Rugby has had a huge positive impact on the life of young Llanelli Wanderers prop forward Tom Janes.
The 21-year-old tighthead has autism and ADHD and found socialising and mixing with other people challenging. But since becoming involved with the Scarlets community programme, he has made big strides forward.
That link up came about through the Scarlets’ hub officer Jonathan Griffiths, who is part employed by the WRU.
Griffiths used to coach Tom at Division One West side Llanelli Wanderers and has seen first hand how he has benefited from being involved with the programme.
“When I was coaching Tom, he was very quiet. He wouldn’t speak to anyone,” he said. “After training and games, he would just grab his bag and shoot off straight away. He wouldn’t socialise with anyone.
“I then picked up an email from Llanelli Mind asking if I could do some work with a group of students who had been struggling with mental health.
“So I went down to meet them and there was Tom in his Wanderers kit. He started opening up to me that day, saying how he was struggling with his mental health. No one at the club had been aware of his situation up to that point.
“Since then, we have put together a plan of what we could do. We delivered a rugby leaders course which would enable him to coach Tag rugby. He did two sessions in Llanelli leisure centre doing the theory side of it and then we had one of the local schools in.
“Tom completed his qualification and we invited him in to work for the Scarlets community team part-time. So any events we do, like with the kids playing at half-time on match day, activities in the barn or any camps, Tom runs that.
“Since doing this, he has completely changed to the way he was. He has grown in confidence and become more outgoing in rugby and life settings.
“He will stay on after Wanderers games and have a few pints for the first time. He is sociable, he talks to everyone. He is much more comfortable in the environment. He literally lives, eats and sleeps rugby. He’s extremely passionate about the game.
“He now has more ambition to move on to better things with his life and has just completed a forklift course.”
Tom’s father, who is also called Tom, says his son’s involvement with Llanelli Mind and the Scarlets has made a big difference.
“This last 12 months has been a real eye-opener for him,” he said. “College didn’t work out for him and he was at a very low ebb. He went into himself and wouldn’t leave the house. He was very downhearted.
“He was then given the opportunity to go to Mind and have a chat to people. They were doing some exercises and Jonathan was involved with that. It all went from there.
“It’s shown Tom that people are willing to understand and accept his problems and he can still get on in life. He used to be shy and struggled to mix, but he has got a lot more chatty now.
“He’s really enjoying his rugby with the Wanderers and the Scarlets days are phenomenal for him. It’s like Christmas every day he goes down there.
“Being involved with the community programme has really helped him. He has got new avenues of conversation and can talk about things at a different level.
“Rugby has proved to be a life changer for him.
“Credit to Jonathan, he has put in the hours and it has come to fruition. He has done well for him.”
Tom Jnr himself, who has been playing rugby since he was 11, is also keen to thank Griffiths, saying he has been “very helpful”.