In the spsotlight

Coach Mentoring Solutions got some great coverage in the recent Middlesex Matters magazine from Middlesex Rugby outlining the work the company does with the County and the newly established Middlesex Coaching Association:


Developing players is impossible without developing coaches. Hugh Godwin and Lonsdale Leggett-Flynn find out how Middlesex’s partnership with London Irish is paying dividends for both representative and club rugby.

When one door closes, another one swings wide open. When Middlesex’s partnership with the Wasps Academy came to an end as a result of the move made by Wasps to the West Midlands, London Irish stepped up to the plate to offer a new home and new impetus for the Team Middlesex developing player programme at its Hazelwood training facility.

And because developing players is impossible without developing coaches, the county’s partnership with London Irish has spawned another joint initiative – formation of the Middlesex Coaching Association.

Patrick O’Grady, the manager of the London Irish Academy, speaks with such enthusiasm about his club “inheriting” Middlesex that you feel there is much to be gained and nothing to regret from the change.

“On the academy side, it’s fantastic for London Irish as Middlesex gives us another 4500 players between the ages of 11 and 18,” says O’Grady. “In our DPP (developing player programme) for U13s to U15s, we have two sites for Middlesex at Hazlewood (the London Irish training complex) and Harrow School. There are 150 to 200 boys involved and that could double as we are looking to start a site in the Chiswick/Twyford Avenue area and, in two years’ time, tap into the Hackney/Haringey area.”

The London Irish Academy once famous for producing the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson has been given a reboot and this year it has supplied five players to the England U20s, two to the England U18s and three to the U17s.

To give a feel of the pathway through the DPP and the PDG (player development group, designed to further prepare players aged 16 to 18 for professional rugby), O’Grady, a former England U18 player and first XV captain at John Fisher School who started out as a DPP coach himself, outlines the initial philosophy: “We coach everything through games, to give the boys as many touches of the ball as possible, and make sure they’re enjoying the sessions and developing their skills. The coaches try and create a positive environment where the boys feel comfortable and confident, to continue playing rugby at their schools and clubs.

“We see the boys once a week, to the set amount of hours we are allowed to work in by the RFU. An hour and ten minutes of rugby games and skills, then 20 minutes with our strength and conditioning coach on movement and running technique and body-weight exercises.”
When the boys reach the third year, at U15, they have a couple of end-of-season fixtures against other Premiership DPP teams, and tournaments in Bristol and at Harrow School.

“We have 12 coaches across the DPP in Middlesex currently,” says O’Grady, “and we will add six for our third centre and hopefully another six or seven if our Haringey/Hackney site goes ahead.

“There is a point of difference with our DPP sites compared to those of some other clubs who would say to a school teacher or club coach ‘can you run this site for us, here’s three or four part-time coaches to work with you’. We are aligned from U13s all the way through to our senior academy – who train full-time with the first team – so our full-time academy coaches, who coach our U16 and U18 sides, also run our DPP sites; one or two to each. I think that is massively beneficial. They work alongside the coaches who are in schools or who go to different schools during the day, plus the two or three who coach at clubs in the various age groups.

London Irish’s current first-team coaches Declan Danaher and Paul Hodgson started in the academy, and so the extent of the pathway could not be clearer or more enticing.

Which brings us back to the notion that to develop the players you need to develop the coaches. Bob Lawless, chairman of coaching at Middlesex (as well as being the county’s deputy president), was the driving force behind setting up the Middlesex Coaching Association.

“Having worked so closely with London Irish in my [former] role as chairman of playing, I could see the benefits the county was deriving from our academy partnership, and that led to the formation of the Coaching Association,” says Lawless.

“The more we can upskill the coaches in clubs and schools, the better the standard of rugby in Middlesex. We currently put on coaching workshops that are open and free to any coach from any club or school to come along to.”

The Association offers a range of individual, student and group membership levels which are open to all coaches and offer eight themed coach development sessions at Level 2 and Level 3 between October and July at locations throughout Middlesex.

