As we are currently in the midst of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, there is no better time to attract girls aged between 13 and 18 into playing rugby. Rewind 35 years and the most dangerous sport I was allowed to play was Lacrosse. It was very physical but non-contact. As a young teenager, full of aggression, I turned to sport to channel my temper. I joined netball, lacrosse and the athletics team, and then finally found my favourite in Fencing.
This gave me the sort of contact that I needed, and I excelled at it.
As a kid, I used to go to my local rugby club with my parents and watch the 1st team games on a Saturday afternoon. I used to think about how good it would be to be able to play rugby. I think I mentioned it once to my Mum, and she laughed at me, saying something about girls not being allowed to play and rightly so…
(Thankfully, times have changed, and girls can do what they want!)
Fast forward 35 years to May 2015, and I set up girl’s rugby at my local club with the help of the This Girl Can campaign. They gave me a small fund to purchase some T-shirts, which we gave out to those who attended 3 training sessions, and signed up at the start of the season.
We signed up 23 girls, and it has grown ever since, with 3 of those original girls playing for their county.
From what I have seen and who I have spoken to over the years about girl’s rugby, I find that there are still many hurdles to overcome before we can really see this as a mainstream sport in schools, like it is for boys. If we teach it, and encourage it, not just as a sport but also as a good way of working within a team, more girls will join in.
From a fitness perspective, with obesity in young people being on the rise, this is a great way of staying in shape, as well as remaining fit, healthy, and strong. Rugby strengthens our minds as well as our bodies and gives us a good position to stave off mental issues like teenage depression and anxiety.
I spoke to a friend of mine, who was a keen netball player back in her younger years, although she still plays for fun now. She was never picked for county, even though she was good enough because she simply wasn’t tall enough.
She always had a competitive nature, and when she watched rugby, she wanted to get onto the pitch and get involved. Netball was good, but not enough for her, and she wishes that rugby were around for her when she was younger.
Rugby teaches young people more than just the game. The England RFU's core values (Teamwork, Enjoyment, Discipline, Respect, Sportsmanship) teach our youth a lot about themselves and also working with others.
These values can easily be translated into their work and social lives, and I am a firm believer that rugby is a sport that endorses the good in people.
Just look at the big games; opposing fans sit amongst one another in the stadiums, and any hooliganism is an extreme rarity (maybe on the pitch in a controlled way!), and I am proud that the sport that I love conveys that message to young people.
So, let’s embrace the sport for our young girls, let’s see more and more girl’s schools take on rugby as a main sport to teach, let’s see more grassroots clubs equal the numbers of girls to boys, and grow the game for everyone.
Rugby…it’s not just a sport, it’s a way of life.