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Grassroots and growth: what you can do to develop women’s rugby.

Women’s rugby is one of the fastest growing sports around. With the home 2015 Rugby World Cup, men’s and women’s sevens entering the Olympics in 2016 and the Women’s World Cup in 2017, the profile of women’s rugby is more visible than ever before. Women’s participation in rugby in England has seen growth of 100% in since 2004, and England RFU recognises that there is still huge potential to grow the women’s and girl’s game further. This means that we have a lot to do in order to support, nurture and manage this period of rapid growth.

After graduating from the mighty York in 2016, I moved back home to Bude, North Cornwall. Before giving it much thought, I had resigned myself to the fact that my rugby playing days were behind me, at least whilst I was living there. Despite Cornwall being well known as a rugby mad county- with CRFU a dominant presence in the County Championships and Bude having thriving and successful men’s and boy’s teams- the nearest women’s facilities were over an hour away in North Devon.

After stumbling across the RFU’s Inner Warrior campaign online, I noticed a club in East Cornwall were holding an open session. After 8 months of not playing, I was dying for a run around on the pitch. The session was great, but more importantly I was introduced to the one of England RFU’s Development Officer for Cornwall (Neil) and the head of Cornwall county women’s rugby (Anne). They said that if I was able to get bodies on a pitch for a taster session, they would handle the rest. I received beautiful marketing materials from Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and spread them far and wide using both social media and physical outlets in the community. Neil handled everything with Bude RFC, and got us access to the pitches, clubhouse and equipment. He also lent us his outstanding coaching services for free and is handling the appointment of our full time coach.

The day of the taster session came and I headed down to the pitch with equal measure of excitement and anxiety. The session was attended by over 30 women who were brimming with energy, enthusiasm and gratitude at finally being able to ‘give rugby a go’. 3 months on and we still have over 25 women attending regularly and are looking to field a competitive team for the 2017/18 season.

So, what are my top tips for growing the women’s game?

  1. Find and get in touch with your county's RFU development officer. Their support, insight and resources are INVALUABLE and it literally is their job to develop rugby at grassroots levels. They will know what hoops you will have to go through to establish a women’s club, can coach you for free and are great at handling your mergers into an existing club.

  2. It is far easier to create a women’s branch of an existing club than to create an entire club from scratch. By merging to an existing club, you can have instant access to a clubhouse, pitches, equipment and coaching staff. Developing a strong relationship with the board here is key. I can only speak for my club but I have been blown away by the positive attitudes towards women’s rugby from Bude RFC and they genuinely could have not done more to help us.

  3. Promoting integration between the men’s and women’s branches of a club is key to the long-term success of a new women’s branch. We hold a mixed touch session once a week and it’s great for mixing the two branches and breaking down any barriers. Also socials, all the socials.

  4. Get in touch with This Girl Can to use their marketing materials.

  5. Contact your head of women’s rugby for your county. We got a few of our players on the Cornwall County development programme via this connection, and it’s a great point of contact to to link up with other women’s clubs in your area for friendlies, training sessions etc.

  6. Inclusivity is key- especially during the initial recruitment phase. Make it clear that rugby is a genuinely inclusive sport that welcomes women of all ages, fitness levels, experiences etc. Many of the women attending the taster session said they were genuinely terrified before they came, so creating a warm and welcoming environment (especially for beginners) is crucial.

  7. Having just graduated from uni and being an alumni from the mighty UYWRUFC you are in a fantastic position to be able to coordinate all of this!

On a more personal level, establishing the Bude Women’s Rugby branch of Bude RFC is genuinely one of the best things I have ever done. At times it certainly is stressful, and I can sometimes feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing, b

ut being able to see women fall in love with rugby the way I did because of your own work is one of the most amazing feelings.

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