Rugby is so much more than a sport. It’s an incredibly powerful tool which, if given the chance, can be used to shape the lives of women and girls across the country.
The skills rugby provides extend well beyond a player’s time on the pitch. Teammates often become lifelong friends, and clubs become family. Many international players still speak to this day of the life skills that rugby has given them.
However, for many young girls, rugby isn’t an option. PE lessons in schools are segregated based on sports which ‘appeal’ to both sexes. You know the drill, girls are encouraged to play netball and hockey, whilst boys can choose from football and rugby.
It’s time for change.
Girls Rugby Club is calling for rugby to be made available to girls as part of the school curriculum, or as an extra-curricular activity.
I caught up with Girls Rugby Club advisory board member Elinor Snowsill, who knows exactly what impact rugby can have on young girls in school.
Through her work with the School of Hard Knocks, a charity dedicated to delivering life-changing programmes through sport, Elinor works across a range of deprived schools delivering rugby sessions to groups of girls.
But its more than that. The Welsh international explained how much the sport means to young girls, and the potential rugby has to change lives for the better.
“We make time for these girls when no one else can. Rugby is a powerful tool that can be used to develop young girls in incredible ways. So often I see this breakthrough moment when the girls hit a bag at full pelt or make their first tackle. Their backs straighten, they stand a bit taller and they realise, for the first time, that they are capable of doing anything they put their mind to.”
She went onto explain:
“We give these girls an excuse to get out of their normal lifestyles, to stop hanging around on the streets, and stop getting into trouble. They are given something to channel their energy into, and it might sound strange, but rugby becomes a bit of a safe haven for these girls.”
“In my sessions I often use role models in women’s rugby to open up some difficult conversations about overcoming barriers. It’s not just about playing the rugby, its about creating a safe space for them to discuss things they might not have been able to talk about before.”
Lockdown has had an incredibly negative effect on young girls up and down the country. Their self esteem levels have taken a huge hit. Elinor explained that often when girls come to their first session, they are nervous. Often, they have their arms folded over and their shoulders are hunched up. However, a few sessions later, and it’s like she is faced with a different group of girls.
And don’t just take her word for it. A survey of female rugby players in the United Kingdom, conducted by the Girls Rugby Club in 2020, found an overwhelming 90% of respondents said that playing rugby improved theirself-esteem and confidence.
I strongly believe the work Elinor does will have a huge impact on so many different girls’ lives. Often, young girls just need somebody to believe in them, someone to tell them they can succeed, and give them the skillset they need to do so.
I know this because I was one of those girls. If it wasn’t for a community coach called Gordon, I probably would never have picked up a rugby ball, and I wouldn’t be writing this article right now. I hung out with the wrong crowd and didn’t care much for any sort of sport because I was so insecure about my body. I distinctively remember the moment I hit a tackle pad with such force and voracity; I surprised myself – I didn’t know I had that sort of strength inside of me. From that moment, I was hooked.
I want other girls to experience this feeling, but right now, most of them can’t. Full contact rugby isn’t an option for girls at schools. Most PE teachers either are not trained to deliver full contact sessions, or don’t have the budget to bring in a coach who is.
Rugby taught me so much, it introduced me to so many people and gave me a community which never gave up on me, and I think every girl deserves that.
Through various different camps, Girls Rugby Club have proved the demand for full contact rugby is there. However, as with most issues in women’s sport, the infrastructure and funding just isn’t available to make this happen.
Ultimately, if this campaign is taken seriously, as it should be, then we could be seeing huge growth in grassroots girls’ rugby. Women’s rugby is already one of the fastest growing sports in the world today, and with a little bit of help, we might just be able to accelerate that growth.
This call is more than just Its about giving these girls a chance to change their future, a chance to explore something that could make a huge positive impact on their life, and all you have to do to make this happen is sign and share our petition at https://chng.it/PwprXJNStY