8th June 2013, Kings Park, Durban, Scotland vs Samoa. It was my first cap for Scotland and ultimately my last ever game of rugby. During the match I suffered a spinal haematoma and flared up an existing knee injury, one that would ultimately force me to retire 7 months later.
Having to retire from an 8-year professional rugby career was a tough experience. It included appearances for Doncaster Knights, Edinburgh Rugby and Scotland. The tough part was hitting a continual brick wall during my long period of rehabilitation and then the realisation that my knee would never fully recover.
The actual day I retired was in fact relief.
As I closed the door on this stage of my life, I considered myself to be one of the lucky ones exiting the pro game. I had already graduated as a physical education teacher in 2006 and throughout my playing career I kept myself involved in coaching at various levels including school rugby, national age grade coaching and latterly with Heriots men’s 1st XV. This gave me two career paths to explore as I moved onto the next chapter.
A fresh start
On my retirement, a temporary teaching position became available at my old school Stewarts Melville and I have recently started teaching physical education at George Watsons College in Edinburgh. I currently coach the U16 team at school alongside being in my 3rd season as Heriots Rugby coach. I have experienced success already with Heriots, having won the Scottish Cup last year and then went on to have the good fortune of coaching the Scotland U20s at the Junior World Cup in New Zealand in June. This gave me the opportunity to live and breathe rugby for three weeks in a rugby mad country and a chance to develop my coaching skills in a pressure environment.
I amassed a lot of knowledge through my playing days. Both through the experience of playing but also through analysing my own coaches varying coaching styles, the content of their sessions, man management strategies they utilized and match tactics they implemented. This has in turn allowed me to mould my own style of coaching. Andy Robinson, who is also a qualified teacher, had a huge influence on both my playing and coaching career during his time at Edinburgh Rugby. You really felt that everything he coached directly related to the game itself.
I, like many players out there have had too many coaches that do drills that aren’t specific to the game itself. Andy also created a performance environment I hadn’t experienced previously. Sessions were fast paced, challenging and encouraged competition between players.
I too endeavour to create an optimum-learning environment that is player centred; game sense directed, involves a healthy dose of decision-making and encourages player reflection (pardon the heavy use of jargon!). The biggest challenge for me is trying to effectively achieve this at all the different age groups I currently coach.
Finally, as much as coaching can’t ever give you the same physical gratification that playing can, I can honestly say that it has to be the next best thing. I’m learning that you take the defeats more personally than you ever did as a player, but you also take more personal satisfaction from the victories.