Playing rugby can be a very daunting prospect, but when you compare it to teaching Economics to a classroom of loud teenagers, the big hits and injuries look easy. That was the case for former Bath, Rotherham, Doncaster and Birmingham & Solihull forward Russell Earnshaw who recently took up a teaching role at Eastbourne College in Sussex. The 39-year-old talk’s life after rugby and how he found himself back in the classroom as a teacher.
Russell, where did your interest in teaching come from?
Well not from my Mum, she was a teacher and told me never to become one! But bizarrely when I left university, I had an offer to go and teach Economics at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood. At the time I was playing rugby for West Hartlepool and after a couple of good games against Bath, they offered me a contract to go and play for them and teaching took a back seat. I have always been interested in learning, and was pretty ‘geeky’ at school, so I think teaching was always something that I wanted to come back to. I really enjoy learning, helping others to better themselves and love the connections you make in the classroom and on the playing field, so it’s something that I’m loving doing.
What area of teaching do you specialise in?
I teach Economics at the moment, but next year I will be teaching Business Studies as well, so it will be a slightly increased workload. I thoroughly enjoy both subjects though so it should be good fun and a really interesting experience. I love the challenge of mastering something and that’s where I want to get to with my teaching.
Before becoming a teacher you coached England Sevens, can you explain what that experience was like?
Well it seems like a lifetime ago now, but I did six years with England Sevens finishing with last year’s World Cup Final, which was an awesome experience. It’s such a fantastic environment and allows you to meet great people, travel around the world, discover so much about yourself with the added bonus of some fantastic stamps in your passport. I have so many amazing memories and experiences, which will stick with me for a long time, and I feel very blessed to have had such an opportunity.
How do you think the game of Sevens will benefit from being part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games?
I think once they see what Sevens has to offer in an Olympic context, it will elevate the game even more. I left the sport nearly 12 months ago and that was one of the main things on my mind, whether or not to stay on for the possibility of coaching at the Olympics. I chose to leave, but I think once the world is given the chance to watch the game in a packed stadium on the Olympic stage, it will make the sport even bigger than it already is.
How much has the game of rugby changed since your playing days?
Well firstly I don’t think you can go drinking three or four times during the week anymore! To me, the main differences are the increased size of collisions and how structured parts of the game have become. When I played there used to be a lot more freedom, but nowadays the game seems to be much more structured. That’s incredibly important in defence and you need a framework in attack that suits the strengths of your players, but my worry is that over-coaching is starting to filter down. I do a lot of work with coaches of children, on trying to let their teams play with a more freedom and ambition in attack. We want players who enjoy playing the game play within a framework that suits their strengths and allows them to thrive in chaos.
How did you find the transition from playing rugby to a new career?
I ‘d love to say there was a plan, but the reality is I was incredibly lucky. As I had already studied at University, and was interested in coaching so worked my way through the necessary qualifications and gained valuable experience. But for many of my former team-mates, they have stories about dark days and not knowing what to do with their life, so understandably it can be very tough. Rugby plays such a major part in your life when you’re in it, so when you eventually lose it away, it can leave such a real void.
Are there days where you wish you were still playing?
Yes every time I watch a game, but it normally only last’s the first two minutes until they start smashing into each other, and then I know I made the right decision. I saw all the players tweeting about pre-season the other day, and that is definitely something I don’t miss. Everyone is posting photos of themselves working hard, throwing up and drinking protein shakes. I use to love pre-season but I am quite happy I don’t have to go through that anymore.
How important do you think it is for players to be thinking about life after rugby?
It’s very important for players because these days as you never know when it might all come to an end. I think players really need to expand their horizons by attending networking evenings and spending time in different working environments just to get a feel about what else is out there. I think learning new skills in other areas can also improve your rugby, and I think when you challenge yourself in other areas of your life, it can positively influence your game. I think as a rugby player you need other distractions and things to spark your passion, rather than being just a one-dimensional person.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years time?
To be honest I rarely look that far in advance, I just try to keep myself happy. We have two kids now and when you have children it changes your perspective completely, so as long as my family is happy then I will be happy wherever I am.