It’s an early start to the morning, as I’m one of many who take advantage of the opportunity that waking up in Coogee provides and get some exercise down at the beach. A large smattering of RUPA Camp rookies and staff are part of a larger Eastern Suburbs smattering who run, walk, swim or indeed a combination of all three.
From there it is back to the Crowne Plaza for breakfast, a few more RUPA TV interviews and then the official start of proceedings for Day Two of the 2015 RUPA Camp.
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) are given the opportunity to kick-start our Tuesday, with Integrity and then Medical Policies on the agenda. This is crucial information for our newest members to digest; information regarding supplement use, illicit drug policy, gambling regulations and concussion protocols, to name just a few. Get some of this wrong, and our members could see themselves at risk of being subjected to fines, suspensions, loss of contracts and, in extreme cases, criminal action – everybody’s paying attention for this one!
Dr. Warren McDonald presents the ARU Medical Policy, something that even he admits is “some fairly wordy stuff”. To give him credit, he is so engaging, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and positive that he makes the content interesting, leaving everybody in the room in no doubt as to the fact that the Policy is actually designed to protect their wellbeing.
Having heard plenty about this discussion from rookies in years gone by, I’m really excited to hear from the Australian Federal Police’s Melissa Sevill on the topic of cybersecurity. As a vocal advocate for the use of social media by our players to promote how hard they are working at both Rugby and also in the community and with their education pathways, I also feel strongly about ensuring players are adequately equipped to understand the consequences of every single move they make on social media.
Melissa had done her very best to trick a few of our members via social media in the weeks leading up to the RUPA Camp, however in a really positive sign the majority of the group had been wise to the trick and the number who were fooled was the lowest in recent years. Melissa had a lot of fun with the group, picking out a few ‘interesting’ posts on some of their social media accounts, but importantly this discussion was designed to educate and equip the players rather than humiliate them and she struck the perfect balance; the session was a hit. All Blacks winger, and new Waratah, Zac Guildford told me he was surprised by some of the information Melissa told the group, and that he had certainly learned a great deal from her visit.
From here, it was time to again feed the hungry masses, so we headed to the hotel restaurant for a lunch which consisted of teriyaki chicken and beef in black bean sauce, along with plenty of vegetables again. Reece Hodge, who has recently moved to Melbourne after playing his Club Rugby with Manly in Sydney, was raving about the beef as we met up for me to coordinate an interview between him and Rugby.com.au’s Beth Newman.
The afternoon session on Day Two sees plenty of content to get through between now and 5pm, when the players will get the opportunity to have a bit of a rest and prepare their questions for their dinner guest tonight; ARU boss Bill Pulver!
The first presentation comes from Natasha Jager of the Australian Drug Foundation, and her spark and positivity combines with a topic that young Australians are genuinely interested to learn more about; it’s a presentation on alcohol, and safe use of it.
The players engage really well, a highlight being when Dan Hawkins of the Rebels dons the ‘beer goggles’ and stumbles around the room with his vision blurred, much to the pleasure of everybody else in the room. Natasha’s attitude is that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol responsibly, but that it’s important to know your limits, how to look after your mates, how to know when you’re safe to legally drive and what to do if you need help in any of these areas. Waratahs recruit Brad Wilkin tells the group that the main learning he will take from the session is “how long it takes alcohol to leave your system.”
Next up to speak is Luke Rees of South Pacific Private, a former Trinity Grammar Rugby player but self-described as ‘not a particularly good one’. It’s clear why Rosemary Towner, RUPA’s General Manager of Player Development, is so selective about who she invites to speak to the group at RUPA Camp, as Luke is just as engaging as Natasha before him as he addresses what can be a little bit of the elephant in the room at times; mental health.
18-24 year olds have the highest prevalence of mental illness in Australia, with Reds forward Michael Gunn noting that “the stats are pretty alarming… I didn’t realise it was that high, because you don’t hear about it that much.”
Luke talks about ways to help your mates if you sense they’re down, if they ask you for advice or if they’re going through a tough time, as well as helping prepare the group to be willing to reach out if they themselves are suffering from a mental illness. The ‘normalisation’ of mental illnesses is such a crucial step for these young men and women, especially as they embark on a professional Rugby career and enter an environment which rewards things such as toughness, determination, perseverance and ‘getting on with it’. Indeed while these are admirable traits from a Rugby perspective, they can’t come at the expense of the individual’s mental health, and Luke does a wonderful job to help alleviate any concerns around speaking up when help is required and dispelling any myths around showing ‘weakness’ when battling mental health.
Dr. Peter Streker was next, speaking to the group about an intense but necessary topic; family violence. A women dies at the hands of a current or former partner almost every week in Australia, and Dr. Streker is present representing Our Watch. The organisation has been established to drive nation-wide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that underpin family violence situations; it’s a challengin conversation but certainly an important one.
The day concludes with some scenario-based activities, led by Player Development Managers from the Brumbies (Robin Duff) and the Reds (Matthew Smith). The players are split into six separate groups and asked to come up with responses to a number of different questions relevant to a scenario; everything from a nightclub altercation that is outside their control, to a teammate being upset after receiving racial abuse from a spectator.
I don’t have any children and in fact one of the players attending the Camp is a year older than me, but as the players respond in front of their groups and actually challenge one another a little bit as well, it’s clear that they are an intelligent group and I really believe that they are prepared to go into their professional careers and equipped to handle themselves appropriately.
Tonight, we dine with Bill Pulver and hear from some RUPA past players, before tomorrow sees the Camp finish mid-morning and then everybody jump on the bus to the Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch.