Most people just complain about trouble in their community or simply look the other way and hope the problem goes away. When former WWE champion John “JBL” Layfield saw social problems in the form of youth violence in his locality he decided to help make a change.
In 2009, as Layfield’s storied wrestling career started to wind down he moved to the island of Bermuda with his wife. While the island is idyllic, he noticed a disturbing trend in the local paper. It seemed that every day there were stories about young people acting out in violent ways against one another.
He wanted to do something to help these kids have a better purpose for their lives but he wasn’t sure where to start. The pieces of the puzzle he was trying to solve started to fit together when he attended the 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer in South Africa.
“I went to the soccer World Cup in 2010 in at met with Nick Keller of Beyond Sport,” said Layfield. “We were at the bar one night and he invited me to one of these shanty towns where he was working with these kids. We went to this large shanty town outside of Cape Town, which is the biggest in the world, and I fell in love with the idea of using sport to change kids’ lives.”
“When I was staying in Bermuda I was seeing so much about violence and gangs that I decided I wanted to do something to help those kids. I started looking around for a sport. It was just in the newspapers everyday about youth violence and gang violence, drugs, and I just wanted to do something.”
By seeing the impact that sport and positive mentors had on the disadvantaged youth of Cape Town, Layfield was inspired and determined to find something athletic that would help kids in Bermuda. Very soon he found a sport that was foreign to him as a former American football player, but represented the ideals of community, teamwork and goal setting — rugby.
“I love the ethos of rugby, the principles of rugby, the integrity of rugby,” recalled Layfield. “I think all of that makes it a completely unique sport and I thought it was perfect to work with our kids. With a sport like that there is contact and they didn’t have any contact, rugby was perfect for them. You don’t need 22 players and all the equipment, you just need a ball, some green grass and some kids who want to play. So, it was the perfect sport for us and that is how I got into rugby.”
“So, we started up the (rugby) program with six kids who were there mainly because we were giving them free pizza and fast forward seven years and we won an award out of 7,000 programs in 14 countries that recognized our work with at-risk youth,” said an excited Layfield. “It is an island-wide initiative now. I started it, but I do not deserve the credit for the success. The success comes from some incredible volunteers and incredible coaches who do some wonderful work, they are the real boots on the ground. I love rugby! I still don’t understand the intricacies but what a fun sport!”
Beyond Rugby Bermuda made connections with the local rugby community and community partners to start and continue the program. Patrick Calow, the rugby youth development officer for the Bermuda Rugby Union has been on the front lines with Layfield in growing the program.
“Beyond Rugby Bermuda supports and inspires youth to reach their full potential on and off of the rugby field,” explained Calow. “It combines the coaching expertise of the Bermuda Rugby Football Union (BRFU) with the therapeutic skill of the Family Centre staff to attract some of the highest-risk youth and achieve the high levels of commitment and engagement required to help youth and families make lasting positive changes in their lives.”
The program is not just about sport but it is about nurturing the whole person. They provide daily homework support, rugby coaching, dinner transportation, and social skill development for all of their players. This structure and mentorship is helping to make drastic changes on the island of Bermuda.
John Layfield spoke about the growth he has witnessed in his players’ lives.
“We had kids when we first started who wouldn’t even be on the same practice team because they were from different gangs,” said Layfield. “When we played the private school for the first time it was the first time these kids were ever on the private school facility, they weren’t allowed. They are playing these kids from a complete different socio-economic background and afterwards they sat down and had pizza with them. We made sure they were interspersed with them and they all just got along. For the first time in those kids’ lives on the small island of Bermuda there was just friendship and it all came about because of sport.”
Hundreds of kids have come through Layfield’s rugby program and his island is better for it.
- Apr. 12, 2018: Rugby is JBL’s current passion
- June 15, 2012: Ain’t no mountain high enough for JBL
- Nov. 30, 2011: JBL talks Lou Thesz Award, future in WWE … and rugby!
Caleb Smith really likes rugby and wrestling. He has seen for himself how sport can change a kid who needs direction and a positive role model. Perhaps you might want to volunteer in your community? Go and do it!