Wigan coach Matt Peet stands at the side of a local primary school hall and watches members of his squad talk to children about dealing with pressure.
It’s a subject that Peet familiar with. Not just because of his status as Super League’s youngest coach at 37, and the fact he is in the rare position of not having played professionally.
But because 13 years at his hometown club has shown him the exact level of expectations in the rugby league-mad town.
“The presentation that we give in schools is about being excited about pressure and enjoying it, seeing it as a privilege,” Peet explains.
“The whole thing is connected. What the players talk about in school assemblies, is linked to our whole pre-season.
“Our message to every player going forward is that if you play for this club you have to enjoy pressure and thrive on it, and the best way to do that is be connected as a group and have clarity in your mission.
“I’m excited about it. That’s why I’m at Wigan. From that sense I don’t know any different – I’ve been at the club a long time and I know the expectation. I’ve always just seen it as part of the fabric of the club.
“I know there’s a lot more pressure on me personally now but that’s what excites me – if I can enjoy it then the players can.”
Back in the school assembly, and the Year 5 and 6 pupils at Platt Bridge are captivated by a combination of insights from the four players present, and the community foundation’s education manager Guy Wood, who helps create a vibrant energy in the room.
After months of delivering their sessions online, the team is now back in schools with a new programme Warriors Unite, which sees every first team squad member involved.
It’s something Peet himself is hugely passionate about. His detailed weekly coaching schedules include dedicated time for schools and community work for his players, something he believes has multiple benefits for all involved.
“I want our lads to remember their roots,” Peet says. “I want to take them out of their comfort zone to get amongst the people of the community, all different walks of life. We have young players speaking in front of 3-400 kids, and that brings them out of their shell a little bit.
“The fact we’re getting them out doing it in groups, it helps foster that connection between team-mates. There are so many positives from it. I want our town to feel like we play for them, but I also want our lads to know that they represent a lot of people.
“I feel any sports team benefits from having its area, town or city behind it. But us in particular, I feel like we’re a special town that’s produced a lot of special athletes over the decades. I feel that our town has a history of building things, making things, of creativity, honesty and hard work. We want to tap into that through the season.
“Personally, as a product of the community game, a lot of my contacts and friends are hard-working people in the local game and I know how much the club means to them. I also see so many players and members of staff that were all products of the community game.
“I think it’s important that we continue to support that and build on it so there’s more quality people coming through, more fans – and lifetime fans, not just people who might play for a year or two and then lose interest. They could end up as volunteers, spectators or coaches, and I feel it’s the right way to build a club, from the bottom up.”
Peet himself was an amateur prop playing in Leigh’s reserve team when he decided to hang up his boots aged 21. He had already caught the coaching bug taking charge of an under-12s team, beginning a path that took him to Wigan as a scholarship coach in 2008.
Peet coached the club’s academy and under-20s teams, became head of youth and worked with England sides at junior level. After a brief spell with Sale Sharks, he returned to Wigan as an assistant, and now heads a new coaching team that will work alongside his long-term mentor Shaun Wane in his newly-created leadership role.
An avid reader and student of both rugby league and coaching in general, Peet is a firm believer that his remit at Wigan extends beyond what happens on the field every weekend. “I know I’ve got a bigger responsibility than just the first team and I think our players do as well.
“It’s important how we perform on Friday nights, but it’s also important that we set a good standard for the town and represent the town in the correct manner the whole time. I feel like the rugby team is the heartbeat of this town, and if we give people something to be proud of then they’ll support us no end, through good times and bad.”
While Peet has first hand experience of the expectations of the club, the biggest difference next year is that the main spotlight surrounding the Warriors’ fortunes will fall on him. It’s back to that keyword of pressure.
“I still think a lot of people don’t recognise me, probably because there’s not been a lot of stuff televised,” he adds. “But generally there’s been well wishes. Most people you see face-to-face are very supportive and encouraging, and are excited. There’s a lot of excitement about it being the club’s 150th year and it’s important that our players understand that and thrive on it.
“I’ve loved it so far. It’s felt really natural to me on a day-to-day basis. I’m used to coaching, it’s what I’ve done for a long time. the place is familiar, the people and the staff are friends and familiar faces.
“But I know that when the season starts and shots start being fired, it’s going to crank up in intensity, which I’m looking forward to.”Internet Explorer Channel Network