Sam Dodge spent years 2 at RGC as the Strength and Conditioning coach.
How did you end up in North Wales?
I was four years into working as a strength and conditioning coach and was transitioning from being an intern towards small funded roles. I was looking to transition into a full time role somewhere; which is the holy grail for young S&C coaches everywhere! I was coaching for Welsh Judo, Welsh Tennis, Cardiff Blues and Wales Women at the time and the opportunity to take over the S&C at RGC came up. Having been involved in a number of roles with the WRU over those four years, I was asked if I would be interested in interviewing and jumped at the chance. The interview went well, and I moved up North within a couple of weeks on hearing I was successful.
What are some of your memories of your time at RGC?
My memories of RGC are very positive! It was an awesome opportunity, both personally and professionally, and it definitely shaped me as a person and coach having spent time with the region. I think the fondest memory professionally was the excitement in having the chance to work with a club/group of players who were incredibly ambitious, had no previous expectations as to how things ‘should’ be and were willing to work hard in order to achieve their goals. I don’t think there was anyone at the club who wasn’t fully invested in the vision of the region, or was unwilling to do their part to helping us achieve that. That is a very unique culture to be a part of and certainly not a given in any organisation.
Personally, I’ve met some brilliant people there who remain friends to this day. The club is full of great people and characters which is definitely one of the clearest memories for anyone who’s spent time in the region. You fully live in each other’s pockets, given the fact that that the community is so tightly knit and, with the huge amount of time you spend together working, you definitely get to know people and what they’re about in those circumstances and that definitely makes for great memories. They say you’re more willing to work hard and sacrifice yourself if you’re doing it for your friends and that was definitely the case when working at RGC.
From a coaching stand-point, seeing players go through the academy program and go on to play for the regions or at international level is excellent, but a proud memory I have is seeing the number of people who’ve come through the program still representing RGC currently which is huge for me! We always said our ambition was to produce the best players and people we could and, while we may lose some to other clubs along the way, those who do remain in the program would go on to be excellent ambassadors for the club. I think we developed an area of the program that was essentially non-existent and through a good bit of graft and support from guys like Andy Baston, Mark Chan and Sam Giffith, we put a system in place that is still evident today. Better still, is the fact that Gaz Whittaker and his team have been able to come in and take it even further. I think whenever you spend time in a role you want to leave it in a better place than you entered it and make sure it can succeed without you and I think we definitely did that there. When I moved on from the role Llandrillo college had one of the best S&C programs in the country, players had come from the academy program into the senior academy set up and the conveyer belt was beginning to move with regards to the athletes we were producing at the club. It was great to see that continue to be the case when I was watching from afar, back in a role centrally with the union. I was proud to have played a small part in that journey.
Personally, there are so many funny stories and memories from a personal standpoint that probably aren’t suitable for this Q&A! Some of my living arrangements would have raised a few eyebrows but were by far the best part of the time I spent in North Wales. From living in Hathaway with a constantly quarantined Shaun O’Rourke, sharing a caravan with Chris Horsman (which was a life experience in itself) and finally moving into the best house I’ve ever lived in with Leachy, Beggsy and Andrew Jones - some of the socials and shenanigans everyone got up to will live long in the memory and are probably best left at that! I think that was genuinely the best part of the experience for me. Irrelevant of whatever was going on off the field, a lot of the boys you worked with were good friends and, again, that’s such a unique part of what makes the RGC program great and is sadly probably something I’ll never replicate anywhere else.
Where has rugby taken you since RGC and how has RGC contributed to your development ?
After two years at the club, I was asked if I would be interested in a role working centrally at the WRU as the National Age Grade and Development Coach. This was a huge chance to get to work alongside and learn from some of the top coaches at the WRU and was too good of an opportunity to pass up as a young and developing S&C coach. I spent 2-3 years there working with the U18 and U20 programs alongside setting up a development program for S&C within the WRU alongside the hub school and colleges program. I had a huge affiliation to the North Wales region and made sure I spent as much time as possible working and developing coaches in the North as well as the South ( as it can sometimes be a forgotten part of the country, which also gave me a lot of opportunity to spend time in the North again. I think having experienced this first-hand definitely improved my ability to connect with the schools/colleges in the North and share some of the frustrations they’d been experiencing, for far longer than I had, and ultimately helped the uptake and implementation of this program nationally.
In my time in this role I was fortunate enough to lead the S&C for the 2016 U20s grand slam six nations campaign which was a personal highlight. Getting to play the final game at home at Parc Eirias and catch up with some old friends was an awesome opportunity and made all the more special by my time with the region. That year I was also awarded the award of S&C Coach of the Year for Youth Sport as part of the UKSCA’s Excellence in S&C Awards which, again, wouldn’t have happened without the experiences I had at RGC.
From this, a position presented itself at Bristol Rugby (now Bears) which again was a great opportunity to progress in the field and learn from new coaches in a full-time professional environment. I have currently been at the club for 4 years and loving every minute of it. There are a lot of similarities between RGC and Bristol in the fact that Bristol had spent a number of years in the championship and are hugely ambitious to transition into a side that can hopefully challenge for silverware in the Premiership and Europe. Having been part of the RGC program striving to the same thing, you know full well that it is not a smooth road and there will be challenges along the way. I think the toughness and resolve developed in going through these challenging times with RGC is a huge tool of reflection for me in my current role and has given me a realistic expectation as to how the journey will go and how to stick to your convictions in tough times. We’re still on that journey with Bristol currently but are heading in the right direction in the same way RGC have been for some years and, hopefully, both programs will go on to realise these ambitions in the near future.
As a final note, I’d like to thank everyone who I’ve met along the way for making my time in RGC such a great time of my life to look back on and hope everyone is doing well in the current climate!