I have recently passed two personal milestones in my life so I have to warn you, I’m in nostalgic mood. The first saw me turn 30 last year and that in itself can be a big deal for some. But for me, August 2017 was so much more significant, because it marked 10 years in Sporting Marvels for me!
When I started at Sporting Marvels way back in August 2007, it was with the intention of playing a part in my Dad’s vision (and what he hoped to build in Rhondda) for a short one or two-year season of my life before going back to university to finish my law degree and perhaps train to become a solicitor. I certainly didn’t envisage still being here more than a decade later! But it's like Mark Twain says: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why!” Though I'd seen this quote before, it really resonates with me much more as a 30 year-old than an 18 year-old!!
I’m certain that everyone in Sporting Marvels, and I include those who've served us in the past as well as those in the present, all joined the cause with a desire and passion to have purpose in their lives; and I know that was the case for myself too. While it could be dressed up in many ways with all sorts of specifics, I think the core purpose for all of us, even if it didn’t quite end that way for everyone, was to help, and to play our part in the Sporting Marvels vision for the season that we’re here for. Whether that was to be off-field, or working in the office helping to provide sustainability for our three main components, or even on the front line going into the schools across the Rhondda to teach, coach and be positive role models to the children.
However, one thing that's always stuck with me since the day I first started here, was that if and when the time comes where I’m no longer needed to play a day-to-day role in Sporting Marvels, then I will certainly find another way to play a part. It’s because, just like my Dad, I want to play a part in something that positively affects Rhondda and its young people.
I know our awesome team of Marvels feel the same way too, because many of them were once on their way to a future a million miles away from teaching the children of the Rhondda, yet here they are investing in the influencers of tomorrow! They could have gone and done other things but instead, they have committed themselves to the cause of putting a positive role model in front of children in Rhondda for a season - a long season in many cases - of their lives. While no-one has sacrificed more than Phil of course, we can never forget the countless people who have played a part in Sporting Marvels. But the Marvels deserve special praise because role-modelling in a place like Rhondda, at the intensity the Marvels do year-on-year, is no easy or small thing.
Their commitment to the cause, and their heart for the kids, are qualities that epitomise why we do what we do. They are passion-filled, driven, and focused on pressing on to positively impact as many of Rhondda’s young people as possible. The unique way the Marvels engage with the children, not just from a teacher-child perspective, but on a friendship level too, is the reason, I believe, that so many children in the Rhondda love the Marvels! Their ongoing willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ is what has allowed each of them to become an integral part of the team, and it's what has made this current group stand out from the teams of the past.
This servant-heartedness is vital because there are now nearly 700 children participating in our Mighty Marvels Programme running in 75% of Rhondda’s primary schools; there's 200 young people that are with us on virtually a daily basis in the All-Star Programme; and that's to say nothing of the near 1500 pupils we engage with in lessons in our partner secondary schools. We’ve enjoyed five consecutive years of growth as a charity and our partnership with the likes of Rhondda Netball has also opened so many doors for our female Marvels.
There’s been five new schools added over the previous two academic years - Bodringallt Primary, Parc Primary, Ynyshir Primary, Ysgol Hen Felin, Rhondda’s school for children with special education needs, and of course Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda, formerly Cymer. And that’s not forgetting Treorchy Primary this year! The team have done exceptionally well integrating each school into the Sporting Marvels "family" and Chelsea & Smithy have proved outstanding leaders since their appointment as Team Leaders in April 2015.
Our team will have to be at the top of its game to raise the bar once more, but that’s why we start every academic year with Boot Camp to prepare the Marvels for a busy school year (see Smithy below, pictured navigating one of Pontneddfechan’s many waterfalls)! It's like Phil always says, "when the pressure comes on, the real you is always revealed!" A controlled pressure environment can be a priceless management tool that allows you to unpick, coach, refine and shape people at a deep level, and it shows the team plenty too! You get to find out who struggles with the cold or the fitness aspects, who goes into their shell and hides, who stops communicating, who's good (and not so good) at organising under pressure, who has a flair for leadership and crucially, who goes looking for the white flag when the going gets tough...!! But aside from the individual detail, Boot Camp always provides a time for pulling everyone closer together as a team, lifting expectations, and for ensuring that every team member is ready to carry out their responsibilities to the best of their ability.
It’s a remarkable fact that near enough all of the Marvels in the team today were once 10 year-old Mighty Marvels kids, being taught by the Marvels of yesteryear. And now here they are 8/9/10/11 years later, teaching the programme to the kids of today!! They're all products of what Sporting Marvels is doing in the Rhondda, and it’s a real honour to see them all become integral parts of the team with their special brand of heart and passion!!