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Interview: Lawrence Dallaglio

Following a stellar rugby career, Lawrence Dallaglio set up Dallaglio RugbyWorks, using the principles of the sport to help troubled young people change their lives. He talks to Steph Eaves about why he’s so passionate about giving these kids a second chance

by Steph Eaves, Health Club Management and Sports Management | Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 2
Former rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio set up RugbyWorks in 2009 / © shutterstock/DarshanaSri
Former rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio set up RugbyWorks in 2009/ © shutterstock/DarshanaSri

Rugby gave my life purpose,” says Lawrence Dallaglio, former captain of the English rugby union team and 2016 inductee of the World Rugby Hall of Fame. “It has the power to transform attitudes, behaviours and aspirations. Rugby helped me overcome a very turbulent time in my life.”

Dallaglio is explaining why in 2009, following his retirement, he decided to set up Dallaglio RugbyWorks, a programme that utilises the sport to help change the lives of 14- to 17-year-olds who, due to issues such as difficult behaviour, school refusal or teenage pregnancy, have been excluded from mainstream education.

“One of my great beliefs is that you are what you’re exposed to,” says Dallaglio. “This is something we channel through the programme, providing life-changing opportunities for young people.”

RugbyWorks partners with over 40 alternative provision (AP) schools across the country, giving disengaged young people the support, experience and abilities needed to help them believe in a better future for themselves.

Dallaglio describes the programme as a long-term, intensive skills development programme, based on the values of rugby. The end goal is for participants to enter sustained education, training or employment after they leave school.

“While we use rugby to draw in the young people, we intend the rugby sessions to develop their soft skills, increase their engagement with the school and guide them onto a suitable career path,” he says.

“We’re not trying to create rugby players of the future, rather, we’re instilling in them the values of the game – teamwork, respect and leadership.”

From personal experience
Dallaglio knows first hand how rugby can help during difficult times. In 1989, when he was 16 years old, his older sister Francesca was killed in the Marchioness disaster.

“Francesca’s death blew my family apart,” he says. “We were a very close-knit family and it was a terrible time.”

Dallaglio says that before the tragedy, he certainly wasn’t destined to play for England and wasn’t even in the First XV at school, but in the wake of his sister’s death, he became a “man on a mission.”

“Rugby gave me a purpose, something to focus on. I became quite driven, because I knew I had to do something that would bring my family together.

“Most importantly, playing rugby has given me a solid group of friends that will stay with me for life.”

A few years after the tragedy, Dallaglio was invited for a trial with the London Wasps team, the club he would end up representing for the entirety of his career.

“No one knew me,” he says of starting with the Wasps. “No one knew about my past. It was a chance for me to move on and start a new chapter. It was a very friendly place and I became part of another family.

“That’s when my rugby journey really took off. Five years later the game turned professional and it went from being a hobby to a career. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that’s the way it would go.”

Glory days
Over the course of his career Dallaglio achieved more than most players could dream of, including reaching the pinnacle of the sport in 2003, when England beat Australia to win the Rugby World Cup.

“The build up to that tournament was a very special time. We’d beaten the big three South African sides in the 2002 Autumn Internationals and then went on to win the Six Nations Grand Slam in the spring,” says Dallaglio. “It was a magical time for English rugby and it was an honour to be part of it.”

But despite all his success, when it came time to retire Dallaglio felt ready to embrace new opportunities.

“The feeling of running out to 80,000 fans at Twickenham with my teammates will never leave me, but when it came to retirement I was quite excited by the transition,” he explains. “Rugby was very kind to me and I had a brilliant time. But you have to sacrifice a huge amount and so did the people around me.

“Once I retired, I was able to dedicate more time to my family, who had supported me throughout my career. I was able to move into the media and talk about the sport that gave me so much. I was also able to set up Dallaglio RugbyWorks and give back to young people who just need a second chance.”

Changing lives
The RugbyWorks programme is run as a free service for AP schools, which cater to students who have been excluded from mainstream schools. Working with young people in years 10 and 11, the team builds long-term relationships with groups of around eight to 10 individuals per school. Participants engage in the rugby sessions for 30 weeks per year over three years.

The programme is open to both boys and girls, however Dallaglio says that due to the nature of AP schools, the large majority are boys. RugbyWorks coaches work with teachers, as well as watching which students engage well in a series of taster sessions, to determine who will take part.

As well as school-based rugby sessions, Dallaglio says that tournaments are held in the various regions, and a national tournament is held yearly.

“It’s great to see the healthy competition amongst the young people, as AP schools don’t usually offer competitive inter-school sport,” he tells.

Employability Taster days are also offered by the programme’s corporate partners, to give the young people a taste of the sort of jobs they could do when they leave school.

“In mainstream education, young people have better access to careers advice and work experience opportunities,” says Dallaglio. “The young people we work with don’t have these opportunities, so we engage our corporate partners to open their offices to them. Our aim is for the students to aspire to a life outside of their AP school.”

Coaching self belief
While Dallaglio’s passion project began simply as a grant giving charity, he soon saw the value of using sport to help young people change their lives, and in 2014 the full programme was launched. Of particular importance to the programme’s success, Dallaglio notes, is the coach-athlete relationship.

“We recognise the important, transformative role that this relationship can have. We see it as a key catalyst to changing the future prospects of each young person. For this reason, our coaches are deeply embedded in the school community.”

This relationship is so integral to a young person’s continued success that the programme was lengthened from a two-year to a three-year programme in 2016, to enable the coaches to continue working with the participants after they have left their AP schools.

“When leaving the AP school environment and re-entering the so-called ‘mainstream’, they are at their most vulnerable,” Dallaglio explains. “Our coaches now continue to support them in the college course or apprenticeship they go on to do after leaving the school.

“We also bring our third-year participants together for mini touch rugby tournaments, as once young people leave school, many stop physical activity. These sessions create a community for our young people, which has been so lovely to witness.”

Evidence for sport
The RugbyWorks programme has already shown that it can make a difference. Early results have found that 9 per cent of RugbyWorks participants achieve at least a Level 2 in Maths and English compared to 3 per cent of their peers in AP schools. Eighteen per cent of 2016 RugbyWorks school leavers secured an apprenticeship, compared to just 6 per cent of apprenticeship applicants in mainstream education nationally. Teachers also report increased attendance at school.

Twelve months after participants leave their AP schools, 68 per cent are still in sustained education, employment or training, indicating that the benefits of the programme are lasting.

Buoyed by these positive results, Dallaglio has called for more physical activity to be added to the National Curriculum and for Ofsted to rate schools on their physical activity programmes as well as academic results.

“According to Cancer Research UK, millennials are set to overtake baby boomers as the age group with the highest proportion of overweight or obese people,” Dallaglio explains.

“With schools cutting more and more of the time spent on PE due to exam pressures, this statistic will continue to be given to the generations to come.”

He continues: “Apart from the health benefits, I’m of the opinion that participating in sport leads to increased academic performance, rather than decreased. This can be seen in the results we’re producing at RugbyWorks.”

A continuing passion
Dallaglio clearly believes in what he’s doing, and remains closely involved.

“Myself and all the trustees of the charity get to see first-hand the impact of the programme and how it’s helping these young people. I very much enjoy going down to sessions and seeing the hard work our coaching team puts in. I get stuck in as well, no watching from the sidelines!

“Interacting with the young people and watching their outlook on life change is fantastic. I was very moved recently when one young lad wrote me a heartwarming letter thanking me for turning his life around. I felt like a proud father, it was a very humbling moment!”

RugbyWorks’ success in numbers

18% of 2016 RugbyWorks school leavers secured an apprenticeship, against a national backdrop of just 6% of apprenticeship applicants in mainstream education.

68% of RugbyWorks participants are still in sustained education, employment or training 12 months after leaving school, compared to 50% from alternative provision schools nationally after 6 months.

On average, 9% of participants achieve Level 2 English and Maths, compared to 3% of students in alternative provision schools nationally.

If you would like to find out more about Dallaglio RugbyWorks

please contact: [email protected]

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