As Summer of Parks features organised sport in parks, our latest staff blog comes from Fields in Trust Cymru Manager, Rhodri Edwards, who discusses how playing rugby helped shape him as a person and still provides lasting benefits.
Sport has always been a big part of my life. Although I no longer take part competitively, it remains a big interest and the impact of participating during my younger years continues to shape and influence my life today and I expect will continue to do so until I die.
From a young age, I was often playing with a ball, in school and at my local park. It was football mainly but also rounders and then tennis and cricket in the summer. Most of our break times at school and free time at home, where we would go to the park, would involve some sort of ball games.
Later, in primary school, I would get my first taste of competitive sport - mainly football for the school and also the local club. It was clear to me from the start and reinforced by my teachers and coaches that being active and participating in sport was good for my physical wellbeing. The idea of running around maintaining a level of fitness which helped my general health was obvious. When I reached my adult years, when my sporting involvement was a bit more serious and I would be mindful of being in the best condition I could be, I would watch my diet and my alcohol consumption which again benefitted my health. I missed many nights out with friends with matches looming!
I remember my teachers and coaches would also say some cliched stuff about the power of sport in developing good characteristics. I was a little dubious that playing around with a ball could have such effects but they didn’t need to convince me, I took part for the pure enjoyment of playing and any goals and wins made it even better.
At secondary school I was introduced to rugby and that gradually became my main sport although I would still continue to play football and cricket through my teens. Many weekends involved playing rugby for the school on the Friday, football on the Saturday and then rugby again on the Sunday taking me to parks and playing fields all around Wales. I look back and feel grateful for the support of my mum who had to wash all my kit and my dad who drove me everywhere!
Through University and into adulthood, I noticed that exercising and participating in sport not only ensured I was in good condition physically, but it helped my mental wellbeing too. I would get that boost from the release of endorphins after training and matches, it would ensure I had a good night's sleep which cannot be overstated and the simple fact that I knew I was reasonably fit made me feel good. Being part of a team and all the social benefits that brought also contributed to my wellbeing.
On the matter of wellbeing, Fields in Trust's Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research estimates that people in Wales gain wellbeing benefits of £1.6 billion each year in enjoying greater life satisfaction, including both improved physical and mental health, as a result of the frequent use of parks and green spaces.
"The standout benefit of sport to me was the friends I made. Nearly all the friends I have today are former teammates who are always on hand for a chat and help if needed. Of course, I have lost contact with many, but I will occasionally bump into some and we will recall happy times playing together."
Rhodri Edwards, Fields in Trust Cymru Manager
After University, I would go onto play club rugby for over a decade before retiring in my early thirties so it's been a few years since I've finished playing which has given me some time to reflect on my sporting career and the benefits it has given me.
The habit of training that I developed whilst playing has stayed with me, going for a jog in the park and weight training, so I continue to enjoy the physical and mental wellbeing I enjoyed while I was younger. Weight training in particular is proven to help combat age-related declines in muscle mass, bone density and metabolism so it is something I'm keen to continue.
As a child I was most doubtful about sport building character and helping me develop as an individual. Looking back though, I can see for example how it helped to develop self-discipline and commitment to train and prepare for matches, the ability to work and cooperate with others in a team and learn to respond appropriately to victory and defeat. Some of my favourite memories in life were the close evenly matched games, facing up to the challenge of your opponents with your team mates, working hard and coming out on top but we were always taught to show humility and shake your opponent's hand especially as you might be the loser the next Saturday. I was also fortunate to captain a few teams which gave me the experience of leading and trying to motivate a group. I learnt for example that everyone is different in how they respond to things and therefore needed to be motivated differently.
Above all though, the standout benefit of sport to me was the friends I made. Nearly all the friends I have today are former teammates who are always on hand for a chat and help if needed. Of course, I have lost contact with many, but I will occasionally bump into some and we will recall happy times playing together. Sport has also helped in my work for Fields in Trust as I often meet former teammates and opponents in a professional capacity and the acquaintance will help in getting relationships off to a good start.
Sport therefore has given me far more than just the enjoyment of playing with a ball but none of it would have been possible if it wasn't for my school field and local park where I got my first taste of playing and first developed my basic skills. This is why it so important that local parks and green spaces are protected, providing the necessary infrastructure for sport and activity to take place and it is why I take great satisfaction in helping Fields in Trust to protect such facilities. According to our recently launched Green Space Index, Fields in Trust protects 9.76% of Wales' total park and green space provision and while we are proud of that figure it means there is another 90.24% still to protect, so there's a lot more work to do!
Rhodri Edwards is Fields in Trust Cymru Manager. He can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 02920 334 935
Rhodri Edwards is the Fields in Trust Development Manager for Wales. He first joined the charity in 2001 as a Development Officer before becoming Development Manager in 2007. Rhodri has helped to secure the protection of over 100 sites in Wales, has been a member of Welsh Government Advisory Groups drafting legislation and policy and provides assistance to Sport Wales in its role as statutory consultee on playing fields. Rhodri has played rugby at a professional level and represented Wales at various age groups.