Scottish Rugby and Club Volunteers visit Iceland

Scottish Rugby and Club Volunteers visit Iceland

A visit to Iceland by Scottish Rugby and club representatives has inspired new ways of thinking around how clubs interact with parents, coaches and young people.

Scottish Rugby’s new Rugby Development department initiated the four-day visit to see first-hand how KSI, the Icelandic Football Federation, manages facilities, coaching programmes, club cultures and supports young players through their careers.

It was also designed to stretch thinking around the possibilities for community clubs in Scotland and continue to strengthen the relationships between Scottish Rugby staff and club members.

Representatives from Ross Sutherland RFC, Montrose RFC, Waysiders Drumpellier RFC, Annan RFC, Wigtownshire RFC, Currie RFC, Edinburgh Accies and Aberdeen Grammar RFC were joined on the visit by Scottish Rugby Council member Andrew Little and Rugby Development staff.

Vice-president of Annan Fiona Latimer took several learnings from the experience, saying, “The approach to sports in Iceland is centred around inclusion from an early age, regardless of ability.

“The structure is such that participation has become part of daily life. Clubs, communities, parents and players work in close partnership, each party clear about what their role is in facilitating development.

“Learnings we’ve brought back with us have the potential to really step change the development of grass roots rugby. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the game.”

Iceland has a population smaller than Edinburgh and has recently made a significant impact on the world and European stages with both their men’s and women's football teams.

The trip was a chance to look at their club game to see how they have successfully developed their young players and the environments provided in the clubs.

The purpose of going to Iceland with club volunteers was to share good practice models and to look at how another sport in a different country develops its community game.

Through visits to three different community clubs the Scottish visitors were shown how the infrastructure for sport in Iceland is fully joined up and there is a sharp focus on health and well-being of young people through sport - with a collective vision of what is expected from all parties.

The host clubs shared how they worked with the Municipality (Local Authorities), schools, universities and other sports to provide opportunities for young people and adults in their clubs.

Director of Rugby Development Sheila Begbie explained the visit has already sparked new ways of looking at how clubs in Scotland could develop.

“Providing positive environments was key for the Icelandic clubs to develop and retain their players. There is a real pride in all the clubs about working with local children in their own communities and making the club feel like a second home for the players in terms of a comfortable space that is open and available to them at anytime - even in the evening the facilities are not locked.

“There is a lot of emphasis on equality of opportunity regardless of the level, ability or gender of players. They also ensure that some of their more qualified coaches work with younger age groups and that these coaches are paid. This supports the clubs to deliver a quality coaching curriculum, a positive environment and the coaches are accountable to the clubs and players for making sure the sessions are of a good standard.

“We have already seen the impact of the learnings from the visit with one of the clubs who attended planning to revamp the coaching in their club to create a coaching framework and pay coaches working with younger players, to support accountability of those working with young players which is close to the Icelandic model.

“Another club plans to be more proactive around working with parents and will hold a pre-season meeting with them to share ways of working and expectations from all sides. The club are currently working with our staff to create a parent engagement handbook.”

The trip proved to be beneficial for the volunteers with positive feedback coming back from the group.

President of Ross Sutherland, John Scott said, “We returned home inspired not just by the Icelandic people and their world class sports hubs but by sharing ideas and the experience with each other.

“Now we have to implement what we have learnt at our clubs whilst influencing communities. In turn we will see huge benefits on and off the pitch and who knows what could be achieved with a collaborative approach.”

Iain Berthinussen who is a Rugby Development Officer at Edinburgh Accies said, “Although viewed through another sport the trip gave us a real opportunity to learn as well as share and review best practice from our own sport.”

Sheila Begbie believed the trip made the case for future fact-finding visits to learn from other sporting organisations and nations.

“My team and I were really honoured to have shared the trip with really passionate, dynamic and motivated volunteers who had made a significant contribution to the club game over the years.

“The volunteers made a big commitment to being in Iceland through taking time off work and being away from their families and we are really encouraged at some of the discussions taking place in clubs and the impact we have seen already.

“The visit to Iceland will support clubs to have different conversations with local and regional stakeholders about being much more joined up to provide better opportunities for young people in their community.”

Image credit: Duncan Campbell

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