Behind the Castle: Meet our Community Manager
This week, we go Behind the Castle to introduce you to Ruaridh Pye who has been the club's Community Manager since 2016.
Born and bred in the Scottish capital, Pye was a rising star at Currie RFC and Edinburgh District before an injury stopped his playing career short, but kickstarted his coaching journey early.
Having working as a Development Officer at Currie RFC and with the City of Edinburgh Council, Pye joined Edinburgh Rugby in 2016 and quickly set about turning the club's community programme around.
We caught up with Ruaridh as he discussed his pathway to the club, the ins-and-outs of the job and his aspirations for the programme moving forward.
Ruaridh - can you tell us about your early beginnings in rugby, and where your first link to the sport began?
"Rugby has always been in the family, my great grandfather and grandfather were borderers and plied their trade at Selkirk RFC. My father also played and, as is often the case, wanted to relive his youth through his sons! He wanted to toughen us up from an early age and more importantly instill the core values that overarch the sport; respect, leadership, achievement, engagement and enjoyment.
"Royal High was where it all began. At an early age, rugby and I never really saw ‘eye to eye’, or ‘cheek to cheek’ for that matter… I didn’t quite get the rationale for throwing myself head first at moving objects, notably legs, getting a closed fist to the face, or being stamped on when lying in a muddy puddle in the middle of a sleety January downpour at the age of five!
"As I grew older with my team-mates things got more competitive, the focus changed from so called ‘enjoyment’ to actually wanting to win games, leagues and trophies. It became a talking point in school on the Monday, a talking point that even got the girls interested. Well that was a game changer, it became cool to talk about the tackle you made or show off your war wounds.
"I rose from being a ‘B’ team player at Royal High aged 14 to representing Edinburgh at U16, U18, U19, U20 and Scotland U19, U21 squads. Within two years my development as a player rocketed. I thought for the first time, there could be a career in this. I played my Colts (U18’s) Rugby at Currie RFC under the great leadership of the late Campbell Reynolds, Porky and Bob Ormiston. Colts rugby is where my fondest memories lie, what a laugh we had!
"I was then drafted into the 1st XV just shortly before my 18th Birthday, under the great leadership coaching duo of Todd Blackadder and Andy Nicol. The step up was huge, the physicality and intensity was like nothing I had ever experienced, however that said, I scored five tries on my debut, had my face in every paper and the rest is history...
“Only joking, fast forward two years and a number of club and representative matches later, I broke my spine in a tackle and the rest is now history!"
"It was terrible at the time, especially for my family and friends but it puts life into perspective. I appreciate now, what I previously took for granted. Sandy Lyle – whom many will know, is one of the best physios in the country, she was instrumental, and I will be forever grateful for the time and effort she put in to getting me back on my feet. She still runs the touchline week in week for Heriots, a true hero."
Was coaching and working in the community a role that you always wanted to take on post rugby?
"As a chosen career, no. I had aspirations to become a pilot, however the guidance, support and internet wasn't as easy to access back then. My Nokia 3210 struggled with anything - bar snake! I then changed my focus to become a firefighter. I went through the process but failed at the final interview stage. They basically said I was to young with no life experience. At the time I was 18 and working part time as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre.
"However, one man's loss in another man's gain, and a month after returning to my feet aged 22, I was offered my first job in rugby as Currie RFC Development Officer. It was a cracking job and I'm sure anyone reading this will know what I mean when I say, ‘we ran rugby camps differently up there!’ I had been out of work for nearly two years before I took on that job, and it was a brilliant way for me to get back into rugby.
I couldn't necessarily play the game, but this was the second best option in still being able to stay connected to the sport that I love. As things progressed, I moved on and stepped up into a local authority position with the City of Edinburgh Council."
"I’ve always had a passion for coaching, especially 7s having played at Melrose a number of times. That’s a real sport, no hiding places, it tests you in every aspect of the game, technically, tactically, physically and mentally. I have and am still fortunate enough to travel the world with some coaching teams, however it’s not as exotic as its sounds… unless you land a gig in the Caribbean, Dubai, Hong Kong or Melrose!
"I have worked alongside some great coaches, Graham Shiel, John McKitterick, Stan McDowell and Roddy Grant to name but a few and coached a number of teams on the elite invitational and international circuit; Scottish thistles GB 7’s, China 7’s, Ireland 7’s, Cyprus 7’s, Rugby Ecosse and Storm."
How did your start with Edinburgh Rugby come about?
"I've always been an Edinburgh Rugby supporter. I always wanted to play for Edinburgh Rugby, just like most children who grow up in the city and the Lothians! It was the club I always wanted to support.
