How rugby can make a positive impact on young people

Rugby is one of the best sports for making an impact on the young. It is about working together as a team, helping to increase their self-esteem and giving them a chance to improve their lives. As Laureus Academy Member, Sean Fitzpatrick supports the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and gives his thoughts on the upcoming Rugby World Cup, and how rugby can help improving the lives of young people around the world. 
For me every Rugby World Cup has got better and better and I think this one has got the makings of being the best.
You look back to the first in 1987 and the transformation has been remarkable. In 1987 no one really wanted it, now it’s the third biggest global event after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
The variety of venues is fantastic. The All Blacks for example are hugely excited about playing at Wembley, the Olympic Stadium and St James’ Park Newcastle.
Why do I say this is going to be the best? Because there are potentially seven teams that could win the World Cup.
There is the host nation – England. Historically the host nation has always had an advantage. Every host nation has made it to the World Cup Final, other than Wales in 1999.
The other six are: Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales.
It’s a great shame that England, Australia and Wales are all in the same pool, so only two can go through, especially as any one of the three, I believe, could win the World Cup. It’s a travesty that one of those three teams is going to get knocked out, but Wales were outside the top eight when the seedings were done three years ago.
It is going to be an open World Cup, but it is also going to be the hardest and most physical World Cup to win. The attrition rate for the players is going to be huge. Teams with the greatest strength in depth will be the teams that will be successful.
So just looking at that Australia / England / Wales pool, I think Wales will struggle because they haven’t got the playing numbers and depth of quality. They have already lost Leigh Halfpenny because of injury and if they lose a tight head prop, for example, they will struggle. They have only got Samson Lee. He’s injured now, but has still been included in the hope that he’s going to recover, which shows how desperate they are.
If a player like Johnny Sexton for Ireland was injured, you would have to say the next best players in his position are not good enough.
Whereas for New Zealand, if they lost Dan Carter again, they still have world class fly-halves who could play, which is exactly what happened four years ago. And Australia have depth as they showed this summer in the Rugby Championship.
South Africa had a shocking Championship, but I still think they are a real threat. They haven’t had access to a lot of players who play offshore, so their preparations are taking some time to come up to speed.
To be honest, I don’t think England have any world class players, but they do have depth in numbers. For example if George Ford got injured Owen Farrell could fit in quite easily and do an adequate job.
New Zealand are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the World Cup for the second straight time and I go along with that at the moment. But that is before a pass has been made or a try scored and as we know in sport anything can happen.
I have met many young people at multiple Laureus project visits around the world and talked to their leaders, it’s clear to see what a significant impact sport and rugby, for instance, are having in their local area, providing skills and guidance to ensure that those taking part can fulfil their potential. Rugby can help to boost self-esteem, encourage teamwork and build self-confidence. The Laureus supported projects and the work of their leaders can make a massive difference, not just to individuals but to the whole community.”
When I was young, you could really tell which children played team sports; they were different when it came to dealing with issues in life generally, dealing with success and failure. It’s then that young people often get into trouble, when they aren’t in an environment where they are supported that way.
That’s how I often relate to the youngsters we work with at Laureus. They didn’t always have the mentors and people advising them. And that’s what matters at Laureus; not that you’re a great rugby player, boxer, but that you’re mixing with others and getting the chance to realise: “Hey, other kids have the same problems as me too.”
That’s why when I meet the kids we work with I tell them that they’re lucky. Lucky to have this opportunity and that it’s up to them to take it and make the most of it, just like I did.
I tell them that I made mistakes in my life, but that often it’s those mistakes, those wrong roads taken, that can one day turn out to be the right roads because you’ve learnt valuable lessons from them. Especially if you have the right people around you.

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