What can rugby teach our schools?

Mat Galvin

Mat Galvin is assistant principal for Teaching and Learning at Firth Park Academy in Sheffield, a 'good' school in a challenging area. Having worked in inner city schools for 17 years, Mat has worked regionally and nationally on both Science teaching and Outdoor education. He is part of the MyScience alumni and hosts the regional Triple Science network. Outside of work, Mat splits his time between his young family and Sheffield Tigers RUFC.

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Originally published on 29th September 2015 Originally published on 29th September 2015

Having been a player of the round ball for all my life (I can thoroughly commend to you the model of Sheffield’s Christian Fair Play League as a model of fantastic football and sportsmanship), I decided in the Autumn years of my competitive sporting career to move to rugby. Prior to this, I’d only played rugby in games lessons when 15, so I expected and received a steep learning curve. Two years later and thoroughly enjoying myself at Sheffield Tigers RUFC I thought, with the rugby World Cup taking place, it would be a great chance to link the very best of rugby with values and ideas for school improvement.

Here, in no particular order, are my reflections:

Standards

Something that struck me immediately was the exacting standard expected from players at all times when playing. This may be the case in the tightest of games, but equally in training, too. I’ve witnessed simple light hearted drills turn into a full on fitness destruction because players didn’t take it seriously enough. Having our standards sky high in whatever we do in schools is key. Modelling excellent practice in our own classroom, keeping on top of marking and being a consummate professional are all expected as a minimum. Staff need to know that’s the expectation for them, all day, every day. Do your staff? What happens if they fall short? Will they self-correct or need guiding?

Impact your game zone

As a human being, you are only going to have impact on a tiny area of a pitch. Try standing on the halfway line and being aware of your own size! Last season we had an excellent sports psychologist working with us to maximise our personal impact. This came through knowing our own roles inside out and how they linked with others in the team. Systems and structures were practiced until automatic, so that as a squad we were much stronger than the sum of 15 men. Communication remains key to success. His final advice was to:

  • Control the ‘controllables’, often through thorough preparation.
  • Influence aspects you can influence, often through effective support and teamwork.
  • Ignore everything else. If you can’t control or influence it, ignore it!


Are your structures as a school excellent? Can they be improved? Does everyone know their role? Do they know where they fit into the bigger picture? What can you control and influence? What will you have to ignore?

Be part of a community


One of the aspects that resonates with me about rugby is the community aspect. At Sheffield Tigers, the rugby goes from minis and under-7s (my children Joe and Mollie pull on a Tigers shirt every Sunday and play better than I ever have!), several Colts teams, a newly formed women’s side, three competitive adult sides, an associated netball team all the way through to 62 year old Vets playing in charity games. A recent touring side included a 72 year old hooker (no rude jokes, please!).

All levels are valued, receive financial support from the club and are celebrated equally. Our schools, at their best, are an integral part of our communities. Everything from hosting breastfeeding support classes for new mums to carol singing for elderly people in respite homes can and should be part of what we do. No school is an island and nor should it be. Does your school form part of a community network? How could it be improved? Where are you not reaching out to?

Celebrate success

My international touring to date has been highly entertaining although for obvious reasons, cannot be printed on this page. It was all good, clean fun to be honest but, if it happens on tour… Crucially, all of our teams work better if the players celebrate the positives from each game and bind into a closely knit group of hardworking teammates. Although you need your staff members to critically reflect on practice and hold each other to account, there must be a place for group celebration and bonding. We all spend more of our time at work than with our loved ones or families during the term time, so why not make that time positive and as enjoyable as possible, whilst still maintaining exacting standards.

The right people in the right places

Our giant number 8, a fearsome warrior nicknamed The Cat is fantastic in The Pack. He can smash through the gain line, whatever the opposition. But would he have the skills to rip a side apart using quick hands and passing? Not as well as Phil or Keets, our scrum halves, who are about half his size. Having the correct people in the correct places, doing the correct jobs is crucial for the team’s success. Are you team in the right places? Who needs to move and how can you make it happen?


And finally… emulate the best


The All Blacks are favourites for the World Cup with good reason. I’d recommend reading articles on the values and systems that have produced and maintained a world beating side for so long. Find rivals and partners who are truly excellent and borrow from them what they do best. If you are that model of excellent practice, what are you doing to bring on the next generation of outstanding schools and leaders? The All Blacks take this responsibility very seriously - does your school?

So, here’s to Stuart Lancaster’s squad. May they have a fantastic tournament and inspire a generation of young people to engage with the positive core values in rugby. We’re having our second taster session at Firth Park Academy soon. I’m hoping one of the outcomes is that every child at our school realises they have a crucial part to play in our successful team’s journey to Outstanding. Swing low!


Is your teaching inspired by rugby? Share your ideas below!

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