Suffolk Rugbytots helps youngsters to tackle teamwork
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Rugbytots, the UK’s first rugby-specific play programme for young children, has now been launched in Suffolk, bringing together basic rugby skills, teamwork and loads of fun. Gina Long reports.
Imagine an environment where children as young as two years old can be taught about the virtues of working as a team whilst improving their confidence and learning about discipline.
In a world where children seem more interested in tablets and televisions than bike rides and climbing trees, a Suffolk sporting franchise is hoping to change all that.
Welcome to the world of Suffolk Rugbytots, a fun-packed programme where basic rugby practice is intertwined with aiding crucial motor skills and simply having fun.
Director and mum-of-two Sam Farmer heads the county’s version of the now-international business along with three other business partners – full-time director and coach Larry Kretzmann and Sam’s mother and father, Nigel and Sue Birrell, who provide business and accounting support.
Together, the foursome have spent this year bringing this innovative play programme to community centres and schools across Bury St Edmunds and beyond, with the Suffolk franchise running along the A14 corridor from Felixstowe across to Cambridgeshire.
With her father an active part of Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club for the best part of 40 years, Sam was always likely to turn to the sport.
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She explained: “I played a lot of sport in school, but rugby was never offered when I was growing up. That’s partly why I think Rugbytots is so exciting as it is offered to girls and boys.
“Larry and myself are both parents and we both come from rugby families. We were also both born in an era when kids were always outside climbing trees and riding bikes.
“There weren’t such things as iPads, and we only watched a little bit of television - there wasn’t as much choice as there is now. I think it is fantastic that we are encouraging kids to take part in regular exercise.”
Introducing sport at a young age is the mantra of Rugbytots, which was started nearly a decade ago by rugby-loving father Max Webb, with and business partner David Hughan, who spotted a gap for something more professional than simply throwing a ball around with his son in the park.
Offered to children from two to seven years old, it is designed to develop children’s motor skills and confidence whilst having fun in a team environment.
Rugbytots Suffolk has already achieved great success locally, with popular sessions held in and around Bury as well as in Ipswich, Woodbridge and Newmarket.
Sessions are split between three different age groups with interaction from parents actively encouraged to help support the youngest participants.
Sam said: “The kids love being able to show off their skills to their parents – it is a lovely thing for parents to do with their children.
“It’s a very interactive programme. When we do kicking, for example, if a child scores a ‘conversion’ over the rugby posts, everyone claps and cheers. It is a very supportive and encouraging environment.”
Sam, aged 30, readily admits her career has taken a few twists and turns; her impressive CV includes training as a paediatric nurse, teaching tennis at Camp America and then working in the communications team for Air New Zealand.
But it is her most important role, as mother to Seb, three, and 11-month-old Rex, that has helped her understand the specialist teaching needed to gain the concentration and trust of very young children.
“We use lots of analogies. To get the two year olds to open their hands in the right position, we say you need to ‘clap your hands and open your book’ and then ‘cuddle it like a teddy bear’ to encourage them to hold the ball tight,” she said.
“When they score a try, we tell them to ‘squash a worm’ so they keep hold of the ball and don’t throw it on the floor.
“What we love is watching the children’s confidence grow right in front of our eyes.”
Plans for the future include greater partnerships with schools after an initial link-up with Sebert Wood Primary School on Bury’s Moreton Hall estate saw 60 children attend a trial course. This interest across the county has been boosted by a thriving social media community which Sam proudly heads.
Sue added: “In addition to the weekly coaching sessions, we provide Rugbytots parties for children aged two to seven. The parties follow a slightly different approach from standard classes, placing even greater emphasis on play and games for children and their friends. There’s not much similar on the market.”
The success of the franchise comes at a time when local rugby has reached new heights, with Bury Rugby Club recently promoted to the fourth tier of English rugby.
After running a successful fleet management company for almost 30 years, what advice would Nigel, also commercial director at Bury Rugby Club, give to his daughter?
“To grow at a sensible pace,” he answers. “We are only four months into a long journey. Already Sam and Larry have achieved an awful lot and we’ve seen a massive increase in class numbers and class venues. We are going to grow it organically and we will sit down and review our progress at the end of year one. I am sure we will have hit our targets.”
Sam said: “My parents have instilled a good work ethic in me. I am a night owl, so lots of my work gets done then- I am lucky that I have a supportive family who help out a lot with my two boys. We’re a good team.
She added: “Internationally, Rugbytots now have about 106 Franchises, which is increasing all the time. We want to take this as far as it can possibly go. We are fortunate due to the popular demand to be expanding our locations and sessions held in Suffolk and are keen to be contacted by coaches who may be interested to work with us too.”
As a full-time rugby coach as well as a father, Larry believes Rugbytots can teach children so much, even if they then move into other sports.
He said: “I see this as a massive step towards regular exercise. At the age of two, you are getting someone in the weekly routine of exercise. As they grow a passion and love for it, that can only continue.
“It is a nice and safe environment where they learn about discipline, respect, motor skills, hand-to-eye coordination and being part of a team. There’s nothing more rewarding for us than watching the children develop confidence and the understanding at such a young age of being a team member, their smiles tell us all we need to know...”