Rugby and charitable causes give Alex Laybourne the pathway to Power2Inspire
Even just a brief glimpse at the potted history of Alex Laybourne’s career shows two overriding features – rugby union and charitable causes.
The Lambs head coach, Scotland women’s under-20 head coach, Sweden head coach, director of rugby at Wisbech Grammar School, pardon the Scandinavian pun but it really is the smorgasbord of experience.
Those roles have their foundation at Loughborough University, which is also where Laybourne first got involved in the altruistic side of life.
The significance is that it is all brought together in Laybourne’s new role as deputy chief executive officer for Power2Inspire – the charity which aims to embed inclusive sport in the sporting, education and community landscapes.
Having attended Berkhamsted School, the former hooker’s primary rugby club growing up was Aylesbury but having reached the first team there while studying for a degree in psychology at Loughborough University, a back injury curtailed his playing opportunities for a spell.
It was during that time that Laybourne decided to turn his hand to coaching to fill the void – and found an instant connection with the discipline.
But also while at Loughborough he came into contact with a charity called BOOST – Building On Overlooked Sporting Talent.
It funded the development of students to become coaches to go into inner-city schools to deliver coaching and run projects.
Laybourne got involved in the scheme as it ran out of the rugby club.
“BOOST is a national charity and Loughborough is one of their projects, so I ran that project for Loughborough out of the rugby club,” he says.
“I did the matchday operations and admin for the rugby club [Loughborough Students] alongside it, as we were going up through the leagues.
“I had always enjoyed the sporting side and that charitable cause element. I have lots of fond memories from there.
“BOOST and Loughborough are massive in terms of my past history and development. When I look back, I realise how much I learned and how lucky I was to be in those environments.”
After three years, while also studying a part-time masters, Laybourne wanted to run a rugby programme and earned the job of head of rugby at Wisbech, which he did for eight years, with four of them as deputy head of sixth form as well.
During his time at the Cambridgeshire school, Laybourne became Scotland women’s under-20 head coach for two years, between 2013 and 2015.
“If you saw the side that drew with France last October – Scotland have been developing their rugby and have lost to France for the last 18 years – that match-day squad had 10 girls that had come through the under-20s programme while I was there,” he says.
“I think, last count, we had 18 that have been capped having come through the 20s programme.”
While working at Wisbech, Laybourne also started overseeing the Lambs, the England Independent Schools representative team.
Having been involved with the Midlands side in the 2012/13 season, a panicked phone call ended up with him leading the side that year.
One thing led to another, and when one of the national coaches was unable to go on a tour of Ireland, Laybourne was asked to step in, which he did to some success as the Lambs went unbeaten.
“We beat all the provinces, and after we got back, maybe a month later, I got a call saying the coach and manager were stepping away for different reasons so would I be interested in being involved in the national set up,” he explains.
“It’s been great for my development in terms of working with some young, talented players and developing that more player-led coaching style.
“With the Lambs, we try to get them to lead as much as possible. They are all coming from different environments so they are sharing ideas and I guess the role there is to pool ideas together to create something that works for those players.”
Having been appointed as Sweden head coach in January this year, it completes an interesting set.
It means that Laybourne has coached juniors, women and men which begs the question, what is it like working with the three very different groups?
“I like to allow the players to lead on discussions and ideas, and ultimately let them come up with some ideas. Obviously, some need more guiding than others,” he says.
“Some of the junior players, like at school for example, they would need more information than say the Lambs guys who come with lots of good ideas.
“You are trying to put it into some form of shape.
“They create different challenges – kids and in the women’s game, they ask a lot of questions.
“They will ask why we are doing this, and it makes you think. I learned a lot coaching the women at Loughborough at 18, 19, 20.
“There was a girl who was my first captain, Elle Snowsill, who is now playing for Wales and Bristol, and played for the Barbarians, and she used to ask all the time ‘why are we doing this?’ and that partly accelerated some of my learning.
“You are thinking ‘I need to know why I’m doing it’, rather than just going through the motions.
“When you coach men a lot of the time, they have ideas of the way they have played the game in the past.
“The great challenge with Sweden is there are some really great athletes and it’s trying to get them to play a more expansive brand of rugby and getting them to think a lot more, so challenging them.
“It’s been really interesting. What’s good out there is that I have to learn a lot more about the culture and their background, so I’m learning in a completely different environment.”
Another new environment for Laybourne is with Power2Inspire.
Having been a trustee of the charity from September 2019, when the role of deputy chief executive was created, he expressed an interest to founder and CEO John Willis.
“The charity has grown quite a lot and has been steadily growing over [the first] lockdown with the success of the Virtual Boat Race we had and the seat-based exercise classes,” says Laybourne.
“The success of those was on top of the growth where the charity already was in terms of the amount of Powerhouse Games – we were due to run 45 last year before Covid.
“Through that growth there was the need for that extra capacity and John needed someone to challenge him and bounce ideas off to try to take us to the next level.
“I’m just really enthused about Power2Inspire.
“Having been a trustee for a year, and seen the growth and potential, there is huge satisfaction of what we could achieve from here.”
He added: “Those things have always been important to me, and are the things I’ve been passionate about so I have followed those areas.”
Laybourne is now definitely in the right position to bring his two passions together to use the power to inspire.