I’ve always been a rugby fan as far back as I can remember. I enjoyed playing in my school days – though ‘enthusiastic’ rather than ‘talented’ would have been an accurate description of my ability.
Much of my enthusiasm came from the leadership and inspiration I received from my rugby coach, the late and much missed John Foster who was something of a legend in Scottish Rugby. In 2011 the Scottish Rugby Union awarded him the Spirit of Rugby Award for his contribution to schools rugby and much more.
Though he was best known for his work at Dollar Academy it was at Woodmill High School in Dunfermline where our paths crossed. In his thoughtful coaching style he taught me that leadership was about paying attention to everyone and encouraging them to play to their strengths, that we bring out the best in ourselves when we play for each other and that words of encouragement are better tools of change and growth than dogs abuse and criticism. I have tried to live those maxims in my working life – not always successfully, but even in my failure I had them in my understanding of what went wrong.
He often said the best thing about rugby was that no matter who you were, what shape your body was or how good you were with a ball, there was a position you could play in rugby, and that rugby was a sport in which having a star player was not as good as a team which played well together. He was right in both cases.
I am not rosy-eyed. It’s a tough game with a great many imperfections. Some might argue the professional era has meant the variety of shapes and sizes who can play is more limited, though I would argue it remains true outside the elite levels.
Perhaps because of my bias, I have been delighted that Cyrenians have been in partnership with Edinburgh Rugby for over a year now. The team has raised money, attended events, promoted our work and taken part in our activities. Some of the players were down at our FareShare depot again this week helping out and the film they made will be part of our #GivingTuesday campaign which is launched next week.
The players were very engaged in the experience. They understood the importance of there being a place for everyone – that everyone matters and that encouragement not judgement is the most effective way to bring out the best in anyone, no matter of their story or their circumstances. I could almost hear John Foster’s voice as the conversations grew and relationships flourished. This is a partnership which makes a difference, not just financially but at a very human level, and I like to think, in some small way, it’s a thank you for all John taught me.