Loughborough College of Education Commemorative Awards

 

Report form Geraint Davies, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences

 

On the 25th September 2006, I along with another Loughborough student left from Heathrow airport for the beautiful island of Jamaica. The trip was the second leg of a coaching exchange between Loughborough University and the Jamaican Rugby Union, organised by the BOOST (Building On Overlooked Sporting Talent) charity. After an 11 hour flight I finally stepped off the plane at Kingston airport, and was hit by a wall of heat. I was convinced that the heat was being emitted by the huge Jet engines, but as I walked further and further away it began to dawn on me that I had arrived in a seriously hot place! I was greeted at the airport by some familiar faces, the exchange coaches who visited Loughborough in February 2006, and by some other faces which I was to become very familiar with in the weeks to come.

            During the first two weeks, I was fortunate to stay with an expatriate Englishman who had married a Jamaican, which made the transition to such unfamiliar surroundings far easier than expected. Bright and early the morning after arrival, still jet lagged and starry eyed, I was thrust into coaching my first session of the trip, the National women’s team. This kind of experience set the tone for the trip, which involved some ‘deep end’ experiences which have helped me to grow as a person, and develop some effective coping strategies. The women’s 15 a side Caribbean championships were being held in Jamaica during the first and second week of the exchange, and I was quickly drafted in to help with the running of the event. My first role was the glamorous job of painting the lines of the field, which is done with white lime powder and a bucket with holes in. After 3 hours of meticulous work I had my first taste of how unpredictable Jamaican weather can be, when the skies opened and washed all the lines away in seconds. Frantic running around 5 minutes before kick off resulted in half way, and 22m lines being completed, which the referee seemed happy with. Unfortunately the same thing happened in all three games of the championships, which Jamaica finally won after overcoming Trinidad and Tobago 27-7 in an epic final match.    

            Following the Caribbean championships, it was time to get into the community and coach at a number of schools and clubs around Kingston. This experience was as shocking as it was awe inspiring. In the most underprivileged, and violent areas of the Island, where respect for ones self, never mind others is lacking, I saw the true and amazing power that rugby holds in Jamaica. The game is run by young men who commit their lives to helping others to make something of themselves, and is played by young men and women who learn discipline, respect, and commitment, which while helping them to become better players also makes them better people, who can contribute to the success of the country. I was shown all the sites and sounds of Kingston and the surrounding areas during my first 3 weeks, which helped me to develop an in-depth understanding of not only Jamaican rugby, but Jamaican culture as a whole.

The third week was spent in GC Foster Sports College in Spanish town. This was possibly the most mentally demanding week of the trip, as living conditions were basic and many of the locals were not to keen on the ‘white men’ who had moved into their town. Being the only white people in such a place has given me an understanding of what it is like to be the minority, and how intimidating this can be. I will be forever thankful for the support given to me by certain rugby players and coaches who lived in this area, who seemed to be so far removed from the gangs and violence, and themselves declare that they owe their lives to rugby for getting them out of the gang culture they had grown up in.

            The fourth week of the exchange was spent in the country, a place called Mandeville, with the Pink family. I was promised that this place would be cooler, and that there were no mosquitoes (which had tried their best to eat me alive in the previous weeks), this however proved not to be the case, but the beauty of the area seemed to take my mind off this. During this week I coached in excess of 300 children aged from 10 to 18 years, in two different schools. While their ‘Jamaican time’ was a little less relaxed (they were 30 minutes late instead of 1 hour 30 minutes), they were just as enthusiastic and committed as Kingstonians, even though most of them had never seen a rugby ball before and were convinced that I was there to coach American football! Finally during the fifth and final week, I got to spend some time on the beach, as I spent this week living with the Rugby Development Officer for the Cornwall county, in Montego Bay. His team the Montego Bay Panthers trained on the beach, and as a cool down went for a dip in the sea, which never ceased to amaze me with its heat. Throughout the week we visited between 2 and 3 schools daily, some of which had played before, and others were learning the game for the first time.  

            Without exception, the interest in rugby that was created simply by my presence in the schools and clubs all around the island, will hopefully result in the longevity of rugby on the island. A large part of my time was spent working with the coaches themselves and indeed the men helping to run the union, where I passed on skills and techniques I had learned at University, and through playing the game. This resulted in effective marketing plans being written up, and a goal setting agenda, which will hopefully result in financial support for the union.

            The money provided by the Loughborough College of Education Commemorative Award, helped me to purchase balls, cones and other pieces of kit which will aid rugby in the country substantially. A massive thank you is therefore extended to the awards committee, from both myself and the Jamaican Rugby Union.

 

Geraint Davies.