It has been nine years since former Springbok utility back and “pocket rocket”, Brent Russell, decided to hang up his professional rugby boots for South Africa. As one of the Investec International Rugby Academy coaches, Brent believes that it is very important for boys to play sport during their school years. We chatted to Brent about how he fuels his passion for rugby since his retirement.
Brent’s successful career in SA rugby for the Sharks, Stormers, Springboks and Blitzbokke, was followed by five years of international experience in England’s Saracen’s and France’s Clermont Auvergne.
Following his retirement, Brent joined the coaching team at the Investec International Rugby Academy, which was started in 2009 by Dick Muir.
- What is your favourite part about being a coach at the Investec International Rugby Academy?
Brent: “The Investec academy is such a great concept, and allows retired players an opportunity to give back to the game of rugby. Rugby is in my blood and to be able to share to youngsters and make a difference, even if it is for one day at a time, gives me satisfaction.”
- How do initiatives like the Investec International Rugby Academy contribute to the development of SA Rugby?
Brent: “It contributes beyond our expectations. I don’t think there is another academy in professional sport that can allow one player, the opportunity to meet, interact and learn from the greats of the game as one does at the Investec Rugby Academy. During that week you are able to see the difference in an individual’s confidence and abilities. They will never be able to experience such a large amount of professional coaching as they do, and it can only have a positive effect in one’s development.”
- Why should aspiring players and coaches enrol in the Investec International Rugby Academy?
Brent: “Investec Rugby Academy is like a bridge between aspiring amateur rugby players and coaches and professional players and coaches. There is no better academy course than this in terms of extensive learning programs, interactions with knowledgeable professionals, ranging from players to sports physios, dieticians, and mental toughness. The courses cover every aspect of professional sport on and off the field.”
- Why do you think that attending a rugby course is good for young boys regardless of whether they are interested in becoming a professional or not and how?
Brent: “Regardless of whether the young boys are able to play at the highest level or not, this course will still be of benefit to them. Not only is it a good chance to interact with legends of the game, but also gives them the opportunity to meet new people and participate in a team sport. This course is not just for those players that are going to achieve in rugby, but for those wanting to have a bit of fun on the rugby field. The course encourages camaraderie at the highest level, and so every boy on the course feels apart of the team.”
- Do you think rugby teaches skills beyond the field?
Brent: “Yes, for sure. Professional sport is not an easy career, and with so many highs and lows, it is important that one knows how to cope with all the emotions. As in life, people experience the same emotional experiences, and some individuals are unable to cope with all the changes. That’s the beauty of playing a team sport. You learn so much when a part of a team. This course is all about having fun and to learn a whole lot more than just rugby.”
- As a former Springbok and Blitzbok player, what are the fundamental aspects to being a well-rounded player?
Brent: “There are a few fundamental aspects to being a well-rounded player, and almost in every aspect of life. If you want to achieve, be it on the rugby field or in the workplace, you need to be disciplined. Nothing comes easy and so probably the most important aspect is hard work.”
- What advice would you give young players hoping to make a career out of the game?
Brent: “A lot has changed since I was a professional rugby player 10 years ago. From what I have noticed happening over the last 5 years is that professionalism has started while kids are still at school. I can remember my school rugby days as being my best rugby days to date, and I certainly has the most fun playing at school. So many kids are now playing rugby purely for a contract. No doubt there is a career to be made in the sport, but first and foremost, go out and enjoy your rugby first, especially when the pressure is not on. Don’t look for the contracts, let the contract look for you. Just enjoy your rugby now.”
- Both you and your sister, Shelley Russell, are involved in Investec’s sport academies. What do you think drives the Russell’s to helping young rugby and hockey players achieve their goals?
Brent: “I think it is our love for sport. All three of us grew up on the side of the sports field while our parents were playing sport, and so it was only natural that we were drawn to play sport. I remember playing as many sports as I could fit into my week at school, and sometimes would race from one rugby practice to a club football practice, only to get home at 8 at night, and to do it all again the following day. The Investec Rugby and Hockey Academies are the platform in which like-minded sportsmen and women are able to connect and coach with our youth, and ultimately do what has been such a big part of their lives.”