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Upright Rugby Canada: This is Where It Starts

Written By: Chris Perotte

The Passion Starts with a Spark

There’s a fire, There’s a passion that burns within me. There is a purpose and there is a reason why I do what I do. I have a goal. I have a dream to reach my destination.

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a live rugby match, whether it’s at a club level or our Canadian National teams, I strongly recommend that you do. You will see men and women with fire in their eyes and passion in their soul as they play a sport they have loved for a long time. Enthusiasm pours out from their veins as they use every ounce of energy on the pitch to score that try. It is a sport unlike any other.

But where does the spark come from? Where does it start for people who have played the sport for years? Who sees the potential in young boys and girls and help them to become the rugby players they are today?

The passion and love for the game starts oftentimes at Upright Rugby Canada. The individual behind the program is Tyler Leggatt, a high school teacher at Abbey Park High School in Oakville, Ontario. Leggatt is the founder of this organization.

Leggatt started Upright Rugby to assist young boys and girls between the ages of 10 to 18 in developing their rugby skills with the goal of providing knowledge to help the kids reach their long-term rugby aspirations. Leggatt has been dedicated to helping young people reach their full potential in this sport through Upright Rugby Canada since 2007, and the results and success of his students speak for themselves.

“Working with kids is fantastic. I’m a teacher. That’s my actual profession and I do that full-time. So I enjoy working with kids, I enjoy teaching and coaching and I enjoy seeing them learn,” says Leggatt. “But the other side of it is seeing them grow and find success as players.

“Just recently we had a few players who would have been in my summer camps, probably as many as seven years ago. One is Callum Tam and the other one is Josh Engelbrecht. These young men have gone on. Josh is at Queen’s [University] and he just got OUA Rookie of the Year, and Callum, in his first year over in Hong Kong, received a professional contract with an academy over there and he is training with them.”

A Sample of Upright Rugby Players

Eighteen-year-old Engelbrecht from Oakville, Ontario received the 2017 OUA Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the Queen’s University Gaels Rugby Team (located in Kingston, Ontario). He feels Leggatt played a large part in him receiving this award.

“One of the first people I texted [after receiving the award] was Tyler,” says Engelbrecht. “Every time I get an accomplishment or named to a team, I always like to check in with him and thank him for everything that he has helped me with.”

“Definitely, Tyler has had a huge role to play in that whole thing. I’m always very quick to thank him and let him know when something like that happens.”

Engelbrecht first joined Upright Rugby Canada when he was 11 years old. Shortly after moving to Canada from South Africa, Engelbrecht wanted to be involved in a sport he was familiar with. Since rugby is such a big sport in South Africa, he decided to pursue the sport in Oakville, Ontario where his family resides. When he found out about the Upright Rugby Canada program, he immediately signed up, and has been with them ever since.

“For as long as I’ve been in Canada, I’ve been a part of the Upright Rugby Program. I started in their U12 Winter Touch Rugby Tournament. That was something that was held every Saturday,” explains Engelbrecht. “It would be all the kids from around Oakville, the GTA, and some even further would come every Saturday. It was held at a place called Pine Glen in Oakville. It’s an indoor soccer arena so you play year-round there. On Saturdays we would have a touch tournament. That’s my first experience with Upright and I’ve a been a part of it ever since.”

For Engelbrecht, Tyler Leggatt’s Upright Rugby Canada organization is where he fell in love with the game and where he learned the skills necessary to be successful in this sport.

“Definitely with Tyler’s Upright Winter Academy, I don’t think there is an academy like it in Canada for sure. It builds my skills up like no other program,” explains Engelbrecht. “Coach Tyler has been able to build my skills up from ground zero. He is fanatical about perfect pass techniques and breaking down skills to the base level, then building them up.

“I think he is one of the coaches that has taught me the most out of all the coaches that I’ve had, just because he has been with me for so long and I’ve been a part of the program for so long. I would say without that program, I would not be anywhere near where I am today.”

