To celebrate Father’s Day, we’ve caught up with Olympic silver medallist James Rodwell to find out how he balances fatherhood with life on the international rugby sevens circuit.
James is a dad to two boys – George, who is two and a half years old and four-month-old Oliver.
England’s most capped sevens player, James was a part of the Team GB squad which won a silver medal as rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio last summer.
How has becoming a father changed you as an athlete over the last few years?
Obviously your priorities in life change massively. When I started out in my sport, I would usually spend my downtime playing a bit of Xbox and just generally chilling out.
Now, I finish training, I get home and it’s straight into being a dad. This has massive positives as it’s an unbelievably easy way to switch off from what you’re doing at a professional level and certainly keeps me young and keeps your energy going – you know you have to be fun and enthusiastic with kids so it helps me performing on the pitch as well as helping out off it as well.
As an athlete, how do still manage to fit everything in around your training?
The most difficult time is the first few months of a baby’s life – or the first year probably – where sleep is deprived and you have to turn up to training, you’re feeling tired already and you haven’t even started a Monday morning yet.
Our rugby sessions are up to two hours long and it’s being able to switch on and fully commit to that time.
When you have your downtime or rest sessions in between training, it’s important to maximise them and make sure that you’re fully prepared for the next session.
We have anything between two and four sessions in a day – not all of them rugby – but in terms of maximising performance, it’s important to get the most out of every session that you can.
It’s about prioritising and maximising your time when training and knowing that when you get home, you can switch off from that part of life and switch on to another part.
Is it not difficult when the sport requires you to be away from your family?
When we travel, we can be away for up to three weeks at a time playing two tournaments. Obviously you’re there 24/7 and you’re solely focusing on playing as well as you can, so the distractions are there.
But there are definitely times when I’m missing my family and my wife Amy is very supportive and understanding.
Often I wake up when I’m away with a video of George and Oliver just to give me a bit of a lift, so when I have those down points I’ll flick through my videos and just use them as a reason why I’m still playing the game and doing something I love and trying to make my family proud.
Now that I’ve got two new additions to my family, that’s much more prominent in my mind as well. Every time I go out to play, I’m thinking about how I can impress them and one day they’ll have to watch the videos of me playing no doubt.
I don’t want them to be disappointed so it’s a great distraction in the sense of knowing that rugby isn’t absolutely everything, but I use it to drive my performance and my approach every day. I’ve got the full support of my family behind me who help me push myself to reach those limits.
Does being a father help put everything into perspective?
Definitely. However tired you are with a toddler running around, it gives you an absolute boost of energy and there aren’t many better things in life when you get home, walk through the door and your son runs up to you shouting ‘daddy!,’ wanting the biggest hug.
You can have the worst day in the world and that will pick you straight up. It’s part of the reason why I keep playing the game.
Does your oldest son George have any idea of what you do?
He knows I play rugby – but he thinks that I’m playing in every game he watches on the telly – even though I’m sitting next to him!
I managed to get him onto the pitch at the end of the Twickenham 7s tournament to come into the changing room.
He got really upset when I said we had to go but he’s just the typical toddler. He’s full of energy to the point that he runs out and gets upset.
He’s watched me on the TV a couple of times and he’s been to Twickenham twice now but as I said I’m hoping to keep playing to the point where he can remember me and enjoy that moment with me.
Do you swap a lot of dad-talk on the England 7s team?
There’s three of us in the squad with children now – Dan Norton has a one-year-old and Dan Bibby too. When we’re away, we’re all chatting about how everything is back home and we have that support for each other.
If things are difficult back home then your focuses are fully on the reasons we’re there to compete. It’s a good place both physically and mentally – we’re definitely on hand to help each other out.
Did your wife see you win your silver in Rio?
No – we made the decision due to her being pregnant to not risk travelling.
She was at home watching it all on TV keeping me posted with how the family were enjoying it.
Will you be encouraging your boys to get involved with sport when they're older?
I loved every single sport growing up and it was rugby that came out on top. I certainly won’t be pushing George or Oliver into playing rugby – I just want them to be active and outside as much as possible and help create that healthy lifestyle that has served me well.
If they end up down the route of rugby, I won’t be disappointed because of the amount of friends that I’ve created over the years through the sport and the bonding and the camaraderie that comes along with it is massively important. It develops you as a person as well and puts you in good stead for the future.
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