“All our sessions are led by professional Level 3 coaches working with academy or elite players,” explains Lawless, “and we’ve been lucky enough to have some excellent guest coaches including Dai Young, Rory Teague, Richard Cheetham and Richard Wigglesworth – to name a few.”
The most recent was a session focussing on scrummaging, led by Ben Franks – the New Zealand international prop currently playing for London Irish, who counts among his rugby memorabilia two World Cup winning medals.

“There’s not much Ben doesn’t know about scrummaging,” grins Lawless. “That’s the level of knowledge we want to pass on to our coaches.”
As well as bringing in top class players and coaches, the Coaching Association works closely with specialist coach educators such as Tony Robinson, himself a Level 3 coach, whose passion for helping aspiring coaches achieve their best has taken him round the world working with the Army, the RFU and World Rugby through his mentoring consultancy Coach & Mentoring Solutions.

“ My relationship with Middlesex goes back a long way,” says Robinson – he was the county’s director of senior rugby for a number of years, “so I’m delighted to be continuing that though the Coaching Association.”

Robinson is responsible for producing six coaching workshops for the Association, as well as five for Middlesex where he mentors a group of coaches towards their RFU Level 3 qualifications.

“The Coaching Association is a simple idea, but a great one, he continues. “It provides Middlesex coaches with the experience, education and training they need to push them towards the levels they aspire to.”

Coaching Association membership isn’t confined to Middlesex. Coaches from Berkshire and Hampshire are welcomed with open arms too.
But Lawless doesn’t see opposing counties as being rivals or competition, except perhaps on the pitch. “We can all learn from each other,” he says. “Our job as a constituent body is to grow the game and that means developing all our players and our coaches. If we can help each other achieve that, that’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, back at London Irish, the county DPP, the Academy and the coach development programme run hand-in-hand. “Our relationship with Middlesex is seamless,” says O’Grady.

“We are looking to integrate our DPP coaches in with our U16s’ fixtures and tournaments, which would hopefully influence their coaching when they go back to our DPP sites. We have our U16 fixture versus Harlequins and a tournament at Warwick School, then the big festival at Wellington College [which took place from 2-7 April], and they are all huge opportunities for the county’s coaches to integrate into. At Wellington, an England coach will run a development session for all our DPP coaches.

“I started as a DPP coach, just part-time one evening a week, a few years ago. I was then asked to apply for the DPP junior-academy manager role and a year later I moved up to become the academy manager. James Lightfoot-Brown, our senior-academy backs coach, was exactly the same. There is promotion from within and anyone working in our programme part-time has the opportunity to put their hand up to be full-time when jobs become available.

“The way forward now is that we integrate our DPP coaches into running the county U15 and U16 teams. We’ve started to do that and I think the more aligned they can be, so our DPP programme and the county programmes will be aligned with the style of coaching and style of play, and the boys in the system will get greater opportunities.”

There is one more exciting aspect about London Irish’s future that merits a question: the professional club’s publicly-stated plan to bring the first-team matches back from Reading closer to home.

“The exact location is still up in the air but we will be moving back into London in a year or two,” says O’Grady. “I’d love for it to be in Middlesex.”

CPD Workshop: Winning v Development

Winning v Development

Date: Saturday 13th January 2018
Time: 0930 -1200
Venue: Hazelwood, Hazelwood Drive, Sunbury-On Thames, Middlesex, TW16 6QU

Patrick O’Grady                         Richard Pryor

Coach & Mentoring Solutions will be running a CPD workshop in conjunction with London Irish and Middlesex Rugby.

The workshop, which is free to attend, will explore London Irish Academy’s philosophy to coaching & player development, is open to coaches in Middlesex, Berkshire & Hampshire.

