that needed to be filled in the meantime. Thus, I was the replacement while we tried to find a suitable coach. Coaching these little ones was an eye opener, this was the first time I have taken such a young age so I was caught off guard in how much energy they have. I soon realised that I needed to learn to swim and to swim quickly. October 2018 Continuing on with TAA we approached the rugby season and introducing rugby to their PE lessons was a good start. We started an afterschool rugby club which would be the place to refine their ability. TAA has a good core group of boys in year seven, eight and ten (no year nine team). We weren't able to get a full team to trainings, but I could always rely on the core group turning up. They were consistent which the school can build off. I also moved into two other secondary schools which were Nobel and Barnwell. Connecting with Nobel was important because they also have a rugby involved in their PE curriculum which I will be involved with later on down the track. Although, at the time I was there to work at the afterschool rugby club. Nobel has a good number of players and quality experience lead by Ryan (teacher in charge of rugby). I mainly worked with the year sevens to build and develop the basics of rugby. Lastly Barnwell, rugby isn't a part of their PE curriculum, but they do play rugby type games. So, the participation rate wasn't as high as high as the other schools, but I got a chance to spend quality time with the players that did turn up. For me 1st XV rugby had its biggest low and high moments in the same month. Starting with the biggest low which was losing to Old Merchant Taylors at home even though at one point they were playing with 12 players. It was a contribution of many things from decision making, effort and having an off day. After this we were very fragile, we had a slow start to the season and now we had just had an embarrassing loss. Not only that, we have London Welsh in two weeks' time who was on a 27 or something winning streak. Then that’s when our highest moment occurred, beating London Welsh. London Welsh is by far the best team in the competition and were obviously in the wrong league. Somehow, we managed to withhold the onslaught and capitalise on the small opportunities we had. We were fragile but after that win we were high on life and it was the beginning of our best rugby. With the U7's and U8's we are getting closer to matches which is the best part of mini rugby being able to travel, play and socialise. Trainings were improving and had to be built around fun to keep them engaged. November 2018 I continued to work with the three secondary schools with afterschool rugby trainings and was now working with the girls during PE from TAA. The girls are different from the boys, breaking the stigma is the first thing but once we got passed that they are really nice to coach. They're more open minded and put a lot of effort into the lesson. It was a priority of mine to be involved with more secondary schools however this is where I found it hard. Some schools don't have anything associated with rugby which is fine that is their decision. There were some schools who have rugby curriculums, but I was never able to get involved and which would be something I would like to work on in the future. However, this pushed me into a direction where I would focus more on primary schools and try to have an influence there. The three primary schools I was involved with were Ashtree Primary, Round Diamond and St Nicolas. With all three schools I would come in for the afternoon and run sessions for their year fives and sixes. There was a noticeable change between secondary and primary school kids. While at Ashtree the kids were really motivated to get stuck in and I noticed some footballers were questioning their sport. While at Round Diamond this was the beginning of a long relationship, they have really nice facilities and the teaching staff is really supportive allowing you to come in a do your session effectively. While at St Nicolas the classes were smaller, so the time spent coaching consisted more of one on one time. Overall, I really enjoyed coaching at the primary school level and felt there was more of a chance to make an impact while the kids are young. Mini Olympics with the year ones and twos was held at the Stevenage Leisure centre. I went to represent the club and hosted a station within the event. There were ten stations all were different sports, so the children could get a taster of everything. Working with Stevenage Sporting Futures we pushed to recruit children in being active and doing so through rugby. After the big win from London Welsh the team was high on confidence and that carried on in November. We were really sitting in a good position now especially after beating Datchworth who were also a top 4 team. The minis/youth teams are now playing season games and after weeks of training it is a nice change to be able to play matches. I have continued to stay on with the U7s&U8s and it looks like that will be the case until the end of the season. One thing I have noticed with our team is we are a double-edged sword at the moment. We are very talented individually, but we lack discipline on the field. This would be something we look into and try to improve December 2018 Working with primary schools is now my main focus and I would spend majority of my time at the same three schools for the remained of the month (Ashtree, Round Diamond and St Nicolas). By now I have developed my six-week tag rugby program and have had a lot of practice, so the lessons are running a lot smoother. A few things I had notice was the children really enjoy the sessions and loved running around. Some kids had the potential to be good rugby players even if they weren't aware of it. Like the summer camps in the