At the end of November, I featured Cath Wren aka the Feisty Mare in ‘Humans of Clevedon’ – check it out here: Cath is someone who is committed to supporting her community and has a particular concern for the psychological well – being of girls and women so I wasn’t surprised to hear of her involvement with the Clevedon Girls and Ladies Rugby.
Cath started the Girls’ Club three years ago when her daughter Rosie who was in Year 7 at the time, expressed great curiosity about the sport. The Club, like the sport has grown exponentially since then with the exciting news that back in February, Jasmine McArdle, Rosie Wren, Reneeqa Bonner, Millie Gilbert and Ruby Bassett had all caught the eye of the Somerset selectors and were invited to play for the under 15 age group. They were so impressed with Elaine Webster, a relative newcomer to the sport that they invited her to play for Somerset in the under – 18 age group.
The club attracts healthy numbers, next season they are combining with Gordano and will have 24 in the under 18 age group (Years 11, 12 and 13) 19 in the under 15 age group (Years 9 and 10) and 15 in the under 13 age group (Years 7 and 8) This is particularly impressive given the number of girls’ rugby clubs in the surrounding area notably Yatton, Nailsea and Backwell and Avonmouth.
The photo below shows the original girls that started the rugby team as under 13s. the girls have now successfully moved up to the under 15 and under 18 age categories.
Equally exciting as having the girls chosen to play for Somerset, is the club’s sister partnership with Bristol Bears Women who boast a wealth of talent, from World Cup Players, Commonwealth Games Representatives, International Stars and BUCS champions, through to a development squad of committed individuals from across the South West. These inspirational individuals come to Clevedon to give high calibre coaching sessions to the girls and offer coaching sessions in Bristol to the Clevedon coaches. The girls have also had free tickets to games and had the opportunity to be ball girls at some of their games in the Tyrrells Premier 15s which is the top tier of the women’s English rugby union domestic league system run by the Rugby Football Union (RFU). The league was created mainly from teams in the Women’s Premiership. Its first season began on 16 September 2017 and the reigning champions are Saracen Women. The partnership works well for both parties, allowing Bristol Bears the opportunity to identify players that they might want to play for them at an early stage.
The alliance with the Bears is both inspirational and aspirational as is going on tour. Last season the girls toured with a company but were disappointed that they were playing on football pitches and hidden behind a fence and a hedge rather than being presented as the fine young players they are. This year they are planning to go on tour to an all-girls festival which will be a unique celebration of girls’ rugby.
The partnership, going on tour, playing with friends, breaking new ground and playing a sport which is primarily played by men and boys are all motivating factors, as is the Awards Ceremony which Tim Shelton, Youth Chairman, organises at the end of every season. At the ceremony, each player is recognised and there are specific awards in each age group for coach’s player, player’s player, grafter and most improved.
Establishing the club and ensuring sustainability has not been without its challenges and the girls have had to do a lot of fund raising in order to go on tour and buy their kit. This season they are in the happy situation of having secured sponsorship for the under 18 age group from CBS Consultants, Bristol and Bath Kitchens, Dronesurv and Nylaplas Engineering. This has enabled them to purchase a full new training kit – hoodies, t shirts and trousers as well as playing shirts.
Previous sponsors have been Clevedon Lions, Paragon Landscaping, Skf, Etex Clevedon Round Table and the international company NZFlow. The club are still to secure sponsorship for the under 13 and under 15 age group and would welocme any interest.
The growth in women’s rugby is undeniable, at the time of the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup there were around 35 English clubs with women’s sides. There are currently 512 women and girls teams in England and 27,500 existing players.
In 2017 England Rugby launched an action plan recognising this significant growth in the female game. The plan which runs until 2021 is to get more women playing more often. It includes proposals to grow playing numbers, improve the opportunities to play, ensure that those with talent can progress, increase the numbers of females engaging in coaching, refereeing and volunteering and improve the female-friendliness of rugby facilities. Check out the Action Plan here:
The trend in growth is not just national, the number of registered female players has risen by 28% to 2.7 million since 2017. World Rugby has launched a new global campaign ‘Try and Stop Us’ to increase participation in the women’s game. The campaign includes the stories of 15 women and girls involved in rugby at all levels from around the world. Check out the ‘Try and Stop Us ‘ campaign at the BBC here:
The Inner Warrior Camps have also played a role in attracting more girls and women. These camps are taster sessions, organised by the RFU and clubs up and down the country, to try and encourage girls and women to give the sport a go. Warrior Camps, offer a fun-packed, commitment-free way for females to get outside, get muddy and experience the dynamic, exhilarating sport of rugby for the first time.
If you want to know more about what happens at an Inner Warrior Camp, check out this BBC clip here: If you would like to hear about how attending an Inner Warrior Camp helped Alex tackle her anxiety check out her story on the BBC here:
There is no question that the sport gained a lot of momentum from England Women winning the World Cup in 2014 after beating Canada 21-9 in Paris, France; it motivated a new generation to take up rugby.
I was delighted to be invited to the club to talk to this particular new generation of players and some of their families. Most of the girls joined in Year 6 and in Year 7 although Elaine currently in Year 12 only joined last year. Motivation for joining the club was very varied, some wanted to do a more physical sport, some wanted to challenge themselves and try something that they had never tried before, some came because their friends had coaxed them along or their sister was already a member and one young lady came because her Dad said she had to! Whatever the reason for joining, the girls were unanimous in saying that not a single one of them regretted it.
We discussed what impact being a member of the club and playing rugby had had on their development. They all agreed that they felt fitter and stronger and had better flexibility and physical coordination which is really important as young people in general aren’t as active as previous generations. It’s highly probable that having committed to their sport at such a young age, the girls are more likely to maintain a healthy level of physical activity as they get older.
However, most of the conversation focused on the benefits to their emotional and social well-being. They all mentioned feeling more confident and recognised that it was a great way of relieving stress whilst also being lots of fun. One of the mothers felt that playing rugby had given her daughter the confidence to participate in her school’s Sports Day which she had been involved in that very day. Her daughter agreed.
The link to stress came as no surprise, we all know that young people and indeed adults involved with sport are less likely to suffer from many mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Some of the girls mentioned that it had helped them develop more self-control and one of the mothers felt that it had helped her daughter with anger management issues; her daughter agreed. Resilience and developing a ‘can do’ attitude also featured largely in their conversation. Cath had clearly conveyed the concept of willpower knowing no obstacles and being the key to success.
When asked what was the most important thing the girls had learnt from playing rugby, most of them talked about team work and articulated high levels of empathy.
They understood the concept of team spirit and spoke about the need to support each other, to cooperate and to make sure everyone was involved; all essential for developing healthy relationships and succeeding at school and at work. They also showed an awareness of body image and were delighted to be involved in a sport that they felt was accessible to everyone regardless of size or shape.
There was a real sense of ownership and camaraderie amongst the girls and it was clear that many of the friendships they had developed through their love of rugby would be life long as would their love of the sport. They were so impressive and the rugby world should be very proud of these girls who epitomise the core rugby values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.
What a fantastic way to teach skills that they will use their entire lives, and they have fun and stay active and healthy while they’re doing it.
Congratulations to Cath Wren and her team for their dedication to the club, it was so nice to hear the girls articulate their tremendous gratitude.
If you or anyone you know may be interested in joining the club then go along to their Open Day for girls of all ages, this Saturday at 1.30pm. There will be lots of fun and games with other girls who could be your new team mates if you decide to join. Bristol Bears Women’s Head Coach, Kim Oliver will also be there and you could take part in a free coaching session led by her. Added to all this, there’s a FREE BBQ, DJ and a paying bar. See you there!