We were sent to Dresden in Germany with the European Volunteer Service to initiate rugby in the schools and youth clubs. At first we had to do presentation rugby training in the schools to awake interest in the sport. Some schools then agreed to allow us to perform weekly training sessions. By the end of our stay in Dresden we were teaching rugby regularly in four schools and continuing with rugby presentations in other schools. The culmination of our stay in Dresden was an inter-school non-contact rugby tournament that was held in June. 30 children took part and had loads of fun.
The first few weeks for us were very hard. Being so far away from family and friends was very difficult. The fact that the weather was so cold didn't help, in fact the weather on one of our first days was minus 20 degrees and our jeans were frozen to our legs! It was also the first time that either of us had lived away before, so it brought new domestic experiences i.e. washing dishes and ironing!
We were surprised to find that the club in Dresden does not have their own rugby ground, instead they use one of the town's training grounds that does not have any changing rooms, everybody changes under a tree, and they play their rugby on the other side of the town, on a pitch that they share with two baseball clubs. It is a situation that is not helping them build their club up.
After our settling in period, things became a lot easier and the fact that we were starting to coach helped a lot. Coaching rugby at home must be a wonderfully easy job, with no language problems and the fact that every child has seen a rugby ball before. But not in Germany! We had a few problems with the language barrier, as we spoke no German before we left and class teachers, let alone the children, spoke hardly any English. But the biggest problem was getting the children accustomed to a rugby ball because the vast majority of them had never seen a rugby ball before. But gradually they became used to the ball's characteristics and they started to enjoy mini games involving the ball. We played games like 'tag' and 'fireball' just to ease them into the game slowly. Then at the end of every session we would play a game of touch rugby (non-contact), so they could actually put into practice what they were learning.
The reaction we got in schools from the children was very good in the main but some of them could not get their heads round the concept that you can run forward with the ball but you cannot pass it forwards. I suppose it must be difficult because at home we are brought up with rugby but they play sports like football, handball, basketball and even American football, all games where you can pass the ball forwards. Slowly they started to catch on to the basics of rugby and through the training sessions in the schools they obtained a reasonable level. The training sessions in the various schools cumulated into a mini schools touch rugby tournament, where the standard of rugby was very impressive for children who had only known the game for about five months.
The problem with German rugby is that the players do not have a good knowledge of the sport and so they are let down at international and club level even though they have some of the biggest and best athletes we've ever seen. So who knows, if rugby becomes more popular in Germany and players gain a better knowledge of the game then maybe Wales and the rest of the world will have to take a worried look over their shoulders in the coming years!
We would like to thank the Rugby-Verein Dresden e.V. for starting up the project and making us feel very welcome, Jason Lewis of the WRU for making the project known to us and for organising coaching courses before we left Wales, Sparkasse Dresden and S�dost Woba for their sponsorship.