05/07/2018 15:34 BST | Updated 05/07/2018 15:34 BST

I'm Passionate About Getting Women Involved In Male-Dominated Sports

Rugby coach Kirsty believes she's found her passion in life.

 

I’m the oldest of four and we’ve always been an active family. I’d wanted to join the forces, but instead I ended up in a series of jobs in finance. I was 100% fed up with my nine to five, felt inactive and wanted more in my life.

The week after my 30th birthday I went along to my local rugby club, Sutton and Epsom, to give women’s rugby a try. From that first session, I was hooked. It felt like the rough and tumble I’d loved as a kid - just really fun with the adrenaline of throwing yourself into something body and soul.

Rugby gave me an exciting escape route and now everything I do is rugby-related - in and out of work.  My parents are really proud of what I’m doing to empower women and I’ve found my passion in life.

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From my first rugby session, I was hooked

I played for a season at Sutton and Epsom, then came to Wimbledon RFC which had a more competitive women’s side. Every week I wanted to play better - rugby had given me back my motivation in life. I went to weekly training sessions, plus matches and all the time I was building my social friendship set, not just my skill set.  

I was such a keen bean that when the club asked me to create and coach a new girls’ squad, I jumped at the chance. I started out by training a couple of girls on frosty Saturday mornings but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But I could see that they were having an amazing time, just like I did when I first discovered rugby. I’ve since done all my training to become a rugby coach, and I’m constantly working on my personal development, so I can be a better coach.

Word spread and Wimbledon RFC now has an amazingly talented and committed squad of girls of all ages. My focus has always been on having fun - if they enjoy it, they’ll keep coming back.

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Rugby has given me a whole new life

Rugby gave me the impetus to leave the world of finance and I joined a kids’ sports activity company, Fit4Sport, and worked my way up the ranks. I relocated to Scotland and started working for Cricket Scotland as a women and girls’ development officer. I’m really passionate about getting women and girls more involved in competitive sport. But rugby is my real love and a year later, I was lucky enough to get a job as a full-time rugby coach at one of the top rugby clubs, Harlequins, in London.

My new role is working with women and girls coaching at the club and working within the community to raise the profile of rugby as a sport girls can play too. It’s been a very exciting journey in a short time. I’ve always been passionate about gender equality and now I get to empower girls to believe they can do just what men can. It’s not a lesser game, just a different style.

Challenging the gender stereotypes

When I’m wearing a dress and I have my hair down, people are quite shocked, especially guys, that I play and coach rugby. A lot of them don’t know rugby even exists for women, and they’re surprised we play by absolutely the same rules. Generally speaking, I get a really positive reaction.

Essentially, my role is empowering girls, aligning the gender gap and normalising rugby for girls. Rugby is still a male dominated sport, but women are gaining recognition and being taken increasingly seriously. There are still many challenges to overcome but the female game is moving forward. Increasingly schools are keen to jump on board and let the girls have the same opportunities as the boys.

I firmly believe in the RFU’s key values - teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline, sportsmanship. If you can instil these core value and reward them, rather than just for a try being scored, people will be more motivated.

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Celebrating different body shapes and sizes

Playing rugby is a fantastic way to celebrate different body shapes and sizes - agile and nimble backs and big, strong forwards, and all with an important job to do for the team.

In rugby we take their strengths and build upon them, but it’s always about the team effort. You can have a big strong girl and she will be an absolute power house and a tiny scrum half who’s an absolute whippet, and they absolutely complement each other and need each other in this game.

Rugby is a wonderful antidote to our selfie-obsessed society. Girls discover that strong and big are beautiful and can be a real positive in the game. I train one under-15 who was entirely inactive and now she plays every week and is working on body management, building her strength and fuelling her body positively.

I’m massively safety conscious, so I insist on mouth guards to prevent potential tooth loss and guard against concussion. I focus on getting into good healthy habits, so I encourage the girls in good mouth guard hygiene, cleaning their teeth after a match and keeping hydrated by drinking water, not sugary fizzy drinks, as we produce more saliva when playing sport.

I love seeing girls who may have had body image issues discovering how valid they are in the team. They pop out of their shells and become friends with a whole bunch of new girls. It’s wonderful seeing the girls become more confident, not just as rugby players, but as people.

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