As we continue our look at player development programs around the world, we speak with Luke Cheyne, Head of Player Development and Well-being at the Rugby Players Association in England.
Luke Cheyne joined the RPA in 2018 and before that, spent a number of years working in football, notably with Everton Football Club and Head of Football at Coerver Coaching.
Now, in his role as Head of Player Development and Well-being, Cheyne is keen to stress the importance of preparing players for life after rugby and that, in his words, being a rugby player “is what you do, not who you are.”
“I care about people, I care about human beings and the fact that it’s in a sport I absolutely love, is just fantastic,” he says.
Cheyne now oversees the Gain Line programme and works alongside player development managers who work with players on a regular basis. Gain Line is the RPA’s personal development and well-being programme in England, supporting players on all aspects of their education, personal development and helping them understand more about themselves and their values.
“A big part of it is asking players to answer “who am I now and what does that mean for me as I move through my life as a human being,” says Cheyne.
“And that could be as an 18 year old coming fresh out of school or fresh out of university. It could be as a 35 year old taking a step away from professional sport. A big part of the Player Association support is around helping players as human beings figure out more about who they are.”
PDMs often speak about the loss of identity and purpose that players feel when they finish playing. This is something Cheyne focuses on and stresses the importance of figuring out what the human being needs.
“For us, it’s about how can we really get these guys and girls to figure out what’s important to them. What do they enjoy, what are they passionate about and what can they see themselves doing on a longer term basis?,” he asks.
“We want our players to see themselves as more than just a rugby player. Rugby is what they do and not who they are. And for a lot of players, they can struggle with that concept because they see themselves as professionals. And everything that their existence is built around is being a professional player.”
However, it can be difficult getting that message across, particularly to young players who are just focused on getting in the team and hitting their straps on the pitch.
“We understand that there’s a concept around that kind of elite mentality – wanting to progress and wanting to constantly do better. But we also want them to remember that they’re a human being that has other things that aren’t necessarily directly related to rugby or more importantly, not directly related to the result on a Saturday afternoon.
“Rugby is what you do. It’s very important. And we don’t want to detract from that. We don’t want to take away from that in any way, shape or form. But we want to help our players explore more about who they are as a person, not just as a rugby player.”
“Rugby is what you do…not who you are.”— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) April 27, 2023
Continuing to highlight the work of our Player Development Managers around the globe, we speak to @_LukeCheyne from @theRPA in England who has this important message for players 🏴
Read more: https://t.co/fCSq920kfj pic.twitter.com/nL6QS85RTp
Is it hard to motivate the players to do this?
“I suppose you’ll always find an excuse not to do something and whether we’re talking about professional rugby players exploring who they are off the pitch or getting qualifications or networking opportunities, there’s always going to be a reason why one can’t do something.
“But, in terms of from a financial standpoint, it’s something that players will look back on their career and more often than not, say something like ‘I probably wish I did this ten years ago’
“He’s wearing my shirt”
One of the things that players will often talk about is that concept of that first match day after they retire and there’s somebody wearing their shirt. He or she may have worn the number seven for their club or for or country for so many years, and all of a sudden now somebody else is in the jersey. Tough to take for some.
“Preparing for life after rugby is always something in the future,” says Cheyne.
“Players might think ‘it’s not something I need to do now because I can deal with that tomorrow, I can deal with that next week. Or actually I want to focus on my rugby this year because I can deal with that next season.’
“And then when that happens, whether it’s through injury, or whether it’s through a club going under, or through (a lack of) contracts, or as a result of age and then they go, ‘wow, this is something I’ve almost taken for granted for such a long time.’
“Because,” Cheyne continues, “when things are going well as a rugby player, you tend not to worry too much about what might go wrong. It’s all about enjoying the fact that things are going well. And from an RPA standpoint, we want to allow the players the space to be able to do that, but also have one eye on the fact that nothing’s guaranteed in this game.”
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