January 23, 2014

Manikins, translators and future cops – Highlanders prepare for life

By SANZAR News Service

Rugby, for all of us, can seem like the centre of our universe, especially when that moment occurs where we experience the agony and ecstasy that comes with all the highs and lows that sport thrust upon us.

We of course wouldn't have it any other way.

For players, these emotions are often the ultimate reason for the sacrifices they are prepared to make for body, family, and at the highest pinnacle – their country.

Such peaks however can sometimes come with a dramatic nadir.

Especially when a rugby career begins a transition to what we might call, somewhat oddly, normal life.

Feeling down isn’t something that is solely reserved for players when reflecting on a loss, but it can come out of no-where as to others – especially those who have hung up the boots – never seem to be able to recreate that 80 minute intensity, that brotherhood on the training field, in day-to-day life.

This is where Peter Sinclair comes in, as the Highlanders' Personal Development Manager he is the individual who players rely to help them with preparing for life, both after and around rugby.

“It is about managing the period of adjustment,” the former teacher said.

“It takes a while to move away from a regimented rugby lifestyle, as life after sport becomes a lot more relaxed.

“And that isn’t always a good thing,” Sinclair laughed.

The off-field mentor has been part of the Otago and Highlanders rugby family since 2005, working on preparing players on every aspect, be it their career or just overall health.

It isn't always about education, as some player’s already boasted degrees while a couple have their own fully fledged businesses.

It was about helping with the “holistic” skills and abilities of the players.

So clearly, Peter is a master psychologist and guru?

“I’m no expert in those matters,” he said.

“Helping them away from the field is one thing, but it is most important to set them up during rugby recognising the value of support network.”

This is an area where Sinclair’s work, and long term approach, varies from the coaching staff.

“Once you have spent time with us, you are always part of the team,” he said.

“We like to think of it as lifetime membership.”

“While it is a natural part of a rugby career, or any profession for that matter, that players move on or are even picked up by other clubs, we will always keep in touch.

“There is always a handover (to a franchise or union equivalent of Peter) if they switch, with the players permission.

“You know at some stage they are going to go, but for all we know we may pick up this bloke again!”

So what has the squad been doing of late?

“Part of our focus for the overall well-being of the players is essential first aid training,” he said.

Successfully completing a cardiopulmonary resuscitation course, or CPR, is a required skill as a Highlander.

The entire squad attended, even the tight forwards were not exempt.

The sight of mammoth front rowers attended to CPR manikins was quite the sight, as was the steady stream of Spanish coming from one section of the training floor.

Matiaz Diaz, the Mendoza born tighthead, attended with his interpreter, although Sinclair did not think their presence would be required for too long.

“He is learning fast, he is a good bloke with no accent,” he said.

Peter wasn’t the only one happy with how successfully the training session went, with the final stages of the pre-season closing off for the Highlanders.

“The players were impressed, they found themselves very empowered,” he said.

“Having such skills help them develop, both in rugby and away from the field.”

Working hard away from the field wasn’t anything new for the Highlanders, with Sinclair saying that if anything the team had put in even more effort than recent seasons.

“It was hard,” he admitted of staying positive and united through some tough patches for the Highlanders.

“The intention and the hard work was there, it just didn’t happen for us.

“We’ve always done a very thorough review, and this year was no exception.

“You just have to do it; otherwise we can’t see were we might need to make changes and where we need to improve.”

However life continues, and a heavy period of training, seminar and assessment work comes to a close as the team looks to their pre-season.

“We’re treating them like full matches,” Sinclair said.

While the full bore aspect of the rugby season might be about to start, continuing the development of the players is paramount, with a few even getting a taste of life after the game, even if the stakes in their new potential professions could be even more intense.

“A few of the players, Joe Wheeler and Malakai Fekitoa, will undergo induction and be exposed to things they might experience as a police officer,” he said.

“This is a big part of what we do, if they express an interest, we start a process.”

A process that Peter has become an intricate and important part of, now entering his tenth year with the team, and while many players have passed through his doors, he still keeps in touch with most, while guiding the new generation where he can.

After all, there is more to life than rugby…

For original story (and pictures) please click here


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