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In 2019 as Chipu was competing in the World Rugby U20 Tournament in Brazil, the management came to the realization that the team still had a long way to go in order to be a more competitive side not only in Africa but globally. It was at this point when they bore the need to have Emotional Intelligence(EI) sessions as part of their coaching program. The team’s behavior both on and off the pitch also played a huge part in the making of this decision.

“We also reviewed the Simba’s qualifiers in 2018 and from our analysis of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the need to integrate EI as a key element to ensure maximum potential of the team is achieved was emphasized,” said Team Manager, Jimmy Mnene.

Nandi Kegode, an Emotional Intelligence advocate, has been working with both Chipu and Simbas since January 2020. “She has been an asset and even as management we have learned quite a lot and improved how we carry ourselves, how the team trains, how we deal with biases within and outside the team. The players are more self-aware and also with mental health discussions going on in the society, our players and tech team have had the chance to self-regulate and grow their social skills both on and off the pitch,” concluded Jimmy.

Nandi described the EI sessions to be carefully crafted around contemporary and historical socio-psychological influences that could potentially affect players’ decision-making and mental capabilities on and off the pitch.

“Normally we conduct a physical and a classroom session. This allows us to assess our mentality around exercise and team play. We follow a curriculum and the exercises and learning materials are learning aids in support of this. However, since covid-19 hit the country, we have been conducting the curriculum-based more on theory and practical application in the players’ personal lives on a weekly basis,” she added.

We got some feedback from a few players who are in the leadership groups of both teams.

“The EI sessions have been pretty good since they’ve so far equipped us with life skills that help us understand how to work in a team, not just in rugby but also in our everyday life. The sessions have also pushed us to understand our teammates’ emotional needs better which will in turn improve our chemistry on the pitch. These sessions have really shown us that as a team we really need to talk to each other and know how we’re all doing. The EI sessions have emphasized the importance of talking to each other even off-pitch just to know how our teammates are doing emotionally and mentally,” said Kenya Simbas lock Malcolm Onsando.

Simbas against Uganda in the 2019 Elgon Cup leg held in Kampala. PHOTO/EMMANUEL AHENDA

“I’ve learned that we all need to be very honest with ourselves when it comes to individual and team evaluation after training sessions and competitions so as to build on our strong areas and work on our mistakes. The weekly sessions help us keep in touch and remain focused on what our ultimate goal is, which is representing the country as we aim to qualify for the 2020 Rugby World Cup,” added Elkeans Musonye

The junior side Chipu’s duo of Sheldon Kahi and Ian Masheti, both who represented Kenya at the World Rugby U20s last year, complemented the Simbas sentiments.

“The sessions have been very constructive. About the first ten sessions for me were the most impactful seeing us they talked about breaking down our mental barriers and pushing our bodies to the limit. This was notable by the fact that I found myself going the extra mile during our training sessions at the RFUEA Grounds and Peponi School.

Individually, getting to breakdown the mental barriers I subconsciously set for myself has to be my biggest take away from the EI sessions because now I am able to do more,” said Sheldon

Sheldon Kahi(with ball) in action against Uruguay at the 2019 World Rugby U20s in Sao Paolo, Brazil. PHOTO/WORLD RUGBY

Masheti added that the various topics they have covered including but not limited to mental health, working with their teammates, and leadership qualities have helped them learn more about themselves. “Mental health is really important to me and I appreciate the fact that we got to address this aspect of life in the EI sessions. Talking to each other as we build up to a match helps us ensure we are all in the right state of mind and ready for the task at hand. This helps us understand each other’s strong points better,” he added.

Team physiotherapist Ben Mahinda has also noted that there has been a transformation in the set up brought by the EI sessions. “There’s more willingness to share information from player to player and also from player to management. Unfortunately, we’ve not had a competitive match since the introduction of these sessions, so gauging the teams’ mental fortitude is something we’re looking forward to seeing when sports resume. However, there has been a shift in the players’ general approach in facing their own fears and addressing them,”

The management lead by Paul Odera is very keen on bringing up not only great rugby players but also men of character. The emotional sessions are held every Friday and Saturday morning for Chipu and Simbas respectively.

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