When you talk to Leggatt about his role in Upright Rugby Canada and how he teaches and mentors the young people, he stresses the fact it’s not about him and the accolades towards him but the program and how it helps these boys and girls succeed in rugby, and in life. All of the young people that have had success after leaving the Upright Rugby Canada program return to help Leggatt coach other boys and girls in the system.

“I think one of the really neat things about what we offer is the long-term growth and development of young people,” explains Leggatt. “Giving them an opportunity and experience in rugby as a venture and not just as a player. They learn what it’s like to be a coach and a student, and they get some insights of what it’s like to run a business in the sport of rugby.”

Callum Tam, a former student of the Upright Rugby Program, currently plays rugby in Hong Kong. He says that beyond the field, he learned something just as valuable as the skills of the game.

“Respect. The biggest thing I learned through Tyler was respect,” shares Tam. “Not many kids such as myself –especially growing up in Oakville – have a good sense of respect. Tyler imbedded respect into me. I would never be the person nor player I am today without Tyler guiding me through everything.”

Tam also shared that the Upright Rugby program taught him how be dedicated and disciplined. Through Upright Rugby Canada you learn more than just how to be a good rugby player.

“He [Tyler Leggatt] also teaches you how to be a good person. He believes it’s just as important,” says Tam. “It all helps you. It shows coaches you want to learn and that you’re keen on anything.”

Taylor Black is seventeen and currently resides in Oakville. She has been a part of the Upright Rugby program since she was 12 years old. In 2017, she was named the Ontario junior rugby player of the year. An honour she was surprised to receive.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Black. “There are so many great girls that I train with that the competition is definitely high.”

Black also expresses that going through the program at Upright Rugby Canada contributed to her success in achieving that prestigious award.

“Definitely,” enthuses Black.

“My passing and overall skills would not be anywhere near what it is now if it wasn’t for Upright Rugby.”

“Even the last few years I’ve been helping coach at Upright Rugby and I’m still learning things. Every time I’m out there with them... They [Upright Rugby] definitely had a huge impact on me.”

I had a chance to visit the Oakville Soccer Club where Upright Rugby Canada runs their Rugby Rogues Seven Program. Over 72 young men and women, ages ranging between 14 to 23, were in attendance to continue to develop their fundamental skills of the game.

One of those individuals in attendance was 20-year-old Grayson Perry from Oakville. Perry already knew some of the people in the Upright Rugby Program. He saw how they improved their skill-set through the program and he felt that if he wanted to become a better player, Upright is where he needed to be.

Perry has found the Sevens program to be a very rewarding aspect of Upright Rugby Canada.

“I’ve learned a lot, got a lot faster, and started to read the game better,” says Perry. “Then developing over into Fifteens, just seeing the game completely differently. Seeing opportunities I wouldn’t normally see.”

Being a part of Upright Rugby has allowed Perry to build up his confidence. When Perry isn’t playing rugby, he works in construction. Working as a team, working together, being able to resolve problems and discuss what’s happening in his line of work is similar to what he does on the pitch with fellow rugby players.

Since joining Upright Rugby, Perry has had the opportunity to play in rugby tournaments outside of Canada, in places like Denver, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Barbados. Perry’s goal is to one day play for the Canadian Men’s Sevens or Fifteens National Rugby Team.

Parents Pride

Some parents were also at the Oakville Soccer Club supporting their children as they went through the 90 minute drill session.

Gavin Jacklyn, a resident of Brantford, Ontario, was out to support his daughter, 13-year-old Grace. As a player/coach for the Brantford Harlequins Rugby Football Club, he has seen firsthand what the Upright Program has done for his daughter and for other young players as well.

“She is one of the kids that just loves rugby,” says Jacklyn. “Obviously, with me playing and still coaching, she’s always been involved, always been at the field. She just loves it. Loves going to practice. I think she likes practice more than she likes games.”

