In recent weeks I had just finished talking to a room of huge fellas — a first team squad in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby — when one of the lads approached me and said: “I remember when you spoke at the RPA Academy Induction Day. Absolute classic: ball bags on an ice cream cone!”.
I don’t want anyone to think that part of my remit for the Rugby Players Association is performative art, it wasn’t my ball bag or ice cream cone. He was referring to one of my early Social Media sessions with the player’s association where we devoted one slide to pulling out some of the lads’ publicly available social media content that could cause them difficulty as they move up the ladder of professional rugby. The Tweet in question was probably amusing for the player’s mates when he posted it: his most sensitive parts balanced as if it was a seaside treat; but it wasn’t one that would have stood him in good stead when he had a blue tick and a serious career in the game. Needless to say , the picture has been long deleted.
I owe the RPA a great debt of gratitude. It was them who came to me, in 2008, to discuss the opportunity to start talking to players about online reputation and communication. We delivered sessions to every squad in the Premiership that season and it was all Facebook and forums but there are still themes that remain: particularly those three key behaviours of being risk averse, respectful and defensive.
Fourteen years later we have been delivering bespoke sessions about the abuse and negativity which permeates social media and, the additional strength of my colleagues Fraser Franks and Leigh Nicol, allows us to tackle topics like identity, escapism and relationships.
I confess that I didn’t know the sport of rugby when I was growing up. It wasn’t played at my school and I thought it was just for posh kids. I wish I had. In the nearly 15 years I’ve worked with those in the sport I have been treated with kindness, respect and everything I have seen has impressed me hugely. These huge lads (and girls, what an honour it has been to address the England Women’s team on three occasions so far) have been a big and positive influence on me and I thank the Rugby Player’s Association for the opportunity to work alongside them.