Alex Waller says that young players can learn and develop on and off the pitch as they come through the age ranges.
Speaking during some promotional activity for the Aviva Community Fund, which formally launches on September 13th, Waller took some time to reflect on his formative years in the sport, which for him came at Wellingborough School, where he excelled enough to be scouted into the Junior Saints Academy and eventually into the full-time professional ranks.
The Aviva Community Fund is a nationwide initiative that lends a helping hand to communities by offering support and funding to local causes, and this season includes a special category for grassroots sports clubs.
Waller says that youngsters can grow and mature as people as well as players in their early years on the pitch.
“From seeing my brother’s journey through club rugby and my journey through school, club and school rugby is massively important,” he says in this week’s Saints podcast. “It’s not just about the rugby at that age either.
“You’ve got people of all sizes and abilities who are put together as one, and it breaks down a lot of barriers. It might be the shy introvert who doesn’t say much but is the biggest guy on the pitch, or the quiet kid who gets onto the pitch and skins two or three players and gets a lot of confidence from that.
“Working in a team is a big learning point of your career in rugby and as part of your development as a person.”
“I was quite late into rugby; I didn’t start playing rugby until I was 14 and I went to Wellingborough School, which pushed the sport quite hard. It was a steep learning curve – the first time I picked up a ball I passed it forward and had a few quiet words with some of the other players about passing it backwards! – but I’ve got fond memories of growing up and playing rugby with Wellingborough.
“I picked it up relatively quickly. The basics aren’t that difficult, although I’m still learning today, and it’s good craic, 15 to 23 lads on the pitch in training. Some of the lads had been playing since they had been three or four years old so they helped me out.
“I liked the physical aspects, taking to it like a duck to water, so I knew I was going to be a forward. No one in my family had played rugby before my brother and me, and I loved it. I’d played a lot of basketball and football before, but then rugby was an obvious choice in the end.”
Waller says that he still is in regular contact with his coaches from the time, adding: “I still keep in touch with one of the directors of sport at Wellingborough, Lee Hilton, and get a text message before a big match from another director of sport, Steve Adams, and Adam Ramsden, who unfortunately has passed away, was the biggest influence on my career at Under-15s and Under-16s.”