beginning I would try and use fun as a tool for recruitment. If kids associate rugby and fun together then hopefully they are more willing to give it try and better yet go to a club for better development. With the secondary schools their rugby seasons were coming to an end, a short season for some who are only involved in school rugby. Which I believe is a problem for the whole of Stevenage in general. There isn't enough local competition and matches to keep the kids involved. There are certain secondary schools with rugby teams. However, even those won't have teams in every year group (yr 7-10). Some teams would only play a handful of games a season or one team is obviously more dominate than the other. It all impacts their motivation to come to their trainings which has a bigger impact on participation all together. Some schools are then forced to look into other regions which has its own implications within the school (timetabling, teachers, transport etc). It's a big job and needs involvement of everyone in the rugby community to make it work. 1st XV had our first little hiccup since we've been on our latest roll, we lost a game to Tabard. A team we could've beaten but because of our reoccurring tendencies, we didn't. It's starting to become clear we don't travel well, and we don't play well in the wet. The travel impacts our motivation we're very slow getting into the grove of things and when we do we've put ourselves at such a disadvantage because by then it is an uphill battle. Also, our playing style doesn't suit wet weather rugby and adjusting to the weather makes the team a bit more disjointed. However, after that we managed to finish the rest of the month strong and have a well-deserved break. As for the U7s&U8s our last game of the month was disastrous, nothing to do with our playing ability but rather our discipline and behaviour. With this in mind we decided to make changes to coaching staff to get the parents more involved and swing our attention to our behaviour rather than playing. Like last month no team looks to have more individual talent as us but we needed to work more on rugby's tangibles as well. January 2019 A new year and a new set of primary schools to teach as well as preparing for the annual Stevenage tag rugby festival. The primary schools I was involved with this month were Almond Hill, Brooms Barn Primary and Trotts Hill primary. I was working with Almond Hill's year sixs in preparation for the tag rugby festival. They had both indoor and outdoor facilities to use, enjoyed physical activity but not necessarily rugby. So, I had to adapt my lessons to more game-based activities and have repetition of rugby skills hidden in the games. Broom Barns were full of energy and again had indoor and outdoor facilities to use. The PE lead was great, managed the children's behaviour and created a relationship for me to return in the coming months. Trotts Hill were competitive and really thrived off competition-based activities, their hall was booked when I was delivering my lessons so bad weather had implications. I connected really well with Trotts Hill and I would return in the future to take other age groups. There was another mini Olympics event but this time it was held for the year threes and fours. Similar to the last event, I was stationed in the mix of other sports all trying to convince the children their respective sports are better. Since they were older I had to adjust my session a bit but not a lot as the rotations were only eight minutes long. It was about effectively leaving a good impression with the children within that short period of time. This was redemption month for the 1st XV, we had the opportunity to prove to ourselves we should've won the games we lost in the first round against Chesthunt and Old Merchant Taylors. We did beat both teams comfortably this time round and we were happy we won but we also knew losing to them in the first round could be costly. Not to mention playing Chesthunt was our first cup game so we progressed onto the next level by beating them. We were having big changes with the U7s and the U8s, having everyone play more of an active role had a big effect on the team. This was really promising and was the beginning of the transition period. As I won't be around to take the team through their age grade rugby we needed to find a replacement. With parents putting their hands up it was nice to know things were going to be more secure in the future. February 2019 This month I continued to work with the three primary schools as well as adding Round Diamond to my schedule. We were now in the second half of my tag rugby programme which is focusing on how to play tag rugby and allocating more time to play tag rugby rather than drills/activities. It was also an important month for preparation of the annual tag rugby festival, through the month I worked closely with Stevenage Sporting Futures to try and deliver the best product we could. For the 1st XV we had two big games this month, first was facing London Welsh at their home ground and the semi-final against Hemel who is in the league above us. The element of surprise and being taken for granted was gone when we went down to Old Deer Park to face London Welsh for the second time. Leading up to the match I knew this would be the hardest game of the season for us and it lived up to that. It really was a physical game and that physicality helped keep us in the game but also hindered us. We did well to defend against a quality team but when it was our turn to attack we had no energy because of our defensive efforts. In the end we went down, and it was a really hard game to swallow as promotion started to look slim. The following week we had our cup semi-final so there wasn't much rest between. We needed to recover and mentally prepare for another big game. This