We spoke to David Jones who is part of the Personal Development Programme at Saracens.
Saracens takes a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to developing its players. Key to this is David Jones, who is responsible for delivering the personal development of players as well as for their psychological well-being and he plays a part in how the team is motivated to win.
Part of this is to ensure that each player develops the life skills that will enable a successful transition from being a full-time sports player to a career in the wider commercial world.
So David what is your role here at Saracens?
My main role is the delivery of Saracens Personal Development Plan (PDP), which in short is trying to look after the lads’ development off the pitch. It has nothing to do with rugby, it’s looking after them as people outside of the game, what they are doing in their free time, how to progress careers, education and even just personal interests; it can be anything from a degree, a placement at a firm to guitar lessons, we aim to just spark ideas and interests off the field and cater to each individual.
The players have been back training for over a week now, what are the main issues you face regarding the start of preseason in terms of the PDP?
With the players returning and some new players arriving we are still aiming to get to know each person, and really understand what their unique needs are off the field. It’s as simple as if there is anything we can do to help them in their own personal progression or help their families away from the game, so it is really just a case of speaking to them and listening to what they have to say and trying to help were and when we can.
What is the thinking behind a PDP David?
It’s an interesting area, it can almost border on the philosophical as to how you approach looking after the elite athlete. You rarely ever be able to tie the cause and effect in terms of the on the pitch stuff of looking after someone, but it’s all about how you care for them in their own development as a person. A person’s own development is very important to their success and individual success builds on organisation success.
If you are talking about research there are huge amounts of research, particularly stemming from Australia, that suggests personal development work with particularly seasoned international medal winning athletes can have a significant impact upon performance, it can mitigate stress, improves their home life, improves their relationships and generally all round increases their sense of well- being.
Is the PDP something that is universally accepted by the players?
It’s not for everyone, in that some people want to focus solely on their sport, but we believe that there is benefit for everyone in the personal development plan. It’s always an individual approach in the race that sport is to find every edge; this is additional part of that.
When you see the achievement of hugely successful athletes be it in rugby for example where Richie McCaw is a pilot, Dan Carter has his own fashion line, or in other sports i.e. American Basketball Kobe Bryant is taking courses in advanced Italian, Michael Jordon famously studied all kinds of things at Chicago University, in cycling Chris Hoy has his own business interests away from the track; all these people were doing huge amounts of things away from their respected disciplines to develop themselves as people. I think particularly in terms of the transition of people within sport, as they grow into professionals or leave the game, it is essential for their well-being.
Are those interested in buying into the concept of a PDP more inclined to be in the Autumn of their careers David?
I think it’s individual, but yeah I do think there is a trend of people who are beginning to grasp the realisation of the transition out of sport and perhaps maybe see the benefit more; obviously some of the younger lads are ferocious in their desire to achieve in rugby, and of course we want to be supporting them in that equally. There may be at times where there is an element of us shepherding a few of the younger lads into things that might not particularly excite them from the outset, but the purpose of the programme isn’t just helping them get a job after the rugby finishes, it is to widen personal interests and grow psychologically, socially and all those kinds of things that people tend to get as a by-product of a natural everyday life in professional sport.
Finally, How important is the PDP for the club and it’s ‘culture’?
The culture here comes from the top, Mark and the coaching staff live-out that culture every day, but what the PDP can do is help give that culture some practical implementation and structure. In terms of caring for individuals and their families the programme built in here at Saracens is the best I’ve seen. Coming from Olympic Sport, and seeing how Saracens look at every individual case, taking their time to understand and work with individuals plays a huge part in implementing that caring culture which I think certainly in rugby, could potentially set Saracens apart.