05 Dec 13
A quick behind the scenes video of the design process that went into creating the Club's formalwear.
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Quins v Racing Métro
Harlequins v Racing Métro 92
Racing Métro 92 (H)
15/12/2013, KO 12:45
Sun 15th Dec 13
Racing Métro 92
Quins 28-40 Racing Métro
W L L W W
Racing Métro Form
L L W W D
The fact of the matter is that Harlequins take the development of their players as people very seriously, and not just in rugby terms. Ours is one of only two Premiership clubs to employ a dedicated Player Development Manager on staff to offer the players an avenue outside rugby's bubble, and an eye on their futures beyond the game.
The man charged with communicating and delivering these opportunities is Mark Soden, who in tandem with personal development experts Mission Performance Ltd., is broadening the horizons of the players to a world above and apart from the often insular life of a professional sportsman.
An ex-player himself in the back row at Northampton Saints, his passion is to provide an opportunity for players which he did not have himself.
He says, "That's probably why my passion is to do it. I did a degree - I fumbled through a Geography degree. Extended it to five or six years when I should have done it in three. I suffered from boredom and from wanting to do other things and there weren't many people to turn to, or to hunt out and find. Plain and simply it wasn't available to me when I was playing.
"More clubs are going down the route of doing it. I think we are only the second Club to do it internally, other sports are following suit as well. It's an area which is going to expand a lot more."
Mark has been on staff for a year, recruited personally by Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea who himself is a big advocate of the pluralistic approach to life as a professional sportsman. The challenge is not only to exploit transferable skills away from the game into a career outside, but to establish a two-way dynamic. Life skills gained can augment performance and attitude on the field too.
"I would say this because I do the job, but lots of the research does say that if you are doing things outside of the game then it improves your stress levels and your competence levels.
"It improves your leadership, your communication, you're able to think differently. You need to be completely tunnel visioned when you are on a rugby pitch to perform well, but the things you can learn outside of that, you can take back into rugby.
"Rugby is always the most important thing of course, but the coaches do see benefit in it otherwise I wouldn't be employed!" he laughs.
Mission Performance is a specialised company with a wide range of expertise - over the past six months Harlequins players have engaged in some excellent sessions with a Personal Impact specialist Toby Wilsher, a Theatre Director and a communications expert. Toby has worked across the entire Club with coaches, senior management, players and Academy to improve their communication styles and impact both on and off the field of play.
Naturally, leadership is a critical skill for players in the pressure cooker of top flight rugby. Mission Consultant Justin Featherstone MC is the ex-Head of Leadership at Sandhurst has certainly led in some very different extremes in Iraq and around the world.
Justin has handed over some of other incredibly valuable lessons to the players over the pre-season period, discussing what leadership in combat looks like and lessons, coping with stress and pressure and different perspectives on leading in challenging environments.
In exposing the players to a wide range of expertise, he hopes to open their minds to a vast range of possibilities as professionals in the wider world, and although confidence is perhaps a pre-requisite out on the field, it doesn't always translate so readily into a life outside the game. Mark is committed to making Harlequins the very best environment possible for the players, he says,
"I've been in the job for a out a year now, so Conor went out to look for an individual who can do that development side of things and I fit the bill as I'm an ex-player. He sees a massive amount of value in it as well because the game is getting more competitive and there's lots of money getting offered over in France.
"The Club is already great in terms of looking after players but we need to make it even better so that when people come to Harlequins they want to stay at Harlequins. It's a brilliant Club, with a great atmosphere and ethos - all those things that Harlequins is, but actually we take our players development really seriously, their holistic development as people."
"It's looking at how we can broaden players horizons outside of the game, broaden their identity. Rugby's a short career so we have to look after their careers after sport and it's important that we as Harlequins provide a platform and a performance programme with a lot of options that help the boys succeed now as players.
"They need a career path, broadening themselves, not just being a knuckle dragging egg-chaser, but broadening their identity and horizons outside of the game as well.
"In short, pulling them out of the test tube of rugby, and dumping them into different environments. It has to be about engaging the boys now and also later, because if you just say it's life after sport, they will usually disengage.
"It's definitely about developing them as people now so that they are better players."
To that end, Mark's list of achievements in twelve short calendar months is impressive. Chris Robshaw the skipper is setting up a winery in Chichester, Mark Lambert our worthy columnist is working at the Financial Times with a view to journalism, Louis Grimoldby is one of fourteen players studying with the Open University, Sam Twomey is completing an engineering degree with a view to working the oil and gas industry - likewise Sam smith in Law.
The diversity of the squad means every day is different for Mark, a provocative challenge for him personally. Differing backgrounds and educations means different attitudes and aptitudes, but he is committed to setting a standard of pastoral care and development which is second to none in the sporting industry.
"Some guys are really switched on to it and are fantastic, and they want to develop themselves and can see the benefit whereas some other guys will steer away from it because they are often a bit scared. They will but the bravado on! They just want to keep their head down.
"With all of this stuff, the rugby is the most important thing and they have to perform well on the pitch. If any programme is getting in the way of how they're playing, well that's a problem. It's getting the boys to see the benefit in it now as well."
Patrick J Lennon