Skip to the content


Celebrating Black History Month | Soul Phoenix interview

Soul Phoenix is an England Touch Regional Development Officer, Schools Development Officer and proud member of the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Working Group. He is the coach of the current Men’s 45s National Touch Champions - Midlands Tigers, manages Nomads Touch club and is an ambassador and advocate for positive mental health. He is also an accredited Life Coach. England Touch Equality and Diversity Officer Tatchen Dawodu-Alcide spoke to him.

Tae: What was your journey into touch? 

Soul: I'd been playing rugby union from a very early age, pretty much all my life, and I got to a point where I was approaching 40 and, whilst it didn't feel like the end was nigh physically, I was aware of the fact that I probably couldn't do this forever! 

I was looking for something else to do. I'd seen some of the old rugby players get into cycling or triathlon, and I was like "That’s not for me!". Or they're going out walking and things like that, which is just not competitive enough for me.

So I saw someone who played Touch Rugby for England Men’s 40s at my local rugby club and got involved in the Touch Rugby activities that he and some of the other enthusiasts were organising. I enjoyed it so much that, not long after, I made the decision to pursue it seriously - and that’s really where my journey began.

I soon saw an advert from England Touch inviting people to trial for England and I was fortunate to get included in the Men’s 40s squad and then I was even more fortunate to get selected in the final squad to go to the European Championships in Italy in 2012! I was really inexperienced but I fully accepted that fact - I worked really hard, I listened and learned as much as I could about the sport. I think that’s what ultimately got me in. Obviously, after playing a tournament at that level I’d really found my feet as a touch player, so when I returned to England I was determined to bring the sport back to my community and grow the game. That’s the story of how I got into touch and it’s been an amazing 10 years since then!

Tae: How did you feel after that first tournament, when you went to Italy?

Soul: My brother was a British athlete - actually our top long jumper for many years. He's an Olympian, a World Championship gold medalist and a Commonwealth silver medalist. He's done so many amazing things and I always wanted to do something to represent our country as a sportsman just like him. I obviously really looked up to him. Through his influence, my first sport was of course Athletics. I went to our local stadium as a youngster with him. One summer he and some other athletes put together a summer holiday training scheme for kids and I was there for the whole five weeks. I think that really set me up with an athlete's mindset. I would dream: “Imagine playing for England? That would just be awesome!” 

So when I got off the plane in Italy for that first tournament, it was surreal! I know that some people would like to think of Touch Rugby as a minor sport and that you're not really representing in the same way as people who play football for England, but ultimately when it comes down to it we’re all athletes and when you represent your country, you're representing your country. It's as simple as that. 

It was an amazing experience to do that. It was something that I was so proud of. As I said, it was completely surreal. And then afterwards I just wanted to really try to help the sport grow. I wanted to be somebody who was responsible for its development, you know? So that's what I came back from there with, definitely with that sort of intent that I wanted to basically do my bit, to try to grow the sport and help people. So yeah, I've been trying to do that ever since.

Tae: What advice would you give to someone who wants to try touch?

Soul: I wouldn’t just give advice, I'd give encouragement! For example, it’s one of the few sports that you can go from beginner level to international level very quickly if you want to take it seriously enough. The only thing I’d add is that if, like me, you come from rugby union or another rugby code, then start with the understanding that you have more to learn about the game than you have to offer - it’s actually a different sport. 

Not everybody wants to be really competitive though and that’s the other brilliant side of Touch. It’s very social. You can just enjoy it as a fun leisure activity and have a great time whilst keeping yourself healthy-fit, playing with your family and friends, both male and female, and benefiting from the positive impact on your mental health. It really is a sport for all. Whatever you’d like to get out of it, my advice is to get yourself down to a local Touch Rugby club, and they will always be very happy to welcome you. Alternatively, get in touch with your regional development officer - of which I am proud to be one.  

Tae: You touched on it just then by saying that Touch is very social. Aside from that, what else do you enjoy about Touch?

Soul: I enjoy the fact that it's a game that rewards teamwork over talent. It's not a game where you can have one good player in it, and he or she can do everything. Don't get me wrong, of course, if you’ve got a good player then it's a strength, but a good player has to have people around them who know what they are doing. Teamwork is in the very fabric of the game and the team with the best teamwork will usually do better than a less collaborative team with more talented individuals. So whilst ability is still, of course, important, it ultimately rewards co-operation.

