Whether he’s grappling with devil thorns, broken limbs or 600 excitable kids, nothing dims CIPHR project delivery manager Neil Brooks’ passion for rugby
“I can remember playing rugby as a child in South Africa. Running barefoot on hard pitches, on sun-baked grass, avoiding devil thorns on the ground. It built my character, and that [passion and perseverance] is what I try to instil in the youngsters at Marlow Rugby Club,” says Neil Brooks, a rugby player since the age of eight, and now volunteer rugby coach and CIPHR project delivery manager.
Having worked his way through the pack – playing positions from scrum-half to fullback and then on the wing – Neil now plays a defence position in the second row for the Marlow 3rd XV.
“Last season, I broke my leg and dislocated my elbow, tackling the big lads. However, I’d carry on playing forever if my body would let me,” chuckles Neil, who has actively been part of Marlow Rugby Club since 2006 and more recently became involved in coaching after his son joined the under-6s in 2014.
“I didn’t want to be a side-line parent, so I put my name forward as a defence coach,” says Neil. “We’re teaching kids how to deal with the adrenaline [of sport], get that first tackle, and, when the game’s finished, leave that aggression on the pitch. I’m teaching the youngsters to face their emotions – their fears, their anxieties and their failures. It certainly builds character. My fellow coaches agree that if you can get on with running around a rugby pitch, you can get on with anything.”
The rules of playing rugby are very different for under 12s. The Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) guidelines encourage inclusivity and a scoring system based on core values, known as TREDS: Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship.
“We’re giving the Marlow youngsters disciplines they can take anywhere in life,” adds Neil. “We’re teaching them manners, by respecting the coach and to always shake hands with the other players at the end of the game.”
Neil must be doing something right in his confident attitude as a coach. “I’ve trained Will Greenwood’s son. It was quite something having the former rugby union player standing next to me during the session. He just watched and helped – he didn’t take over.”
Six months ago, Neil took on another rugby challenge by becoming head coach for the Marlow Ladies. It’s a role that requires a different set of skills, he says – not only when it comes to gameplay, but also when it comes to negotiation with his team.
“I have had to adapt,” he says. “For example, when I dismiss training for a quick ‘water break’, 10 minutes later they are still chatting away, which is fine, but it means I must change my pace compared to the under-10s. I allow this because, in training, the ladies do work harder than the children, because they are learning the game [from scratch] without the benefit of coming up through the youth teams and they are putting their bodies on the line just like the men.” He adds: “They challenge everything I say, which is right because it puts me into a completely different level of thinking.”
Providing explicit and clear instructions, and not giving confusing information, is a skill that Neil says helps him in his role at CIPHR, support a client’s journey to implement HR and recruitment software.
He says rugby has sharpened his confidence to guide people – players, clients and colleagues alike – when he achieved his level one rugby coaching qualification. “Training to become a rugby coach took me out of my comfort zone,” says Neil. “You’re not coaching children; you’re coaching men who play the game and know the game inside out. They are always testing you to make sure you provide clear instructions on the field.”
CIPHR has been supporting the under-10 team with sponsorship of their bright gold and black jerseys for the past four years. “These youngsters have been wearing their sponsored kit with pride at the mini rugby tournaments up and down the country. We have our Marlow mini-festival in April, and that attracts up to 700 young players from across the country aged 7 to 12. Our under-10s have even worn them with pride as the guard of honour at the start of a London Irish game.”
Marlow Rugby Club is a real family affair for ‘The Brooksies’: Neil’s 10-year-old son plays in the under-10s, and his five-year-old daughter will soon be joining the under-fives. He adds: “Rugby has been a great journey for me. I’m at the club, on Tuesday nights, Wednesday nights if there’s a social, and then Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday, I’m either playing or coaching from 8.30am until 5pm – then it’s four hours debriefing at the pub. I love the game, and I love the challenge.”