Bath Rugby and Wales international fly-half Rhys Priestland has been making strides on his personal developments away from rugby. The 33-year-old has been broadening his horizon ready for when he hangs up his boots.
Priestland has been further developing himself by studying towards an EMBA (Executive Masters) in Business Administration, whilst also coaching in a professional rugby programme at Beechen Cliff School.
On balancing his studies, whilst also coaching and having his commitments to Bath Rugby as a professional rugby player, Priestland explained his decision for increasing his workload and said: “I am studying an EMBA, which is an executive part-time MBA. I have two years left playing at Bath Rugby and this course is part-time for two years so that slots in nicely. I am studying it at Bath University.
“Originally before I began playing rugby professionally, I went off to University to study economics and ever since then I have tried to figure out exactly what I want to do post-rugby, as this was never intentionally a long-term career choice for me.
“I started out and thought I’d see how it goes and I have now been doing this for a few years and as the time has gone on, I’m still not 100% sure on what I want to do when I finish. I think this MBA is a great course in terms of broadening my knowledge and understanding the way that the business world works and hopefully I can use this as a springboard to get a decent career post rugby.
“What that looks like, I’m not too sure at the moment but I have loved the MBA so far and hopefully I keep enjoying it and find that balance between rugby and my academic studies.”
Priestland has been coaching down at Beechen Cliff School since June 2019 and the Blue, Black and White fly-half admits he has been amazed with the professional set-up the young players have there with the Partnership Programme that Bath Rugby provide.
He said: “It is worlds apart from when I was that age. I didn’t go to a specialist rugby school. I was just concentrating on my A-Levels and rugby was just a hobby for me back then. If you look at the boys now, they have their own strength and conditioning coaches, they do their own analysis, they have their own conditioning programmes and it’s like a professional outfit down there and they are all dedicated.
“Just seeing how dedicated they are down there - the coaching team have built a really good culture and I would love to see some of those guys step up into the Senior Academy and train alongside us at Farleigh House.
“It would be a surreal moment that I have gone from coaching them at school and then training alongside them. A lot of them are so physically developed at a young age because of the attention to detail that they get from all areas, that it gives these young men a chance to play from a lot younger age.”
Priestland has been able to enhance his coaching qualifications and knowledge by gaining invaluable experience from Performance Pathway Coach Ryan Davis. The half-back said: “I have learnt a lot from Ryan Davis, who works with the first team and then also leads on the programme at Beechen Cliff.
“It is good that I see him most days so we can catch up on certain things and get feedback from him in terms of my coaching and delivery. I think Beechen have a fantastic set up there and what Bath Rugby are putting into that programme is fantastic.
“Hopefully that partnership will keep developing and more first team players can go and help out there. I remember when I was younger and a current professional came to speak to the group, it always carried a little bit more weight, so hopefully more players that are thinking about doing their level three qualification in coaching will think about going down to Beechen and lend a hand. They can have a huge influence not only on Beechen Cliff and those boys there but potentially on Bath Rugby in years to come.”
As the Pathway at Bath Rugby continues to strive towards a 50% home grown squad, Priestland gave plaudits to the system and highlighted the talent that is coming through the ranks.
He said: “There are loads of quality players in that programme at Beechen Cliff. We have had four down here at Farleigh on a number of occasions, those being John Stewart, Frankie Read, Orlando Bailey and Ethan Staddon, and I’m sure they will make the step up into the programme here in the next year or so.
“They are just a few to name, Beechen Cliff has a fantastic set up, it’s a great school. They invest a lot of time into their rugby programme and Bath Rugby also invest that time in them to help develop the as players and you can really see the benefit from that with the side going through to the AASE Final for the past two years, which is no mean feat.
“For me it’s important to speak to the lads and give them perspective. I speak to them about what they want to do once they have finished school and most of them say that they want to be professional rugby players and it is trying to make them realise that it is great to have goals like that but realistically how many of them will actually make it to get professional contracts.
“It is our responsibility as coaches to make sure that they grow up as well-rounded young men and that they don’t put their eggs all into one basket. It’s great that they have the drive and ambition, and they know more about the game than I did at that age, but it is about keeping their feet on the ground and investing their time into their studies as well as the rugby side of things.”
Priestland explained his difficulties that he has faced when coaching the side and detailed how the similarities between the playing styles of Bath Rugby and Beechen Cliff aren’t all that different.
He added: “Most professional players have an idea on how the game should be played and if they were going to be Head Coach, they have a system on how they would do things and it’s one thing having those ideas but it’s another thing then conveying them.
“The sessions are short, and you only have a small window in which you can get your point across, so you have to prioritise. What I have learnt in my time there is that you have to pre-plan, think about the session and really prioritise on what they main areas you want to the side to work on.
“I have a lot more empathy on the coaches in the first team at Bath Rugby because you cannot focus on everything, so it is about picking the priorities for the week ahead.
The playmaker moved onto explaining how the playing sides at Bath Rugby are similar to those that the Club have partnerships with, he added: “There is an alignment across Bath Rugby and their partnership sides. From the first team, United, U18s, Beechen Cliff and the University sides will all play in the same way.
“We have the same structures and calling systems and that is a big help when coaching. I am able to translate that to them and show them clips of what we are trying to do in the first team and then hopefully they will be able to pick that up and it just speeds up to process of getting your points across to them and their learnings from it.”