I was 17 years old when a family tragedy struck and triggered a series of poor life choices on my part that led to me being expelled from school.
At that point in my life, I could easily have ended up down a very different path to where I find myself today.
Luckily, rugby gave me an outlet to focus my energy and taught me to channel my emotions.
This is the motivation behind my charity RugbyWorks, which works with teenagers who have fallen out of mainstream education. I have seen some of the most disruptive kids dramatically improve their behaviour, work ethic, and ambitions in life after working with us.
While all sport can be an outlet for negative emotions, rugby in particular teaches values of discipline, teamwork, and respect – traits that are just as valuable in the workplace as they are on the playing field, for both men and women.
This is why I believe that companies looking at their social responsibility agendas should think about investing in sport.
With traditional community institutions such as the local bank, post office, pubs and libraries rapidly disappearing, sports clubs are increasingly becoming hubs of communities.
Sport is a great leveller and a uniting force regardless of people’s religion, race, age or background. It brings together people who might never otherwise mix. Not only is that good for general social cohesion, but it also presents a unique opportunity for companies to engage with a highly diverse audience at a very local level.
Barriers to playing sports such as football and rugby are low. You don’t need a stack of expensive equipment or one-on-one lessons. If a pitch is provided, all you need is a ball and boots to play.
Investing in sporting facilities is therefore a way for companies to build a lasting presence in communities for the good of society, whether through bringing young people together, or getting our increasingly technology obsessed youth away from their phones and computers to do some exercise.
It is for this reason that I am supporting the RFU’s Rugby 365 campaign to build 100 community artificial grass pitches in communities across the country.
These artificial grass pitches will increase capacity in some areas and introduce rugby in others – with the aim of making the game more accessible to all, with dedicated pitch time for schools and local community groups, as well as rugby clubs.
Artificial pitches are the future. With space increasingly at a premium in our cities, they can be used all year round, in almost all weather.
Through providing these facilities, we expect to see more people from all walks of life take up rugby.
And this is where businesses can get involved. We are looking for companies to come on board and sponsor 40 of our community pitches.
This is an investment that will pay dividends, as these pitches become real community assets, bringing communities together, getting people active, and introducing a whole new generation to the values of rugby.
So if your company is looking to attract a diverse range of talent, give something back to the community, and ensure that the next cohort of young employees have the skills required for the modern workplace, investing in sport is the place to start.
To find out more about the RFU’s Artificial Grass Pitches programme and how you can get involved, visit englandrugby.com/rugby365.