"I always came along to match nights and helped out with a previous Chief Executive, Craig Docherty, in the early 2010's. I would do my bit on match night and basically volunteer my services to the club. For a long time, the club had a great community programme, but there was never any real structure or strategy to it, and as rugby development grew and progressed, the club really felt that it was something that was potentially missing. And something that was required by a professional club.
"That was when another former Chief Executive, Jonny Petrie, came to me and asked whether I would like to take on more of an official role within the club and see if we could take a look at the community programme, take it to bits, rewrite it and basically re-launch a new community programme for Edinburgh Rugby.
"So it was a continuation of the work I had already achieved at the club, and it was then taken to next level as the community programme grew further."
How difficult was it, within that first year, in ripping up the playbook and implementing a new community programme?
"By that point in time, I'd had eight or nine years of development officer work under my belt. So for me, being a supporter of Edinburgh Rugby and working with the club as a volunteer for a number of years, I had a really good idea of what would work for the club as a community programme. I had an opportunity to strategise, re-engage and develop a programme fully backed by the pro team.
"I knew the strategy in my head, it was innovative and exciting. The MD and myself had a shared version of, this is where we're at now, and this is where we've got to get to. It was basically a clean slate which is perfect. There were no preconceived notions of where the club was or where it could be - it was basically an opportunity to say, let's starts from ground zero and let's see what we can make of it.
"At that point, it was a brilliant project to get involved in and given the freedom to take it in my direction was a great challenge and one I continue to immerse myself in."
How much does it help that you're from Edinburgh?
"Yeah, it obviously helps massively. I know the city inside and out. I know all the clubs and schools inside and out. Ive got a contact list longer than my arm of all the individuals within the game who do so much for rugby in the city. I’ve also got close links and good relationships with key people in the city and further afield that can help the programme and drive it forward.
"Being a former club development officer and having the relationship with the local DO's to start with was a great help. They have been a massive help in taking the Edinburgh Rugby community programme from where it was, to where it is now.
"We are one team in Edinburgh, it is hard for me to do this job with only myself and Andrew Whitelaw - the other member of our community team - Andy [Whitelaw] has been great, he is a passionate rugby guy and gets it. He steps up to the plate and adds real value to the club. His delivery style is second to none, which is apparent whenever anyone comes into contact with him. He tackles challenges like I tackle a family bucket meal – fully committed till the end. We also rely on the support of volunteers, schools and partner organisations which I am very grateful of."
You were given the opportunity to rip up the playbook and implement your own initiatives within the community programme, what have you achieved so far?
"It was obviously an opportunity to start again and start from a clean slate, and I think we’ve been able to do that. Looking at the strategy of the programme, it has aligned to the key pillars of the club, while it will provide us with the opportunity to hopefully, at some point, turn the Edinburgh Rugby community programme into a foundation – a charitable trust – which will allow us the chance to grow and implement more programmes.
"There are only two of us at the moment running the programme, so we would love the opportunity to expand and in turn be able to run bigger and better initiatives for the whole community. The medium to long term aspiration of the whole community programme is try and develop it into a charitable foundation, and at that point, we can potentially apply for grants and funding which will allow us to increase our resource with regards to staff members as well as invest money into the current programmes and make them even better."
What are some the current initiatives that you have rolled out and you are most proud of?
"There are a number. We’ve taken a slightly different approach to rugby development because we don’t have a youth or girls section within the club. Because we are aligning our community programme to the key pillars within Edinburgh Rugby, we have also been backed brilliantly by Main Club Sponsor, Principal and Propser – who have lent their name to one of our most beneficial programmes.
"The P&P Prosper Programme is one initiative that we’re really proud of. It’s designed to work with kids that are disengaged with school or at risk of exclusion. Those that don’t enjoy school or have challenging backgrounds, and we try and make things a little bit more interesting for them, while still trying to tick of some of the local and national government targets that they have to achieve.
"We had Keith Cook, the British Fencing Champion, who came in for an afternoon and spoke about growth mind set and his journey from being a young guy living in Pilton, to being a British Champion on the international stage. We also had Michael Prentice – one of the leading chefs in the city – come in and chat about nutrition and share advice on how to make simple, nutritious meals without spending too much money. It gave the guys a brilliant opportunity to get hands on in the kitchen.
"We’ve also had the Scottish prison service come in. We had a prison warden come in and chat about his life and type of stuff he sees on a daily basis to try and steer the kids from potentially getting involved in a life of crime, or ending up in an establishment like a prison.
"This is just a small example of some of the initiatives that we are currently rolling, but we hope that we can continue to make a difference in the community moving forward."