Jacklyn also expressed how Upright Rugby helps his daughter and other teens to be good overall individuals.

“I think that’s first and foremost,” says Jacklyn. “They’re getting experience of playing some international games. Meeting a lot of new friends. Getting good conditioning, good nutrition, and just going to be better athletes and better people as they get older.”

As a proud father, watching his daughter follow in his footsteps has been an amazing experience.

“It’s unbelievable,” praises Jacklyn. “Tyler [Leggatt] has done a great job. Tyler also has a lot of assistant coaches that I’ve known through the rugby program over the last 25 years. Outstanding, stand up guys. There has been so many guys that have come through here that have played for Canada. And girls! They’re playing at the high university level, for Canada. They've got a lot of coaches now involved that were Canadian players. So 'skies the limit' for Upright Rugby.”

The sky is definitely the limit for all of these boys and girls who have come out for the passion of the game. To improve upon their skills and become the best they can be at the game of rugby. These young people are being led by Leggatt and the assistant coaches who take them through the drills of defense, tackling, and passing.

Care for the Players

Rugby is a contact sport and unexpected accidents can happen. Even during a Rugby Rogues Sevens practice. That’s why Upright Rugby has Kayla Chafe, Certified Athletic Therapist on the sidelines during the session. For the past three years, she has been helping Upright Rugby and their students with their athletic therapy and nutrition. To be able to lend her skills to assist the young people that have come through this program has been very rewarding.

“What’s most rewarding is a lot of my athletes that I started with have graduated out of this program and they’re coming back but mostly in a coaching capacity,” says Chafe. “Seeing how the young kids look up to them has been really nice.

“I would say one of the things from a therapy standpoint is how serious these kids have taken the therapy. I come to every training session. Myself and other athletic therapists go to the tournaments, and they really take what we are trying to provide them and run with it.”

Chafe provides maintenance programs to these young people who in turn go off on their own to see what they can add to it to make themselves healthier individuals. It certainly makes her job a little easier knowing how seriously they are taking their health.

When it comes to younger boys and girls, obtaining a comfort level with them is key in teaching about their bodies, their health, and stretching/training techniques.

“When you have a 12-year-old that really doesn’t know anything about the body, you’re really trying to teach them. This is the muscle that’s bothering you. This is how you are going to stretch it. This is what its going to feel like,” explains Chafe. “Making sure that they are comfortable coming to talk to me. Sometimes when they are really young, they’re a little scared, they’re a little hesitant to come over and say 'this hurts' or 'I did this and can you help me'. But once they start seeing me around a little bit more and at the tournaments and having fun with them, knowing that they can come over and talk to me and that we can help them is pretty fun.”

What’s Next

The ripple effect of Upright Rugby Canada is far reaching. As the Canadian Men’s National Rugby Team battle and put all their efforts into their last opportunity to qualify for a spot at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, their team will more than likely have former Academy players from Upright Rugby Canada on their roster.

On the first weekend in March, 2018, Upright Rugby Canada will be sending some of their young boys and girls to represent Canada at an upcoming Sevens Rugby Tournament taking place in Las Vegas.

At this year’s Las Vegas Invitational, Upright Rugby Canada will be the largest participating program at the tournament. They will be sending an unprecedented eight teams to this event. For an Upright Rugby Sevens program that is just four years old, it is a major accomplishment to be sending that many teams to the tournament. It also shows the success the program has had in just a short period of time.

If you have a son or daughter who has an interest in rugby, encourage them to join Upright Rugby Canada.

“Just come out and see for yourself. There are great people here, great coaching. Guys who come here that are new, they’re welcome as soon as they get here and you can tell that they’re enjoying themselves,” shares Grayson Perry.

The atmosphere at Upright Rugby Canada is like family.

The passion and love for rugby will always be here and will continue to grow in the hearts of the youth at Upright Rugby Canada.