Rugby is a great sport for building strength and fitness for kids of all shapes and sizes, but it is also the perfect breeding ground for a number of key lifeskills which will help girls navigate their teenage years and beyond.
It is a truly team sport, with specialist roles needing to work together in an organised fashion to be successful, and a real focus on the need for discipline and respect for others, especially for authority figures. It also demands focus and commitment to be competitive. But what else can it deliver?
Learning to cope with disappointment is a key lifeskill
We all know that sport is full of disappointments, and not every team can win every match, but Rugby adds a level of personal competition which increases the level of intensity and forces kids to learn to cope with failure.
Each Scrum, tackle or breakdown is a battle that has a winner and a loser, and players need to be able to compartmentalise those feelings quickly, bounce back and be ready to face the next challenge as it will come thick and fast!
Girls learn quickly that they can recover from difficult situations by focusing on the next situation rather than dwelling on negativity. They learn resilience and a desire to win the next encounter, taking energy from the failure. They quickly understand that the most important scrum or tackle is the next one!
This is particularly true for Adolescent girls, as the variation in size can be quite dramatic, especially in the 11-14 age range. Girls will often come up against much bigger players who will run through smaller players. But proper coaching can show them that size is often a weakness as well as a strength, if you know how to exploit it and have the self belief to put it into action.
Learning to learn is fundamental to Girls Rugby development
Rugby is a complex sport, with individual positions demanding a range of specialist skills. Whilst there are naturally talented players, what really makes young players stand out is coachability and work ethic, and often the best players are the ones that listen and work hardest.
From this perspective, training is often drills based focussing on one part of a skill at time. The tackle is a good example of this. It seems simple, just knock the player down, but it is a complex series of skills which all need to work together to be successful, from being in the right place, foot positioning, proper shoulder and head placement, correct grip and a well timed leg drive all combining to deliver a safe and effective tackle.
Girls need to be prepared to listen to instruction, accept constructive criticism and practice in order to become effective at relevant skills, and these learning dynamics will obviously help them in their academic career and beyond.
Self belief is fundamental to resilience
Being a contact based winter sport obviously makes girls Rugby an excellent support for building physical resilience! It takes a strong person to be prepared to crash into someone on a wet and windy winter night or dive over for a try on a frozen pitch!
But it also forms the building blocks for mental resilience as well.
Resilience is the ability to look past adversity to see a way to thrive, so it goes beyond toughness or coping with failure, as it requires the ability to see a way to win from even the darkest place.
In this context, resilience has at its core self belief, a positive mental attitude and mindfulness, and rugby creates many opportunities to develop these lifeskills, as it is fast paced, highly structured and involves many specialist skills. A player who is tackled needs to be able to quickly assess why, what skills they have at their disposal and which they are going to employ next time to break the tackle.
This demands that girls understand their capabilities and have a rational approach to appraising situations, so that they can focus on winning the next encounter.
Rugby demands self discipline
Rugby is a contact sport and as such is emotionally intense. Players need to surf a fine line between aggression and self control both for safety and disciplinary reasons.
Rugby has a reputation for showing respect for referees and other players, and this is a fundamental value of the sport, enshrined in the laws and officiating of the sport. The referee’s word is final, and it is not uncommon for a team to be given a penalty or be marched 10m back down a pitch for comments made to the ref.
This means players need to control their emotional pitch at all times.
The physical nature of the game also demands self discipline. It is physically demanding so effective training, nutrition and most importantly proper recovery are essential. Moreover, the interplay between players can be the difference between winning and losing so player need to practise with their teammates to build understanding, which requires commitment and consistency of training as a team
Understand your role in the rugby team
At the U8 level, rugby can often seem like a free for all, as players pick the ball up and run en masse to the opposing try-line! Coaching kids can often feel more like herding cats than teaching a sport!
But as girls get older, bigger and more competent the game becomes more ordered, organised and complex. Players need to understand their roles in the team and how this impacts what the team is trying to do. Defenders need to understand that holding a position is often more important than diving in a tackle, with the former closing down space and the latter offering an opportunity for an attacking move.
In other sports, individual brilliance can dominate a team, with a star midfielder or striker being able to dominate, but the more compressed nature of rugby, with more players much closer together on a pitch mean that interplay between players is more likely to be the difference between success and failure.
This has two benefits for girls. Firstly it means they need to recognise that they are part of a team and need to front up and deliver to the same level as the rest of the team to win. But it also means that they get to recognise that they are as important as everyone else on the pitch and that there isn’t one star player that shines.
Try it out.
Many clubs offer Give it a try sessions which give girls the opportunity to learn more, and see whether the sport is for you like Blackrock Rugby club