South Africans are experiencing uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a period filled with fear, uncertainty and disbelief as to what is happening all over the world. The South African Government implemented a 21-day nation-wide lockdown, which commenced on the 27th of March 2020. The lockdown was further extended until the end of April 2020.

The Western Province Rugby Academy students have had to adapt to their environment and training, given the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The WPRA coaches and staff are committed to continue to provide excellence during this time. Coaches and staff have come up with creative and innovative ways to keep the students motivated and busy, while the high-performance rugby programme and academic programme continues remotely. Pandemic or not, our students are continued to be stimulated each and every day: mind, body and soul.

Our coaching staff keep in close contact with all of the students on a daily basis. WhatsApp groups are proving to be a pinnacle platform of communication between coaches and students during this time. On these groups, important information is shared daily. The students also utilize this platform to share phots and videos of their home-training sessions and progress. Smaller mentor WhatsApp groups have also been created, whereby each student is paired with a coach, who he is able to more personally discuss any issues or concerns he may have. It is vital that the team stays in contact regularly, as it helps many students stay calm and positive during the pandemic.

Our high-performance rugby programme is still in full swing. It is unfortunate that we cannot physically be with the students to engage in the on-field rugby training, as well as the strength and conditioning in the gym. Every student has received a specialized ‘lockdown training programme’ which they are expected to follow throughout the duration of the lockdown. This programme includes a variety of skill-specific rugby training drills, as well as a full conditioning programme. Our coaches and staff understand that not everyone has the same access to gym equipment and resources, so the programme has been designed to be achievable for every student, regardless of their environment or available resources. The photos and videos that have been received from the students has been indescribable! The creativity and hard work shown by the students has been truly amazing. Students have been building their own gym equipment and finding literally anything they can get their hands on to push themselves for their conditioning programme. Some examples include making a squat bar using a broom stick and two car tyres; bicep curls with filled 5L water bottles; and pulling a car with the rope just to name a few.

The student’s CTU academic course has been switched to online learning. The students engage in online lectures, conducted by their facilitator, four days per week via Microsoft Teams. Assignments and tests are being regularly administered, and student progress is being closely monitored.

At the Western Province Rugby Academy, we highlight the importance of developing the mind, just as much as developing the body. Together with our mental coach, Ruan Botha at “A Game Performance Coaching”, we are actively diving into the psychological states of our student. Each week, ‘mental gym’ sessions are prescribed to our students, which provides them with the tools to work through their thoughts and feelings in a proactive and developmental manner. During such uncertain and anxiety-provoking times like these, we believe that these weekly mental sessions are extremely valuable!

The WPRA students are dedicated to playing whatever role they can at this time to make a meaningful contribution to society. Marchant Thirion, a student at the WPRA Claremont Campus, was eager to give back to his community and those less fortunate during this pandemic. He initiated a new challenge amongst his peers to donate five bread sandwiches every day of the week to those who need it the most. This act of kindness quickly spread throughout the rest of the academy students, and it is inspiring to see the amazing acts of kindness that our boys are doing on a daily basis.

The lockdown has also highlighted the important role that rugby can play in the future, by giving people something to look forward to and smile about. Currently, the students are driven by the desire to get back onto the field, into the gym, into the classroom and back at the academy with their rugby-family. As a united and dedicated team of coaches and staff, they do not mind the challenges that they may face; they are still committed to providing excellence to their students, no matter what it takes.