Wil Snape-Rodgers, the Executive Director of Play Rugby USA, with Coventry’s Wasps Rugby Football Club mascot

New York City and Coventry, England are quite different from one another, but they have at least one thing in common: rugby value-based youth development programs that empower young people. Play Rugby USA calls New York City its home while Engage! Coventry, Coventry.

Representatives from these two programs spent a week together in June, learning about and from one another. Wil Snape-Rogers, Executive Director of Play Rugby, and Ryszard Chadwick, Program Director, traveled to the United Kingdom for this knowledge exchange, facilitated by Chris Millerchip a core donor for both Play Rugby and Engage!

According to Wil, the goal of the exchange was to answer the question, “Are there ways we can accelerate the youth development of our kids?” To answer this question, he and Rys spent the week visiting schools where Engage! taught students its rugby values on and off the pitch.

Engage! Values: Teamwork, Respect, Integrity, Enjoyment and Discipline.

Unlike Play Rugby USA, which provides after school programming to youth across all age groups, Engage! focuses on delivering in-school services during regular school hours to primary/elementary school age groups. Where Play Rugby has Youth Development Mentors (YDMs) incorporate the Go Forward values into the game of rugby, Engage! has two distinct types of teachers, in-classroom and on-pitch, where the former focuses on education of values while the latter on the sport. For Play Rugby, there is no equivalent service to Engage!’s in-classroom instruction, which provides individual and group activities designed to teach specific values.

Regarding the in-classroom instruction, Wil observed that “what was really interesting about them was taking the on-field implementation of values and transforming them into an academic curriculum that promotes physical, social and emotional development which we call Social Emotional Learning outcomes, which are key indicators of our success.” Whereas Play Rugby produces these outcomes outside of the classrooms, Engage! teachers have the unique advantage of being incorporated into the school community, which could increase the likelihood of having greater positive impact on their students.

An Engage! classroom where its values are taught to students

Nonetheless, “both Play Rugby and Engage! share the understanding that rugby can be used as a vehicle to instill values and build character traits that improve the lives of young kids” explained Wil, “both of our programs give students the tools necessary to be successful.” An example of such a tool is the celebration of progress towards excellence over traditional measures of success such as high grades in academic and number of winnings in athletics. Engage! has a rewards system that honors those who best incorporate the values into their everyday lives. These students may or may not achieve the highest marks but are recognized for their effort and progression. This value-driven reward system is hardly a foreign concept to Play Rugby USA, which gives Go Forward Awards, the highest awards individual athletes can receive during tournaments, which are given to students nominated for exemplifying the Play Rugby values. They may be exceptionally dedicated or compassionate players but not necessarily the best performing athletes.

“We’re both teaching values but in slightly different ways,” noted Rys, “it would be interesting to see if we can take any ideas to implement into our programs. There will likely be challenges but they will be well worth the effort if it means we can provide even better programs for our students.”

A wonderful night! The Engaged! Awards Dinner

On the last day of their visit, Wil had the honor of attending the Engage! Awards Dinner at the Ricoh Arena, the home of the Wasps Rugby Football Club, where the Coventry-based youth development organization invited its current and former students, teachers and alumni to celebrate the students who best exemplified its values. Wil was delighted to attend the event and what it meant for youth development. “It was amazing!” he exclaimed, “how many youth development organizations reward students purely for their growth in Social Emotional Learning?”

Perhaps the most notable takeaway of this knowledge exchange was best phrased by Wil: “It’s amazing to see how kids who are miles apart, in experience and distance, all benefit from these rugby values.”