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Lawrence Dallaglio

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Sport Can Help People Overcome Life's Toughest Challenges

Posted: 15/10/2013 18:35

Rugby has helped me through some incredibly difficult periods in my life.

When I lost my sister in the Marchioness tragedy in 1989, I felt lost and completely misunderstood. As a messed up young man, I made some poor life choices that led to me being expelled.

Rugby came at a time when I badly needed guidance and support.

That's why I set up Dallaglio Foundation's Rugby for Change project. With the help of money raised by The Supporters Club, BT Sport's charitable initiative, we help young people who have been excluded or expelled from school, and who need some inspiration to make positive life choices.

Rugby comes with a set of rules that I believe can be applied to life; respect, achievement, pride and teamwork. It's a way to engage some of the UK's most hard-to-reach young people with life-skills that they have previously struggled to understand.

When I was asked to put together a group of these teenagers to face an elite squad of professional and ex-professional rugby players, I was excited to see whether these troubled youngsters could become a solid team, despite most of them never having met before.

Over a three day period I took them through the same team-building and training exercises that I had to do as a young rugby player, including outdoor adventure assault courses, rugby drills, and sharing experiences.

As they climbed sky-scraping trees and jumped off zip-wires, I was proud to see them put aside their differences to shout messages of support and friendly banter. Despite being near-strangers, they adopted the idea of teamwork and mutual respect very quickly and I knew they'd bring that to pitch.

They excel in the programme because they know that I understand where they are coming from. Their experiences of anger and frustration that led to them being expelled are something that I can relate to. I was only a year or two older than them when I walked onto the pitch at Wasps, armed with nothing but my rage.

The game taught me that I couldn't just lose my temper. I found something that I could excel in, if I worked hard enough. I found peace at the training ground.

As my young amateur team grew stronger in the days leading to the game against the professional rugby players, it became clear to me that there was a stand-out team member in our group who had earned the title Team Captain.

Shedaine, 15, was a natural leader, who doled out instructions and quickly diffused tense situations. Her energy was infectious.

Shedaine was kicked out of school after a fight broke out between her and some girls she claims were bullying her disabled older sister. Apparently, it was an uncharacteristic explosion of anger, but enough to send the young teen to a pupil referral unit.

At the unit, Shedaine was often the only girl to play rugby and the last to be picked for the team until she displayed a clear talent for the sport.

She says, 'I've decided to look at being kicked out of school as a second chance for me. Rugby has really helped me to adapt to these new surroundings. I've learnt to work with other people, and it's an incredible opportunity. Now, I've put my head down and even got a distinction in my exams!'

Shedaine's story is not that dissimilar from my own. If I hadn't had found rugby after being expelled, I'm not sure where I would be today. I needed something to focus all the emotions that were building up inside me. It helped bring the best out of me.

When my young team was ready to do battle with the pro-athletes, I was confident that they had become a force to be reckoned with. They ran rings around Martin Offiah, Kyran Bracken and the rest of the Wasps. I could tell by the sweaty shirts and staggered breathing that it wasn't an easy win game for the professionals.

When I see the unprompted pats on the back between Shedaine and her teammates, I'm confident that my programme has taught them the importance of respect and sportsmanship.

These young people are too used to feeling worthless and like they can't achieve anything.

Dallaglio Foundation Rugby for Change proves that a little bit of encouragement and support could really build up their confidence, and turn their lives around.

Rugby brought this team together. Your donations can show these young people that we haven't given up on them.

Watch The Supporters Club: Lawrence Dallaglio's Game Changer on Wednesday at 21:30 on BT Sport 1. To join The Supporters Club or find out more -thesupportersclub.org

 

Follow Lawrence Dallaglio on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dallagliofdn

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