INTEGRATING MILITARY RUGBY PLAYERS INTO CIVILIAN RUGBY CLUBS
The Army Rugby Union wishes to see far more British Army personnel (male & female) playing rugby at their local community rugby club. It is in both the Armies’ and local clubs interest that players maximise their availability. However, military personnel do have a few issues that club secretaries and coaches should be aware of.
- A junior soldier is not the master of his or her own destiny and is at the call of his chain of command for duties, training and other tasks. When an individual is in their first few years in the Army they spend a lot of time training and developing their military skills. This is achieved by attending courses all over the country to learn and necessitates time away from barracks. While most of this is planned, some is quite reactionary and can be at short notice.
- A soldier spends plenty of time at work doing physical training. They also play sport on a Wednesday afternoon and hence the ability to train with a rugby club in the evenings and play on a Saturday is a huge burden. Some pragmatism should be shown, especially to those playing unit rugby on a Wednesday.
- Not many junior soldiers have a car and hence transport is an issue for them. They are good at car sharing but lifts to a club are fraught with frictions if the driver is away on a course or on duty.
- All military personnel are liable for duties in camp. Whether this is guard, driving or other tasks, they all take their share of what is need to maintain the camp as a safe environment. Guard duties are published well in advance but late notice swaps occur.
- The medical status of a soldier is governed by the Medical Officer (MO) and their Commanding Officer (CO). If the military system says they are not to play then it is an order and they are not to play. They may look outwardly fit but they are not at liberty to ignore an order.
- Every soldier has a unit rugby officer who coordinates their rugby for the unit; they also make a good point of contact for clubs to understand player availability.
- Many soldiers live in barracks during the week but travel to their parental or spousal homes at weekends, many of which are many miles from the Army camp. This weekly commuting prevents many players committing to a club as they cannot train and play with the same club. Many outstanding players are simply not accessible to the better clubs in a manner that works and hence we have a surplus of quality players that can play at weekends but can't train; these are an untapped resource.
- Soldiers will be sent away for extended periods of time. When they do, it would be pragmatic if a club has a mechanism whereby their membership fees are suspended so as not to incur costs that cannot be benefited from.
- The Army has a series of set physical standards that are tested twice a year in what is called a Personal Fitness Assessment (PFA). This standard is reasonable but is not rugby friendly. It is very hard for a bulky front row forward to pass the running element of this test. In these circumstances a CO may declare that a player is not allowed to play team sports until the mandatory tests are passed. This does not affect their right to play team sports out of work hours, but can impinge upon individuals’ commitments.
- A junior soldiers evening meal is served at 1630-1715. If they attend club training between 1900-2100 they do not have access to subsidised food post training and would have to eat fast food. Clubs would do well to provide a basic post training meal and hydration.
- Servicemen and women make excellent rugby players; they bring fitness, robustness and a strong team ethic into a rugby club. They also make excellent administrators or coaches. A little understanding between club and player could only benefit both parties.
James Cook – Army Rugby Union