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.

Follow @mjogalvin1

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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:


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!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"