Gareth Thomas was the most capped rugby union player ever for Wales and also represented the country at rugby league. In 2009, towards the end of his playing career, Gareth came out as gay and received Stonewall’s Hero of the year award. In this post he explains why he has started running workshops in schools…
What do I love about my job? Well, there are so many aspects to it and I’m lucky enough to still be involved in rugby. And then there’s the fascinating new path I’ve started on too: education.
The main word that comes to mind when I think of education is ‘aspiration’. Education is the key to unlocking our aspirations, being the best possible version of ourselves and true to what we believe in and long for. I believe that with my life experience and sporting profile, I have a responsibility to help young people and in 2014 I partnered with Prospero Teaching to take my message about the importance of aspiration into schools.
Like a lot of young people, I experienced my share of bullying at school. Bullying can become a vicious circle with long term, harmful effects that impede confidence and aspiration. We also know that bullying is often the product of poor self-esteem and that victimising others enables the bully to deflect their own insecurities as well as escape the fear to aspire. So Prospero Teaching and I devised the ‘Balls to Bullying’ campaign which we take into primary and secondary schools, working with kids of every demographic, tailoring workshop style and content to support the needs of different groups.
I must admit, I love working with the younger kids; their enthusiasm and imagination is inspiring, and what can I say, I’m just a big kid myself after all! But working with the older kids feels like a massive honour and responsibility as well as a huge learning opportunity. I have delivered literacy sessions to a high school in Caerphilly, run a two-hour workshop for sixth-formers in North London, talked about anti bullying in Stoke and am now making return visits to schools following up long-standing goals we set together.
What value can I add to a kid’s education? I wasn’t exactly a star pupil myself, but I think that’s where my empathy with young people comes from, especially those who struggle through maths, watching the minutes tick by before PE, drama or music (or whatever makes them feel alive) starts; who are the victims of bullying, or don’t understand or control their own need to bully others. What do those kids need to embrace their education, stand aside from bullying, find the inner-strength to empower and support each other? Aspiration. The aspiration to be the best versions of themselves they can be.
You can follow Gareth on Facebook.
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