time we would dominate the from the beginning, a rare sight from our team as usually were a slow starting team. We were confident at halftime and felt we had already won the game, which will explain why we let off the gas and allowed them to get right back into the game. They made us fight to the very end but we managed to hold them out by two points and win the game. The minis had a combination of trainings and matches. Fairly similar in aiming to giving them the most experience of playing rugby. Also managed to help out with a bit of U13s and U15s training but they have a good coaching support system, so I'm only needed on certain occasions. March 2019 This month we finally reached the tag rugby festival and it was a really good experience to organise an event like this. I've written a full report of the day but what I like was all the pieces coming together. There were positives and negatives but an experience regardless. Something that should be continued and hopefully expanded in the future. For the remainder of the month it was a mixture of primary schools and secondary schools. I had lessons with St Nicolas, Broom Barns, Round Diamond, Trotts hill and Peartree Nursery. The nursery was interesting, and I forgot how young nursery was. So, what I thought was simple wasn't simple enough. I had to be quick on my feet and change things accordingly. Definitely had a dry throat afterwards, speaking with my "baby" voice for a few hours. Then it changed to the opposite side of the spectrum and I was taking secondary girls for rugby. I really enjoyed working with the girls from Nobel, they were having fun but knew there was a boundary and expectation to get work done. I found the girls are a bit easier to coach. The staff at Nobel let me take the lesson and supported with classroom behaviour. For the 1st XV we had our third tough game in a row and I think it took its toll on the team. We had a must win game against local rivals Datchworth. This game was purely about promotion and whoever won would put themselves in good position to reach that. However, we were really flat and couldn't spark much within the team which resulted in us losing. Probably the nail in the coffin for our season which was a weird feeling knowing the season had lost its purpose and there weren't semi-finals or finals to have another crack. We did finish the month off by winning other games, but motivation was depleting. Since reaching Datchworth would take a lot of things to go our way that were out of our control. April 2019 There was a big two-week holiday in the middle of April so my contact time with schools was lower than other months. I was finishing up with Broom Barns, Round Diamond, Peartree and Trotts hill before the holidays. With some of these schools it would be the last time I visited so I said my goodbyes and wished them the best. I was also able to fit in travelling to the Scandinavia countries during the school holidays which was nice. As for the 1st XV we had two games left, one season game and one cup game. Our last season game which would decide if we finish third or fourth. In Stevenage style we had a slow start to the game. It wasn't until the second half was when we took over the game and won our last season match. It was a special moment for a few of the veteran players as this could be their last game of rugby. It was humbling to be present and knowing it was my last game at home as well. Next up which was the cup final, again we found ourselves in a position where we "weren't supposed" to be. Facing a team that was now two leagues above us. We did ourselves proud winning the first half of the game but ultimately having no answer for their set piece in the second half. We did lose that match but there were positives to take away. I received a glass cup to take back home to NZ which was a bonus. May 2019 This is the final month for me as the rugby development officer. The focus of this month was tying up loose ends and preparing the club for the next season. I had agreed to continue working with Peartree Nursery, Brooms Barn Primary and Ley Primary before the school holidays. So, I continued my tag rugby program with those schools but at different age groups within the school. I also spent a lot of time at the club trying to prepare it for the next season as much as I could. First, I wanted to complete the promotional video since social media has a big effect on promotion. With a phone or computer anyone can see what STRFC is about. I believe it was important since the younger generation is heavily invested in social media. Then the little things around the club like making sure equipment is ready for next season. Communicating with the schools I have worked with over the season. Sending a message of thank you, informing them of what is going to happen and to maintain those relationships. The rugby season has come to an end for the 1st XV. Bitter sweet was the theme for the season. Falling short of promotion and falling short of winning the cup final but being close enough to win it all. Disappointed in the results but we still had a really good season however it would've been nice to win those titles. After reflecting on everything, it was such a great experience and the relationships I made within the team are important to me which I know I will stay in contact with. The mini and youth rugby teams had their presentation day, this was a nice day for the club. It was a nice way to see the season off. Each team had their own personal awards to reward their players. Parents gathered around for celebrations. The sun also turned up setting the scene for a good day outside playing games. This was the highlight of the day seeing all the teams playing outside in a big game even if it was football… Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Nga mihi Cheers, Jesse.