Canadian ‘born-and-bred’ Robin MacDowell is the epitome of sheer determination.
Former Rugby Canada International player, and one of the most knowledgeable 7s coaches around, MacDowell has made it his life’s journey to grow the game of rugby; putting his heart and soul into discovering untapped talent and inspiring the next generation of players to ‘Dream.Believe.Succeed.’
What started out as Robin driving around the country in his old pick-up truck seeking out up-and-coming rugby players has evolved into the acclaimed MacDowellRugby Academy – touted as a ‘high performance academy, without the high-performance culture’.
Next month, the Academy will launch a 10-month program at Cowichan Secondary School in Canada with students from all over the world focusing on building the skills for a successful rugby career alongside a strong academic curriculum, and community leadership development.
Back to the beginning …
Having tried his hand at multiple sports growing up, it was not until self-confessed ‘sports-mad’ Robin was introduced to rugby by his high school teacher that he says he found his true calling.
“I just fell in love with rugby,” he says. “I had played a lot of sports, but I never had that natural talent for any. Until I tried rugby.”
MacDowell played continuously on the high school rugby team until graduation, and locally until at 19 years of age he was offered the exciting opportunity to pursue a professional rugby career in both France and Italy.
After several years sharpening his skills abroad, Robin returned to Canada to start his journey of making his dream to play Rugby 7s for Canada into a reality.
“I tried out for the Canadian Men’s National team for 6-7 years straight and kept getting cut,” he says. “But I knew I had to make it. My driving force was that I wanted to inspire the next generation of players and I knew that had to involve me making the National team first.”
In 2005, MacDowell was successful in being selected to play for Canada and had the privilege of playing on the 7s team for three consecutive years, with a ream of impressive highlights and memorable moments.
“The pinnacle for me was playing at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia,” he says. “Playing in front of 70 000 people and representing Canada at a multi-sport event was absolutely thrilling – a major highlight.”
After his retirement from his 7s career in 2007, Robin says his commitment to the sport did not falter. “I wanted to continue to help to develop the sport I love,” he says. “And to me, the best way to do that was through the recruitment and retention of quality players. I have spent countless hours driving around the country looking for untapped talent, running sessions, and setting teams up for success, as well as taking on numerous national and international mentoring roles; all in the name of the betterment of the game.”
A twist of fate …
In a twist of fate, in 2011 at a tournament in Havana, Cuba with The Dog River Howlers, MacDowell offered his support to a participating Women’s team who did not have a coach. One of the players happened to be a Mexican International player (Rosy Rivera), who was so impressed with Robin’s coaching ability that she recommended he be recruited to assist to coach Team Mexico.
A few years later, her recommendation became a reality when Robin was invited to work with the Mexican National Women’s 7s team, resulting in a win at RAN in Mexico City (2014), competing in Hong Kong (2015/2018), a bronze medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games (2014) in Veracruz, Mexico and Barranquilla and in Colombia (2018), and even making it through to the World Series Qualifier in Ireland (2015); all with Robin at the helm.
It was after this successful five-year stint with the Women’s team that MacDowell was then asked if he would take on the role of Head Coach of Mexico, with the goal of qualifying for the World Cup in San Francisco in 2018.
Robin took to the task; running a number of preparation camps on a ‘shoe string’ budget and setting the team on a direct course to the World Cup Qualifier. Needless to say despite losing several key players and having to use the national development team to play, against all odds Mexico won the final against Trinidad under Coach MacDowell’s leadership.
“That was a really special time for all of us and it changed the course of history for rugby in that country forever,” he says. “We really grew the game in Mexico – by the time we had finished up in 2018, there were more girls playing rugby in Mexico than in both Canada and the USA. We had successfully inspired a generation of young girls to take up the sport and push themselves to be better in all areas of their lives, which was incredibly rewarding.”
Introducing MacDowellRugby Academy …
On the back of his success in Mexico and seeing the tangible results of how rugby could change lives, MacDowell decided to start his own Academy and program, to be launched at Cowichan Secondary School next month.
The program provides students with access to various high-profile mentors and coaches and runs five days a week, with the daily schedule incorporating a full morning of associated rugby activities such as on field exercises, gymnasium/indoor skills, gym fitness, and hill running, followed by academics in the afternoon, and additional sports in the evening.
Robin says the energy behind the MacDowell Rugby Academy motto of ‘Dream.Believe.Succeed’ is to have a dream, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and ultimately you will be successful.
“I wanted to develop students by giving them the physical and motivational tools to support their academic, athletic, and life aspirations,” he says. “I saw there was a gap in what was being offered in this regard. There were private schools that had similar programs however they are not always within the reach of many families. I really want to create a balanced and cost-effective program with world-class coaching and a world-class team to develop these untapped youth and set them up for success in all facets of life. I see rugby as the world’s most inclusive sport, so it is only fitting that access to the game is afforded to all.”
Coach MacDowell continues …
Although Robin’s primary role is as Director of Rugby and Island Academy Head Coach of MacDowellRugby Academy, he has also held coaching positions at the University of Victoria, University of British Columbia, and University of Regina, bringing over 27 years of national and grassroots level sports coaching experience to his athlete-centered approach.
For the past six years, MacDowell has additionally worked with the Canadian Men’s and Women’s 7s pathway programs (2017 Youth Commonwealth Games, Youth Olympic Qualifying Champions, FISU Games Men’s 7s), and more recently with Rugby Canada at the Center of Excellence in Victoria with Senior and Junior Olympic 7s Programs, as well as taken on a major role in talent identification.
In an exciting new development for 2021, Robin says: “I am also looking forward to being part of the highly-anticipated Premier Sevens in early October in Memphis, Tennessee. It is an inspiring time for all athletes, with so many opportunities on the horizon and new doors opening for them to pursue their dreams to the fullest.”
Despite a hectic schedule, MacDowell remains committed to his mission of upliftment and empowerment within the rugby fraternity. “For me, it was like coming home when I found rugby, so I feel like it is my duty to help others to find that safe place too and to develop them not only as an athlete but as a person through the game of rugby,” he says. “This is a calling and lifelong journey for me – I didn’t choose rugby, rugby chose me.”
For more information about Robin and the MacDowellRugby Academy, and how you can sign up for his programs and sessions, please visit https://www.macdowellrugby.ca/ .