IF you want to become a sporting superstar, these days you normally haven’t got a chance if you didn’t take up your chosen sport as a young child.
But even the likes of Maria Sharapova, Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney probably didn’t pick up a tennis racket, golf club or pair of football boots at the age of two.
However, that is exactly the age at which a Copthorne couple are starting to teach youngsters how to play rugby.
Husband and wife Andrew and Emma Apps, from Copthorne Bank, who met while working for the military in Afghanistan in 2003, have launched Rugbytots â where children aged between two and seven learn to play the game.
As rugby might seem a little rough for toddlers who have only been walking for a few months, Emma explained that the more physical side of the game is left until they are somewhat older.
She said: “We try to make it all about fun and get children used to the idea of working in teams and learning the principles of sport.
“For example, we have one game where a coach puts tags on the children, and they have to chase each other and pull the tags off.
“We don’t have them getting into scrums!”
Sessions for the tots are held in Copthorne and East Grinstead, with lessons to start in Crawley later this year, and Emma revealed that even as toddlers you can tell if a child has been blessed with an ability to play the game.
She said: “There are some children that are obviously very well co-ordinated and have a natural talent for sport.
“Starting young can give the children a head start before joining a rugby club, as they have already picked up the basic skills and developed their confidence.
“You can often see the children that obviously have a real talent from an early age, and many professional players start from a very young age.”
The lessons’ youngest wannabe Jonny Wilkinsons get to grips with running with the ball, kicking, catching and scoring a try â all with foam balls.
Emma added: “It is also important that children of this age begin to develop social skills, and we promote these by encouraging them to share, take it turns and work together.”
Andrew, 35, and Emma, 36, met while he was an army officer and she was a media relations officer accompanying a journalist on a mission in Afghanistan.
During Emma’s six-month posting in Kabul â the country’s capital â romance blossomed, despite challenges not normally encountered when couples date back in Britain.
“Andrew sent his troop out on a mission to find some flowers for me,” Emma explained.
“Flowers aren’t as easy to find out there as they are here, so I was so surprised when I walked into my room and there was a huge bouquet of flowers waiting for me.
“I didn’t expect it to happen at all; you don’t expect to find your soulmate when you’re working in a war zone.”
After returning to the UK and getting married, the couple settled in Copthorne, where Emma grew up, and now have two children.
They decided to take over the East Grinstead branch of Rugbytots when they weren’t able to get their little boy, three-year-old Oscar, into one of the classes â and the first session with the couple running the franchise took place on Saturday.
They have also decided to set up sessions in Copthorne and Crawley, with the first Copthorne class taking place on Sunday.
Emma is hoping the business will become successful enough that Andrew, who is a full-time reserve military officer and a career manager for the Crawley branch of the Territorial Army, can become a fully-fledged civilian again.
“To be honest I’d like him to be at home, without the risk of him being sent out to Afghanistan again,” Emma admitted.
“He was away while I was pregnant and gave birth to Oscar. Being out there is tough but I think it’s tougher being the one left behind.
“I take my hat off to the military wives who are separated from their husbands continuously.”
Rugby Tots sessions take place on Sundays at 1st Copthorne Scout Group’s hut on Borers Arms Road, and on Saturdays at Imberhorne School, in East Grinstead. Crawley lessons will be launched later this year, at a venue which is still to be decided.
For information on any of the sessions e-mail andrew@ rugbytots.co.uk
Military couple who met in Afghanistan open rugby school for toddlers in ...