LONDON IRISH Leadership Training at Britannia Royal Naval College

Premier league rugby union club, London Irish have been at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth this week on a Leadership and Team Building Training Camp aimed at improving leadership skills on the pitch. London Irish have a host of International Rugby stars from England, Ireland, South Africa and Argentina. Players including Mike Catt, Kieron Dawson, Faan Rautenbach, Bob Casey and Juan Leguizamon and their team mates are being put through their paces at the Royal Navy's premier school for leadership and officer training. The training is designed to take the professional rugby players away from the rugby pitch and out of their comfort zone. Placed in unfamiliar surroundings and somewhat basic accommodation, the players were given a series of lead and leaderless tasks. The right environment was created to develop their leadership and intuitive decision-making skills now so sought after in professional sport. It also allowed the London Irish management team to observe what impact this all had on team dynamics. Lt Cdr Roger Wyness with Mike CattLeader of the group, Academy Manager Corin Palmer explained that 'leadership and decision making under pressure are vital qualities for all our players. Anything that can give us an advantage over our competitors at this level is crucial'. A range of different methods were used to expose the players to unusual situations to see how they would cope. This raised both self-awareness and knowledge of how different players responded to the challenges set in front of them. Sessions included table top planning exercises based on naval scenarios in the Caribbean and Far East, a Low Ropes confidence course, basic leadership development tasks, a damage control exercise, and final a competitive leaderless obstacle course around the grounds of the College. The scenario based table top exercises reinforced planning and analytical skills as well as encouraging leaders to step forward to take responsibility and allocate work throughout the team. The Low Ropes Course helped emphasise teamwork, trust, courage, vision and communication, all elements that translate to successful performance in rugby. Having been taught a few elementary skills in constructing methods for crossing chasms and rivers, they were broken down into 7 player teams for some leadership development tasks. These included crossing ravines, constructing free standing wooden structures over which to get the team, and rescuing someone from a 'precarious position'. Using the Damage Repair Unit at Torpoint, the players were placed in flooding ship compartments and told to stem the flood and prevent the ship from sinking. Under pressure of rising water levels and time it once again emphasised the need for clarity of thought, leadership, good communication skills and effective team work. Britannia Royal Navy College, Head of Leadership Lieutenant Commander Roger Wyness said 'It's not about teaching them to be military leaders, it's all about generating leaders with clarity of thought working together in effective teams. It reinforces in the eyes of our own Officer Cadets how important leadership, team work and communication skills are, and also how in demand these skills are from the military right through to elite sport'. As well as allowing the players to develop their own skills and experience it gave the opportunity for the London Irish management staff to place players in leadership roles and observe how they performed under pressure of time and limited resources. In addition it brought home to the players that effective and successful teams understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team members. As an ex-Royal Marine Officer, Palmer wanted to explore the unrivalled training and methodologies provided by the Royal Navy when developing leaders. He said 'I know both our management and players have not only learned a significant amount over the 3 days, but have really enjoyed the environment created for them by the Leadership Staff at BRNC. Hopefully a lasting relationship has been established and will continue for many years to come.' Presenting some signed photographs of the London Irish Squad to the college, Palmer took the opportunity to thank Commodore Tim Harris for providing the rare opportunity for the London Irish players to be instructed by his 'professional leadership staff' at BRNC.