Name: Rosemary Towner
Occupation: National Player Development Manager
Favourite Team(s): All !
Favourite player(s): All !
How long have you been involved with rugby?
My parents took me to my first game of rugby when I was a baby. Both of my parents loved the sport and we would usually go to watch the Manly Marlins on a Saturday afternoon – my dad taught me to appreciate the intricacies of some of the rules and the meaning of team and mateship; my mum taught me to appreciate the history and spirit of the game. In our household, the electrician was a Wallaby and so was the optometrist – if anything was needed there was always someone at the club who knew someone who knew someone.
I started to work in this role in mid 2007, but have been in the sports industry since 1990.
What does a Player Development Manager do?
As National Player Development Manager, I co-ordinate the delivery of the Personal & Career Development Program (PACD) to all professional players in Australia. The PACD is a joint program of the ARU and the RUPA and focuses on the off field needs and development of professional players.
The RUPA employs a specialist Player Development Manager (PDM) in each of the Super Rugby Teams to deliver the PACD and they work very closely with the Rugby Body to support and develop the players. There is research around to show that if a player is engaged in ‘something else’ off the field, their on field performance will improve. All of the PDM’s are specialists in the Career & Education industry and they work hard to work with the individual needs of each of the player.
This could be helping out with university or TAFE courses, setting up some professional development around media training, budgeting or study skills and working with the player to work out a long term career plan to complement their on field goals.
Within a rugby team players can range in age from 18 – 30+ and all will have different needs depending on their interests, skills, whether they’re married or single, with kids, no kids etc. There is no ‘one size fits all’ so it’s a very tailored program.
We also provide assistance with any welfare issues that might come up and this can range from having a cup of coffee and a confidential chat about some concerns or issues, dealing with critical incidents or referral to specialist counsellors.
All of the programs we develop aim to provide the players with the opportunity to be their best on and off the field, and to ensure they are in the best position possible when the time comes to hang up their boots.
What has been your career highlight so far??
In rugby, I recently chaired a meeting in Cape Town of my counterparts from New Zealand, England, Ireland, Wales and South Africa. We discussed lots of issues that impact players across the world, and it was fantastic to see the support available and to compare programs.
Also, the implementation of an education award at the 2011 RUPA Awards function to recognise the ongoing learning of players was a great recognition of the PACD program. The Award is not only aimed at those who may achieve academically, but also those who succeed in learning and endeavouring to challenge themselves in their off field education.
Prior to Rugby I had the opportunity to attend a few Olympic Games in administration/athlete services roles.
My highlights are usually related to the achievements of the hard working, dedicated athletes who do their very best without necessarily winning a gold medal or playing for the Wallabies, but who go on to a fulfilling life in their chosen field.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
There have been two managers who have specifically taught me a lot. One was Herb Elliott, the Olympic legend. Even though he was so well known, he showed me the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, regardless of how important they were (or thought they were!).
The other was Clare Prideaux at the NSW Institute of Sport. Clare was able to make some tough decisions but always provided back up and support to her staff and was willing to give ideas a go, even if they didn’t always work out!
Both taught me that there is nothing like laughing to make you feel better at the end of a tough day.
Personally, the interest of my mum and grandmother in sport was a huge influence in my involvement in sport from an early age and my interest in pursuing it as a career. My grandmother lived until she was 100 and would listen to coverage of tennis, the Olympics, and all types of football as often as she could. Other than watching the Shute Shield and Wallabies, mum follows most sports and has (varying) opinions on athletes and teams – she has taught me that a person’s ability to win does not necessarily make them a better person, and grace and humility are qualities that should be admired.
What do you feel is the biggest issue in the game right now?
From a Player Development point of view, professional players can now go straight from school into a high intensity (physically and mentally) work environment, where they may remain from anywhere between 1 and 10 years. Continuous learning and development towards making that invariable transition into (so called) normal life is very important.
An area that was discussed in detail in Cape Town that is impacting every country at every level, is the ongoing mental health of players and the idea of encouraging players to “just talk about it” by accessing services available. The PACD provides access for players and their families to confidential counselling if they need it.
Mental health is an issue across the wider community and not “just” an athlete concern, however research shows that males aged 18-25 are particularly susceptible to some illnesses. Given that covers the majority of professional players, it is an area we all should be promoting support for, and educating ourselves on.
What tips would you give to women who want to work in rugby and player development?
We recently advertised for a PDM position and I was surprised that only 6 women applied. Many women assume you have to have played or that the only roles are in coaching or sports science. There are many opportunities in sport that include accounting, logistics, marketing, event management, IT and website development, to name a few.
Player development covers a lot of areas, however when recruiting I look for a knowledge of education systems, counselling, career counselling, networks across a range of industries and an ability to show some empathy and understanding of the needs of an elite athlete. Regardless of the above, if a player doesn’t trust you it doesn’t matter how many certificates you’ve got hanging on a wall, because the ability to build the relationship is the key.
Where would you like to see PACD in 10 years?
Other than on a beach in Tahiti:
- Providing up to date and relevant support to the players of 2022.
- Leading the international player welfare industry to ensure all rugby players, regardless of where they are, can get support if they need.
- An IRB requirement that off field career & education support must be implemented in all rugby nations.
- Utilising technology to communicate with those players who have hung up their boots, regardless of how long ago.
- Preparing 7’s players to participate and win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
- An integral part of the rugby high performance landscape, ensuring all players are achieving their best on and off the field.
Any final words?
I have never met her, but I heard Al Baxter’s mum interviewed last year. She was asked if she knew anything about rugby or just went along to watch Al – she replied she knew more about scrums than most referees. It made me laugh, and at the same time, respect her passion, her knowledge, her support of her son, her intelligence and quick wittedness and her humour – in sport, in business and in life these things are worthy qualities we should all aspire to.