This is a report from Mr. Yuri Ito, a member of JICA's Volunteers (JOCV). Mr. Ito was dispatched to Sri Lanka from October 2016 to October 2018.
I worked as a JAICA’s first rugby member in Kandy, Sri Lanka for 2 years. Kandy is the second city in Sri Lanka and the entire city is registered as a World Heritage site. There are many famous private schools, each with a strong rugby team. For that reason, rugby is a popular sport in Kandy, but non-competitive schools were lacking instructors and rugby equipment.
First six months:
At the beginning of my time, I tried to let people know my existence. There was a JICA volunteer, Tettta Okada who taught rugby in the 1990 's. I met Mr. Okada's colleague and went to the match venues to increase coach and referee acquaintance . At the same time, I got accustomed to living on the site and got information on Kandy and rugby in Sri Lanka. I think that this process was the foundation of my two years.
After finding the team to coach, I went to practice to coach as much as I could. On a team without official coaches, many dangerous plays such as high tackle and inverse head were seen, so I taught them a safe tackle first. As expected, I experienced frustration and resentment that I have heard from other experienced JICA volunteers such as children losing practice equipment and no one showing up to practice. However, when I look back, I believe that my leadership skills, lack of language skills and the fact that mutual trust has not been built up could have been the cause of what happened. However, I strongly believe that the main reason why I was able to continue coaching there was that every coach and player loved rugby and was proud to get involved.
Finally, it was important to understand the flow of the year in which rugby could and couldn’t be played such as the exam period of the schools and the local events. The first year was the year to find out how to work effectively for the second year.
Around a year after being there, I organized a rugby clinic for local children with the Japanese national women’s 7’s players. Since I had never organized such event, I was very hesitated, first, but senior rugby members encouraged me to do so and I did. As a result, the clinic was very successful and it was well received by people in Sri Lanka. Thanks to this event, I was motivated to keep challenging myself to have no precedent events. Then, I was able to hold an exchange program with Kamaishi city, Iwate prefecture, an exchange game with a team coached by Tokutake who was sent to India as a rugby crew member and the second rugby clinic. Preparation for to go to India was very hard, but I was able to gain valuable experiences such as selecting players myself for the first time as a head coach and making a team.
In parallel with the above-mentioned conspicuous activities, I also tried to spread rugby. Sometimes I took a 3-hour bus ride (one way) to coach 2-hour practice. In the midst of many children who touched the rugby ball for the first time, I tried too hard to make them play rugby, but I started to organize some activities leading to the movement of the rugby such as tags and horse jump. By also creating a series of activity to play with balls at the same time, children started to have more fun and I found myself enjoying coaching more.
The team of Sri Lahura College who coached the most through 2 years changed a lot. I thoroughly consolidated the foundation of passing and tackling. At first, the children did not enjoy tackling practice, but after gaining some confidence and making some tackles in the games, they actively began to practice tackling. When the foundation was in them, I created different situations close to the game such as attaching the opponent and worked on decision-making skills. Ultimately, they became a team that was able to win games. In the U19 league, they advanced to the higher league for the next season and the U16 team won the competition. I think that I was able to build a good relationship of trust with the children. I am proud of them boldly tackling with their small bodies.
Sri Lanka was the only country to have two rugby members dispatched. My colleague, Mori was in Galle, which was far from where I was, but each time I met, I talked to him about my concerns and activities about rugby. Knowing I could talk to Mori was very encouraging and without his support, I could not have done many events alone.
I made many friends in two years and most of them were older than me, but they all treated me with respect and always listened to me. In addition, Sri Lanka Rugby Union is eagerly working on spreading rugby. To continue developing rugby, I felt that developing coaches would become important in the future. I would like people of successor to take over my information and relationships that I have built to keep contributing to the further development of Sri Lanka rugby.
Sri Lanka is rich in nature and has eight World Heritage sites, which I all visited. I also challenged new sports such as surfing and diving that I never did in Japan. Having those experiences was huge factors for me enjoy and embrace the time and culture in Sri Lanka.
I watched the children grow for two years through coaching rugby, moreover, I have been able to grow as a leader and person as well. This whole experience has made me love rugby and Sri Lanka more than ever. I will introduce Sri Lanka as a recommended travel destination. I am looking forward to sharing my experience through rugby coaching, Rugby World Cup, Olympics, and international exchange events in the future.