London Irish Academy manager Patrick O’Grady will lead the session, offering the opportunity to understand the approach and the link with academy and senior club. AASE Head Coach Richard Pryor will update us on the AASE scheme – Achieving Academic & Sporting Excellence, and how London Irish use the programme as a vital element of our talent development programme.

The morning will conclude with the opportunity to observe the London Irish Academy 20 squad play versus Bath Academy in the Under 18 Academy League.

The session is appropriate to Level 2 & 3 coaches of the 15-a-side game & will feature the Academy’s Gold & Silver groups.
To confirm attendance at the coaching workshop, or for further information,
please contact Middlesex Coaching Association secretary Camilla Hulf, email:

Making the headlines

The final whistle

[feature from Middlesex Rugby’s Middlesex Matters magazine]

When you can no longer play, you don’t have to lose touch with the game. Lonsdale Leggett-Flynn catches up with three people who’ve stayed involved long after they’ve hung their boots up.

There comes a point in every player’s career when they know the time has come to hang their boots up once and for all. But just because your playing prowess isn’t what it used to be, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved, either on the playing side or in an administration role. So how do you fill the void on a Tuesday night and on Saturday afternoons?

Originally trained as a PE teacher, coaching was a natural progression for Tony Robinson when he reached the end of his playing days. Having played as a prop for Saracens and London Scottish  (he lost his first team place at Sarries to Jason Leonard), Tony played his last senior game in 1996. “I was 36 when I officially retired from first class rugby – but I played my last serious game at 41 and also managed a match in Malaysia against the Australian Army Jungle Warfare Regiment at 43!”
His day job back then was at Queen Elizabeth School in Barnet, but it was through his work as a coach educator and trainer for the RFU that he realised that coach development was his calling. He spent nine and a half years at the RFU, latterly as player development manager, but last year decided to branch out on his own and form  Coach & Mentoring Solutions.

“The position had changed from what I had originally signed up for and I wanted a new challenge helping people to become the best they possibly can be. And I love the autonomy!” he quips.

Now, based in Bookham in Surrey, Tony runs courses and mentoring sessions for aspiring coaches, and is running a series of workshops for Middlesex Rugby coaches.

“Now I’ve found a new love for coaching and refereeing I am able to pass on my knowledge and love for the game”

Gavin Nichols’ job as an investment banker in the City, combined with his role as secretary of Chiswick RFC and a young family, didn’t leave him with enough time to commit to coaching. “Last season was the first season I didn’t get a 1st XV cap or score a try” he laments. “I captained Chiswick’s 2nd XV to win Middlesex Merit Table Division 1 and I figured I’m not going to top that so why not bow out with a trophy.”

Having made the decision to stop playing, he wanted to stay involved in the game “to keep me running around on a Saturday” he says, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. “I couldn’t commit to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for most weeks of the season, but reffing is something I’d considered for a while.”

He reffed a game last season by accident when the referee didn’t turn up and as captain he fell on his sword and volunteered. “What appealed to me was something I wasn’t expecting – the learning curve. I’m not saying I know all there is to know about the playing side but with a whistle in hand I suddenly had a hell of a lot to learn – where to stand so as not to get in the way, what an offside line is and how to deal with scrum halves! I took my son to Twickenham to watch England v Ireland in the 6 Nations and found myself watching the ref to see where he was positioned.”

He has completed three online courses over the summer covering concussion, first aid and the laws of the game. “I also attended an intense two day practical course which was great. Eighty per cent of it was on the pitch actually reffing in different scenarios.” He has now been signed off as a Level 12 referee and officiated at his first game this month.

Bowing out gracefully after a long and fulfilling playing career is one thing. But what happens when injury forces you out of the game long before you’re ready to quit?
When Joe Russell was just sixteen years old, his playing career was brought to an abrupt halt when be broke his neck diving into a swimming pool. “I hit the top of my head on the edge of a blow-up rubber ring which snapped and crushed several vertebrae,” he recalls.

