UK team visits Lesotho
This January Dan and Bex visited the team in Lesotho to check in on how things were getting on in the Mountain Kingdom and to work with Litsitso and Roy on the plans for 2019.
We went with packed bags, thanks to a generous donation of over 120 shirts from Billericay RFC, sent our way thanks to Atlas Foundation. The shirts were handed over to the Lesotho team, and will be passed on to the three schools where we are launching the Atlas All Schools Programme this month, which will run alongside the Academy Programme, working with slightly older students at high schools.
As part of this year’s growth we are expanding our coaching team. Five volunteers have been working with Coach Roy since November to learn how to deliver the Academy programme. These coaches are themselves graduates of the Academy programme and now players at local clubs and several also play for the national team. Even more pleasing to see was that four of the five were women, continuing the Federation of Lesotho Rugby’s emphasis of pushing the women’s game and promoting gender equality through rugby. After watching Coach Roy deliver the session on Tuesday three of the volunteers led the sessions on Wednesday – Friday, as we hunt for a replacement for Roy as he shifts his focus to the All Schools Programme. All our coaches did a fantastic job and we’re reassured the Academy Programme will be in safe hands. Although we will be appointing only one new Senior Coach, we hope all the team will continue to work with us as Assistant Coaches going forward.
We spoke with teachers at the schools. They told us that students made a special effort to attend on rugby days. The programme was teaching them important skills, and reinforcing messages the teachers were telling them about healthy lifestyles. They also told us the programme was helping them massively with their English.
I also had a chance to meet with the Principals of the three high schools we will begin working with for the next three years: Tsepo, LECSIA and Phomolong, to discuss the delivery of the All Schools programme. All three schools were excited to be part of the programme and committed to supporting us. We agreed that, as well as running a rugby session after school for all potential players, we would run an additional rugby and mentoring session with some of the more challenging students at lunchtime, building on the coaching team’s experiences with the School of Hard Knocks in the UK. One teacher told us they had already seen the academic benefits rugby could bring to students: pointing to players who had just achieved 1st Class results in their recent exams:
“They are falling in love with rugby even more than other sports. Its helping them academically. When they come back from the pitch they do twice as much studying. Take Thato, the player of the tournament last year. She got a first class, a very good one. I asked her “Thato how did you manage?” because I knew her, I had taught her, she was just average. I just want to tell everyone: sports, especially rugby, helps academically. They come back tired, they rest, and then they are fresh. They are doing their work.”
We spent time in the office, completing our 2018 report and making our financial and strategic plans for 2019. Thanks to a positive response to our request for old laptops, we were able to present Coach Roy with his own machine. Roy previously had to use the shared Lesotho Sports and Recreation Commission computer, having to wait his turn as every other sports association made use of it. Roy was overwhelmed and crossed himself several times before accepting it. A second machine will sit in the FLR office for all Assistant Coaches to make use of. Huge thanks to Pen Keyte for the donation of the two machines, and a reminder to all our supporters to please keep them coming.
We heard several more stories of how rugby had given people new opportunities, including that of TS, who says rugby has changed his life, as well of several players who had found employment through rugby. We’ll be writing a separate post on the social impact of rugby in Lesotho.
Our team took a lot out of the week. We were joined by Marc Leckie from the Harlequins Foundation, who we’re delighted to announce as a new partner for 2019. As well as developing some plans for our partnership (more details to follow) Marc provided some really fantastic coaching tips to our team. And we spent a morning at the Lesotho National Olympic Committee with a session on using sport to deliver messages on HIV-AIDS. We were pleased to see how well our programme aligned with the Government’s overall objectives for delivering change in the community, and will be looking to arrange more training for our team to pick up more tips.
We finished the week with a wrap up session back at LSRC, where Marc presented our assistant coaches with some Harlequins training tops. That left just enough time for a Saturday visit to the beautiful Semonkong to see some of the Highlands of the Kingdom and the amazing Maletsunyane Falls, and to test our donkey riding skills, before it was time to say goodbye.
It was a fantastic week, a huge thanks to the Lesotho team for looking after us in Maseru and to Marc at Harlequins Foundation for making the long journey to visit us. We look forward to what promises to be a very exciting year for the Lesotho Rugby Academy.