It’s also the same reason I think it's great for kids as it teaches the value of service over self-interest. The other thing is the physical demands. It pushes you to look after yourself in terms of fitness, it's got a great mix of needing to be fast, but at the same time needing to have great endurance, being able to do that with skill and agility and fluidity and all the rest of it.

So as an athletic sport, it's also really fulfilling because you've got so much to work on. And then there are the new skills you get to learn! I’ve talked about the fact that I was a rugby union player, but I had to gain a whole new set of skills to play touch. There were drills that I approached where I set myself big targets: “I'm going to do 10,000 of these before the next European Championships”. It gives you that sort of challenge - to get good at things that you can’t do yet. I love it! 

Tae: Could you expand on what those skills were that you had to develop for touch?

Soul: There are so many skills I could mention, but even the most basic skill of putting the ball down after a touch has so many layers to it. There’s the skill of being able to do it on the run, being able to do it standing still but very quickly. There's the skill of how you do it under pressure because maybe the person who's coming in to touch you is not going to make it easy for you. Are you in a good body position? Is your stance strong? Are you getting low enough? If you end up not putting that ball down right, then it weakens your attack and gives an advantage to the defending team. So that's just one thing - dumping - which most people might think: “Isn’t it just about putting the ball down between your legs?” but as you can see there's plenty of opportunities to improve the way you do it if you’re trying to progress to the higher levels of competition.

Tae: Speaking of the high level, do you have a game that stands out most that you've played in and why?

Soul: I would probably say the game that stands out is my first ever game because I was so nervous. My concentration levels were super high because I thought: “I cannot make a mistake!” I was just trying to get everything right, trying to remember everything that my coach had taught me. Fortunately, not long into the game, my coach broke through and I managed to get on the end of his pass and get the ball down for my first ever international score. And it felt amazing! To be fair, the rest of the game is a bit of a blur but it’s a moment I’ll always remember.

That was my first international - a really interesting one, I think we did go on to win it, so it was a happy ending and funnily enough, my final international game before I retired was also against Wales.

Tae: That’s nice and quite fitting that it panned out in that way.

Soul: Yeah, I've come full circle and played my last one against the same team. It was really nice and it's lovely that during that time there were many of the Welsh players that I liked as their really good guys. We know each other and I would have been quite happy to play on the same team, because like I said before, touch is really social. Obviously, when we are competing against each other, we want to win. Beyond that, I’m thrilled for them when they win. They've beaten us many times - like in the final of the 2016 Euros. To be fair that probably would have been the game that I would have remembered most but for the fact we lost - so it’s maybe one I’m trying to forget!!! 

Tae: Is there anything within touch where the home nations play as one Team?

Soul: It doesn't, although when the 50s originally began they formed a Great British team to go to the World Cup as each of the home nations didn’t have the numbers to compete as a standalone team. And from my understanding, it went down really, really well. Everybody enjoyed it, as probably a lot of those people would have known each other and played against each other, making friends over the years - so I can imagine it was great. I was a little bit jealous because I wasn't 50 yet so I couldn’t be involved! But the Great British team disbanded because there’s now more than enough people for each individual home nation to form a 50s team. 

I don't see why we can't do more of the same though, for example, you could enter some of the tournaments on the continent. There was a ladies one recently at women's 40s level where they entered a Eurostars team. So not just the home nations but some of the European countries combined. And again, it shows you that thing about Touch - it's very easy for people to make friends. Even though I've retired from international Touch, if something like that came up, that might be the sort of thing that I'd be quite interested in getting involved with because of the social aspects of it and playing with people that I've been maybe playing against but not played with before. I'd probably be quite keen - you’ve given me an idea!

Tae: Nice, I'm glad I planted the seed. My last question for you is: Do you have a favourite sports quote? 

Soul: Yes, I do. “Champions have a motivation that is higher than winning”. I’m someone who recognises that the right motivation makes the right outcome much more likely, however, motivation is something that isn’t always focused on enough - perhaps through a lack of understanding. I think it’s an area that we really need to improve in as sports coaches.

We are England Touch

Some space. A ball. Your mates. A game
Your team. A competition. Maybe a trophy or two
Work hard. Develop skills. Get selected. Represent your nation
Volunteer time. Pick up a whistle. Make a difference
This is England Touch. Pick up a ball and play!