SOUTH African Rugby Players Association (Sarpa) CEO Piet Heymans has made a commitment to boosting education and player development, as well as training players on social media, in line with the organisation’s efforts to protect them and ensure their wellbeing.

The project, Heymans said this past weekend, would be funded mainly through fundraising efforts initiated by the Sarpa Foundation.

This initiative is expected to focus largely on junior players, with the programmes set to include career planning, distance learning diplomas and life skills, while they will also be coached on using social media.

"Two of our major drives next year will be to try to reduce the heavy load on the key players due to the long and physically draining season, and to put a lot of money and time into player development programmes. The players need to be aware that there is life after rugby, so we would like them to study to equip themselves sufficiently for this.

"Unfortunately players in Australia and New Zealand have been more open to that than our players, so we want to work hard on that."

Asked what age groups the programmes would be focused on, Heymans said they would be available to players across the board, although there would be a specific focus on junior players.

"Some of the areas covered in the courses would be career planning, having the players undergo psychometric tests to determine what career paths would suit them best and with that comes distance learning diplomas and life skills programmes," he said.

"We would also like to assist them by arranging job shadowing, which will enable them to get a feel of the industries they are interested in, and to get them to buy into businesses and find jobs."

On the need to guide players on the do’s and don’ts of social media, Heymans said: "Social media is still a challenge for many players. So we need to coach them on what is appropriate to say and what isn’t."

Antidoping, he said, would also be a key aspect of the education programme: "Some junior players are still not fully aware of what substances and medication they can and cannot take, and rather than calling us to find out, they take it anyway.

"So we need to educate them on that to prevent unfortunate incidents where players take banned substances unintentionally."

Looking back at the season, Heymans said although it was a tough year, there were some positives. "One of the big challenges for the players this past season was that they had to adapt to having a new Springbok coach (Heyneke Meyer) and that takes time because every coach does things differently and most of the time the structures change," he said.

"The decision to include the Southern Kings in Super Rugby also presented challenges because although it was a landmark victory for the Kings, it created despair for the Lions.

"That said, it was particularly commendable how the Lions management handled the situation by agreeing to loan some of their players out to other franchises for the Super Rugby season. One also has to give credit to Altmann Allers (Lions deputy president and equity partner), who kept the union going through extremely tough times.

"On a positive note it was great to see the under-20 Bok team win the Junior World Championship, it shows the fantastic talent we have in the country. Although for many of them this will not guarantee a clear career path, so it is good to have competitions like the Varsity Cup and the Community Cup to keep players in the game."