Disaster Experience For England Rugby Stars

Serve On volunteers have been helping to mentor England’s future rugby stars.

England U20 stars in a disaster rescue scenario with humanitarian charity volunteers from Serve On.

England U20 stars in a disaster rescue scenario with humanitarian charity volunteers from Serve On.

The Six Nations championship is just around the corner but the development of a new generation of players is just as important and the RFU is keen to instil some life experiences and strong values in their talented under-20s.

Where better to find those values and some extraordinary experience than Serve On?

That’s why we have been putting a group of young players through disaster scenarios at our Chilmark training area

England Rugby is using a series of off-the-pitch experiences to take selected players out of their comfort zones and develop their awareness, influence, communication and leadership skills.

The activities, constructed with support from the Leading Edge learning provider, are a key tool used by head of international player development and former England No 8 Dean Ryan.

England U20 rugby stars are briefed on disaster response scenario by search and rescue volunteers from humanitarian charity Serve On

England U20 rugby stars are briefed on disaster response scenario by search and rescue volunteers from humanitarian charity Serve On

Faced with a group of talented young players who have grown up being head and shoulders above their peers at sport and whose lives are rapidly being dominated by the cocooning world of professional rugby, Ryan is keen for them to see a different world where not everything goes to plan, and not everything revolves around the game.

“This is a chance to get more life experience; to experience things that go wrong,” he told the players before they were pitched into a series of mock emergencies partly based on the devastation Serve On volunteers tackled for real after Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean in 2017.

It was a chance for players to come up with solutions to life-and-death problems and, for three days, to not have everything done for them.

Saracens star Ali Crossdale, who has now attended a number of the off-the-pitch experiences, was tasked with briefing the rest of the players on the disaster scenario they faced, having been told they had been notionally diverted to help Serve On volunteers in the British Virgin Islands.

Then they were split into three teams and pitched into the fray.

Leicester Tigers prop Joe Heyes explained: “The first task at the ‘base of operations’ tested our leadership and organisational skills, especially when put under pressure.”

England Rugby U20 players had to carry out tunnel rescue in a disaster scenario laid on by volunteers from the Serve On humanitarian charity.

England Rugby U20 players had to carry out tunnel rescue in a disaster scenario laid on by volunteers from the Serve On humanitarian charity.

The players manned the radios, communicating with other teams undergoing their own task, and making plans to cope with the kind of devastation suffered by communities who have been hit by a Category 5 hurricane.

Sent to investigate reports of casualties at a remote ‘medical centre’ the players next found themselves detained by ‘local security’ and Heyes said: “The second task, in which I was interrogated in a mock scenario, again tested my ability to think clearly in a pressure situation while also being able to communicate effectively and calmly in what was initially a heated situation.”

England U20 rugby stars are briefed on disaster response scenario by search and rescue volunteers from humanitarian charity Serve On

England U20 rugby stars are briefed on disaster response scenario by search and rescue volunteers from humanitarian charity Serve On

He said: “It felt uncomfortable but this is my fourth development camp now and I think they’ve helped me learn not to get too overwhelmed by something which is out of my control.

“The third task, which was extracting a casualty from a hurricane-hit building was more a physical task and for a man of my size extremely uncomfortable, so it was more about overcoming the fear of being in a constrained space while also staying calm, communicating effectively and concentrating on the task at hand.

England Rugby U20 players had to carry out tunnel rescue in a disaster scenario laid on by volunteers from the Serve On humanitarian charity.

England Rugby U20 players had to carry out tunnel rescue in a disaster scenario laid on by volunteers from the Serve On humanitarian charity.

“You can easily relate it back to rugby. You will be put under pressure in big games; you will need to overcome your fears, especially when you are playing in front of big crowds, and knowing how you are going to react when you are taken out of your comfort zone and understanding why you react like that is also important in helping you pre-empt that response within yourself and process it differently.”

Bristol Bears back row forward James Dun said: “The third task was actually out in the field, a search-and-rescue task, so going into some abandoned buildings, trying to find people in there and then digging down into tunnels trying to get down there and lifting people out.”

The RFU says the different off-the-pitch experience camps are designed to help the players with the dynamic of fitting into a team as well as helping them to understand how they think in certain situations by improving self-awareness through recognition of their own personal strengths and weaknesses.

England U20 Rugby stars going through disaster scenarios with volunteers from Serve On humanitarian response charity.

England U20 Rugby stars going through disaster scenarios with volunteers from Serve On humanitarian response charity.

In January last year selected players visited the Metropolitan Police’s specialist training centre in Kent where they were put through a series of tasks over two days, designed to test their ability to communicated 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.

In October, the final camp of 2018 saw players spend time at homeless charity The Passage where they explored their beliefs about homelessness and examined how their own values impacted them.

Usually Dean Ryan comes up with previously untried experiences but this was the second time future England stars had been put through a mock emergency by our charity because of the unique pressures the disaster scenarios create, and because of the extremely challenging experiences of Serve On’s search and rescue veterans.

England stars Ted Hill, Joe Cokanasiga, Marcus Smith, Ben Earl and Nick Isiekwe have all followed the same development pathway in the past two years, and England Women’s Rugby squad also benefited from the Serve On disaster response team’s mentoring before the 2017 World Cup.

England Women’s Rugby players training with Serve On humanitarian response volunteers before the 2017 World Cup.

England Women’s Rugby players training with Serve On humanitarian response volunteers before the 2017 World Cup.

Serve On Operations Director Dan Cooke, a veteran of numerous disaster deployments, said: “I am always impressed by the incredible people we find ourselves working with, and to share our world in a way that helps rugby is a privilege for myself and our teams.

“The young England rugby lads came with excellent attitudes and were fine ambassadors for the sport. It is hugely inspiring to see that rugby recognises the importance of developing their players as good people beyond the playing field, whilst improving player development for the sport itself.”

He said: “We always learn from the challenging missions and projects we deploy to, and see the best and worst of humanity. It’s nice to pass on some of that experience but we also learn from our guests and these future stars are young men rugby fans, and our nation, can be proud of.”

Our thanks to the experts from Applied Influence Group for their help putting the players in some extra pressure situations.