A tour to Uganda with the Tag Rugby Trust was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and so unique that it’s very difficult to describe. Nevertheless, here’s my best attempt to give you an insight into what we were up to in East Africa.
From the moment we arrived in Entebbe, it was clear that nothing was going to be as easy as it is at home. As well as the 12 or so volunteers that had arrived on the same flight, there were also 30-odd heavy Gilbert bags stuffed with rugby kit that we had to load onto the roof of the bus that picked us up – a bus that we then had to push to get us going on our 3-hour journey to Jinja.
Arriving at Nile Rugby Club in Jinja, the first task was to set up camp in the blazing heat, introduce ourselves to the facilities – ‘long-drop’ toilets, cold water that needed iodine treatment before drinking, erratic electricity and so on.
But, there was a rugby pitch, and that’s why we were there. What more does anyone need?
After a day of white water rafting on the Saturday, it was down to work on the Sunday, taking a tour of Jinja and some of the schools we’d be coaching in, then sorting out kit bags, learning some basic Luganda (Ugandan language), dividing into coaching teams and planning for day one. We split into 6 groups, each with a local Ugandan volunteer, and were assigned two schools each – one to coach in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
The first day was certainly the most daunting as we headed off to our respective schools on Monday morning not quite knowing what to expect. There was no way of knowing how many kids would turn up – in some schools there were around 30, whilst in others there were well over 100.
The coaching strategy for the Tag Rugby programme is based on ‘game-sense’, avoiding most drill-based exercises that English kids tend to grow up with, opting for various game situations that teach the basic skills of rugby and make sure everyone is involved as much as possible.
The rules of the game are gradually introduced and despite the communication issues, by the end of the first session, there was a game being played that bore some resemblance to tag rugby.
Passing backwards took some time to catch on (forgive the pun), and the offside rule wasn’t introduced until the Wednesday, but gradually as the children learnt the rules, they shouted at anyone that got it wrong until they all knew what was going on.
“Now, spread out in a bunch”
Seeing the enjoyment on the children’s faces was superb. On one of the days, we witnessed a more normal ‘sports’ lesson taking place – it consisted of a teacher standing in the middle of a circle of what must have been over 60 kids throwing a beach ball to them in turn. Organised sport like tag rugby just wasn’t on offer, and it was clear what sort of impact the Tag programme makes each year.
The more the children played the game throughout the week, the faster they improved – their passing and catching, running at space and defensive alignment was all pretty impressive by midweek. Needless to say there was some serious pace on display, and I soon learnt not to join in too much – when they are so fast and 3 feet tall, they are exceptionally difficult to tag!
The week of coaching culminates in Tournament Day on the Friday where the 12 schools compete against each other, so as the week continues, the coaching team has to keep an eye out for the talent.
Selecting a squad of ten from all the children you’ve worked with is not an easy task, with a minimum of 5 girls and 5 boys. There were one or two that stood out from the rest, but the standard was relatively even amongst the others, so there was inevitably ‘character-building’ disappointment for those that narrowly missed the cut.
Tournament Day itself gets pretty competitive, not least between the coaches that are desperate to see their side do well. Having written off their chances early on without a victory in the group stage, my Naranbhai Primary School team pulled off a shock victory in the semis and final of the ‘Small Cup’ (the Bowl equivalent).
The last team talk before Extra Time in the final
I don’t think they understood the concept of the three-tiered tournament even when they picked up the smallest trophy, but they were certainly delighted and I was proud as we lifted the silverware.
After an exhausting week and a celebration in a Ugandan nightclub, the tour moved on to Mbale where it all happened again with another set of schools and yet more wide-eyed eager-to-learn children being introduced to rugby.
The legacy left behind by each Tag tour to Uganda is clear – last year’s tournament participants managed to duck out of school to cheer on their teams, and as we were packing up camp on the Saturday morning in Jinja, a few of the children were spotted arriving at the rugby club wearing their team T-shirts and looking for a game.
Here’s a brief video featuring some of Mrs Hutch’s photography, and there are plenty more on the Tag Rugby Trust website.
I would strongly recommend volunteering for a tour – it’s an incredible experience and something you and the children you coach will never forget. Take your pick between Uganda, Zambia, India or Mexico and get yourself signed up. All being well, we’ll be returning to Uganda in 2011, so come along for the ride if you can.
For more information and to register your interest, please visit www.tagrugbytrust.co.uk. If you’d like to donate to my own fundraising, feel free to do so at www.justgiving.com/hutchuganda2010.