A life in the week of Sam Stoop, director of sport at Winchester House School in Northamptonshire
It is a big week of preparation for the School Sport Magazine National Schools U13 Rugby Cup semi-final and the children arrive at school this morning buzzing for Friday. The biggest difficulty the boys are going to face is trying to keep focused on their academic lessons as well as coping with a big block hockey fixture on Wednesday. However, one of the biggest things I have learnt teaching here is just how robust the children are. I have a quick catch up with the 1st team captain Rory Fletcher before registration and run him through the plans for the coming days. I use Monday mornings to do my admin as I am free until break. I use this time to confirm fixtures and transport arrangements for the Wednesday as well as finalising the last few cricket fixtures for next term. The weekly staff meeting comes and goes and then it is into a full games programme. We have three games sessions a day (years 3&4, years 5&6 and years 7&8). This allows the games specialists an opportunity to coach every child in the school and gives me a good idea of what is coming through. During the year 7 and 8 games session, I take the 1st XIII down the road to Stowe School and have a training session with their U14 side. We run through our patterns and play a controlled game focusing on the ruck and defending the fringes. I feel that running against bigger and stronger opposition will help us come Friday. It is a very productive session indeed.
A few stiff and sore boys this morning after yesterday’s training so I promise them this afternoon’s session will be gentle. After registering my tutor group, I have two meetings with parents regarding potential sports scholarships and schools they are looking at sending their children to in the next few years. They are very productive and both sets of parents really do trust my professional judgement which is always nice to hear. A quick catch up with the deputy head pastoral regarding timings for Thursday and Friday before heading to teach a PE lesson. On Tuesday afternoons we have U9 fixtures and today we welcome Akeley Wood for an U9A and B hockey match. With such strong coaches in my department, I am able to spend the time chatting away to parents which invariably entails answering questions or queries about sport here at school. Once we have said goodbye to Akeley Wood, I dash off to the pitches where the 1st XIII are in the process of warming up. The session is a gentle team run through with a specific focus on receiving kick-offs and our kicking strategy. It is all very relaxed as I have the squad for an hour later during the activities programme. This session is a fairly intense ball skills session where handling and fitness are the primary focus. We do lots of variations of touch rugby with a particular favourite being ‘drop off’ touch. We do this session on the astro under floodlights. I then head off to training myself at Banbury and enjoy a physical session on drift defence and how to deal with the box kick effectively. It’s lovely to get out of school and have some ‘me’ time.
Wednesday’s are always a very busy day for directors of sport and today is no different. We have 18 fixtures of netball and hockey this afternoon so finalising logistics with the catering department and staffing match tea are the first jobs to be done. We then have our weekly PE department meeting to catch up on any issues or concerns over a cup of tea. Before break I teach a PE lesson and then deal with any last-minute alterations to teams due to illness or injury. Match day afternoons are always enjoyable. Our parents are very passionate about sport and will always support come rain or shine. Every week I am staggered by the standard of our boys and girls regardless of whether they are in the first or fifth team. Our sport for all policy is an integral part of the games department’s philosophy and watching every boy and girl in the school playing on a match day gives me a real sense of pride.
This morning we have a team meeting outlining the next 24 hours and it’s apparent to see the excitement but apprehension on the boys’ faces. For all sixteen boys in the squad, Friday will be the biggest rugby match they have every played in. We will be departing for Sandbach at 2pm and staying overnight. Thursday morning is a busy teaching time for me. I teach my year 8 geography but it’s a difficult hour as a good number of the set are in the rugby squad and all they want to do is talk rugby. After break I teach two PE lessons back to back. Both are to year 7 and we are at the latter stages of the gymnastics module so the children are mastering the straddle and dive forward roll using the trampette. A quick school lunch before loading up the minibus and our journey to Sandbach begins. After arrival at our hotel we pile back onto the minibus and head out for some tenpin bowling. To add some competition, we decide to play forwards v backs. Naturally the backs outclass the forwards and win the two games comfortably. A number of parents join us for dinner which is lovely. The boys know the importance of tomorrow’s game so head straight off to their rooms and settle quickly.
I can safely say I have one of the best night’s sleep for over two years. With two-and-a-half-year-old twin girls at home, sleep is something of a luxury so wake feeling incredibly refreshed and ready for the big day. Once everyone has finished breakfast, we gather in the hotel’s conference room for a team meeting and an opportunity to watch a highlights reel of the quarter final that I have put together. We spend fifteen minutes looking at the areas where we were weak against Bredon Hill and then finish off with fifteen minutes of areas where we were outstanding and ultimately these areas won us the game. The boys have 30 minutes free time before checking out of the hotel and heading off to Sandbach RFC where we will be doing a gentle session and a few lengths of unopposed. The greeting at Sandbach is terrific. It’s a really lovely club and we are made to feel very welcome indeed. The boys looked sharp and very focused indeed. Preparation time is over as we get back into the minibus and head over to Sandbach School. A few last-minute words from myself and we are good to go. The game itself is a bit of a blur. We dominate the opening exchanges and score two very well-worked tries early on before crossing the line for a third time on the stroke of half time. 15-0 up is good but we know Sandbach will not give up. The second half is a different story with Sandbach getting into the game and using their big, strong runners to good effect. It’s a nervy period but we hold on. Sandbach cross the line with the last play of the match. A terrific, hard fought 15-10 victory is amazing and takes us to the national final against Whitgift.
A rare lie in this morning as we got back late last night. It’s a beautiful morning so we take the dogs out for a long walk before going to collect our twin girls from the grandparents. I am playing rugby this afternoon for Banbury away at Old Patesians in Cheltenham. It’s a horrible game and the weather turns very wet and cold. We get beaten but decide to stop in Stow-on-the-Wold on our way back.
My body is in pieces this morning and I struggle to get out of bed. I tell myself every Sunday morning that I should stop playing rugby for this exact reason. Sunday is relaxing family day. We take the dogs out all together before heading off to a local pub for a Sunday lunch. It is so lovely spending time with my wife and girls because weekdays are so busy I really don’t see them very much. After a delicious lunch we get home, light a fire and sit in front of Frozen (our girls newest craze). Sundays go far too fast.
A LIFE IN THE WEEK OF