As a young Ruislip player, he first took to the field at the age of five, and at the time of his accident was scrum-half for the U16s with his sights set on playing for Wasps or even England. “Having a huge goal like this spurred me on each week to make me a better and more developed rugby player.” With his dreams in tatters and the prospect of months of rehabilitation ahead, Joe was determined to stay involved in the game he loved. Despite being off school for three months trying to rebuild his neck muscles and learning how to walk again, as soon as be was able, Joe booked himself onto a refereeing course and all the coaching programmes he could get on to.

Through his volunteering work at Ruislip he was chosen to become an RFU Young Rugby Ambassador along with his team mate Cameron Taylor. “It was a great way for me to stay involved with the club and enabled me to meet new people and create my network of contacts,” he explains. From there, he continued reffing as much as possible and started a year-long coaching apprenticeship – a year that enabled him to develop his coaching and refereeing and to grow as an individual.

“Breaking my neck had a huge impact on my mental state. It was really hard to stay motivated when all I wanted to do was get on the pitch and play. Now I’ve found a new love for coaching and refereeing I am also able to pass on my knowledge and love for the game on a daily basis through work.”

Now almost 21, Joe works for the RFU as part of the local delivery team for Middlesex and his role as a YRA in the lead up to the World Cup took him to the dizzy heights of Downing Street to promote the tournament.

“The lack of movement I have in my neck still does effect my day to day life, but it doesn’t faze me in the slightest anymore,” he grins. As for the future, he has big plans to build on his rugby career abroad. “As I’m still young I’d like to get some alternative experience out in Australia and New Zealand but that will be in a few years’ time. For now being a CRC is fantastic and I’m loving every bit of it.”

Positive moves for African Para sport

Coach & Mentoring solutions has been spreading the word through training courses held in Benin as part of NPC Development Programme powered by Toyota.

Eight African National Paralympic Committees took part in the latest Agitos Foundation workshops in Benin.
© • Agitos Foundation

Para sport in Africa continues to move forward after recent Agitos FoundationOrganisational Capacity Programme (OCP) training events wrapped up in Cotonou, Benin, on 13 August.

The two events were follow-ups from June’s launch meeting in Benin, where the country’s first OCP event was hosted under the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Development Programme powered by Toyota.

The OCP looks to develop Para sport at a national level via a two-year mentoring process, and the steps to do so for many African nations are currently underway.

In Cotonou, a four-day Level 1 training workshop involved two prospective Programme Leads from eight NPCs (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo) who are expected to take the knowledge and skills they learn back to their respective NPCs. They learned specifically about how to develop strong workshop facilitation skills, effectively transfer knowledge to participants, administer an OCP event and achieve tangible outcomes.

“I am leaving this workshop enriched with new knowledge that will be very useful for our NPC,” said Claude Magbli Koya of Cote d’Ivoire. “The organisation of the OCP national workshops will boost Paralympic sports in Cote d’Ivoire. Thanks Agitos Foundation for this education!”

Although most countries are ratified to the United Nations Convention of the rights of people with disabilities, inclusive practices are not widespread. This is a challenge for many African nations when it comes to developing Para sport. One of the key issues discussed in the training is the challenge faced by the lack of inclusive physical education throughout Africa. Additionally, encouraging gender balance in Para sports leadership was another important topic covered, and it was the NPCs of Mali and Benin who served as model examples for others in the region to follow.

One participant said: “The OCP should be implemented all over Africa to allow us to move forward more and more.”

Prior to the training workshop, a three-day course was held to train new French and English-speaking educators for the OCP, which was conducted by International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Academy, an education partner of the Paralympic Movement’s global governing body. With the subsequent OCP training workshop the newly trained educators had then their first hands-on experience.

The Agitos Foundation is the development arm of the IPC. The OCP is designed to encourage increased professionalism, more support from governments, corporates and development agencies, new local partnerships and better visibility, with the ultimate aim of creating sustainable pathways for Para athletes of all levels.