DeSilva making impact off the field
“A lot of the time, these young people have taken on so much in their personal life that their spirit is broken; there needs to be more discussion about young people and their well being.”
The damning verdict of national rugby player Tashon DeSilva, whose personal experiences and tireless endeavours within the Beyond Rugby programme are helping to create a lasting impact that reaches far beyond the perimeters of the sports field.
Having stumbled upon the game while working in the Bermuda Prison sector in 2009, Desilva’s passion and natural aptitude for rugby flourished in the proceeding years, to today captain the Bermuda sevens team and hold the role as vice-captain to the national men’s XV team.
However, Desilva was handed an opportunity to have a far greater impact off the field with a coaching pathway, starting with a role at the Berkeley Institute. “I was asked if I wanted to try coaching with Berkeley and I was thrilled to give it a go,” said DeSilva, who has been involved with the school for the past five years. “I didn’t have any coaching qualifications but I had some knowledge of the game and personal experiences that I could pass on.”
DeSilva’s skill set was also noticed by Patrick Calow, the Bermuda Rugby Football Union Youth development officer, who is heavily involved with the Beyond Rugby programme, which in partnership with Family Centre and Bermuda Rugby Football Union, aims to help children with behavioural issues and give them options in life including graduation through the school system.
“I’ve been involved for four years now and it’s been great,” added DeSilva. “The programme is built around the game but is so much more than just playing rugby. Sport is an amazing platform for change but what we do, and the impact it has, goes far beyond sport.”
Instilling the core values and fundamentals of the game, the true crux of the programme is to help those children in need, whether it be with aggression problems or a lack of confidence and guide them through the demands of school and personal life.
“It’s been a challenging road at times because you don’t know what to expect with some of the kids because you don’t know what they have gone through,” said Desilva, on the programme that runs throughout the school year and has an emphasis on education alongside emotional wellbeing.
“Some kids don’t have structure and come from broken homes so there is no support network for them. We come across different challenges whether it be aggression issues or timidness, every child is different and so you have to learn to deal with different situations.
“It’s certainly a learning curve for them and for us, but we definitely move forward together and you can see the results. The quiet children open up more and the aggressive children learn to channel that aggression in a positive way.
“We also have the influence of the Family Centre involved and courses that we take to deal with kids that have issues. We aim to tackle the emotional issues at the same time as giving them an outlet through rugby.
“We have come across a lot of kids who don’t want to interact with you but as they progress through the programme, you see a real difference as that trust between us and them is built up.
“That is why we have the Family Centre support because if they need further counselling then we have somewhere for them to go.
“It’s definitely a big family with what we do and that is massively important.”
The impact of the programme does not just stop once the children reach the latter stages of school, a point that Desilva was keen to convey, highlighting the importance of opportunity on and off the field, to continue their progression as they move into adulthood.
“As the children get older and move through school we try encourage them to keep playing rugby with the senior teams on island,” he added.
“It gives them a different perspective and new challenges to deal with like tougher opposition, respecting the officials; it’s about coping with difficult situations.
“It’s important as well because it gives them another voice to take advice from and experiences to learn from rather than just me.
“We’ve seen children who had anger issues in the past, have a decision go against them on the field but they’ve learnt to cope with it, keep quiet, back off and respect the referee’s decision. You can see the impact of going through the programme.
“It also opens up different avenues for these kids who, if they’re good enough can go on and play at schools and colleges abroad, we’ve already had that with a few of our kids.”
DeSilva added: “I could have been on the street doing the wrong things, following the wrong path but I chose to better myself and keep away from those situations.
“A lot of the time they need to see someone who takes a genuine interest in them and care about showing them what they can achieve.”
Despite their undoubted success, DeSilva is striving to do more, with an even greater emphasis on understanding the inner struggles that young people suffer from within the wider community.
“I know I can have a big influence on these kids and thinking about it always gives me chills,” he said. “I like to think that I can get through to them and it’s an amazing feeling when you see a response from the children and see them develop within themselves. I’ve seen huge changes in a lot of the children and moving forward there is still more we can do.
“The development of the mind is massively important. Self-doubt and not understanding how to deal with your emotions is a big stumbling block.
“I think the programme is perfectly set up to do even more on in terms of psychology and wellbeing because I think that would have a massive impact.”
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