Last year the RFU announced its aim to double the size of the player base in England by 2021. A series of initiatives have followed, and the latest - launched this week - sees the NatWest RugbyForce programme expanded to include an women's rugby-specific ambassador for the first time.
NatWest RugbyForce is an RFU community initiative that aims to “help clubs across country attract new members and to become stronger and more sustainable businesses.” It’s now in its fifth year, but this year, for the first time, it includes an “ambassador” - Maggie Alphonsi - whose specific function will be to “grow women’s teams”. It is the latest in a series of initiatives from the RFU (such as the Inner Warriors, which is also being promoted this week) as part of their aim to double the size of the player base in England to 50,000 by 2021.
We spoke to Maggie just before this week’s launch of RugbyForce, and started with how she became involved:
“NatWest asked me to become one of their ambassadors, as last year they did not anyone for the women’s game. I want to raise the profile of women’s and girl’s sections in clubs that already have them, and to advise on setting up a women’s or girls section for those who at the moment don’t.
“What I will be doing is coming down to run coach sessions, or develop sessions for coaches of a women’s or girls section, or basically offer whatever help they want and I can offer.
“By having a women’s ambassador the aim is to make clubs think about their women’s section - because they could get a world cup winner with 25 years of playing experience.”
With her coaching and media experience, we also asked Maggie about our IWD feature on the lack of women coaches at the top level:
“It’s a bit like broadcasting. A lot women may be interested or may coach at a junior level but not all will be able to commit the time needed, while ex-players may have other demands on their time. Family commitments, work commitments, career opportunities that may have been put on hold.
“The impression – the perception - may also be that there are fewer opportunities for women at the upper end – fewer high end coaching positions to aim for. Giselle Mather is one of the few to break through, and she has done that with three kids, so it is possible.
“I think role models in the coaching field would help, like Sara Cox in refereeing. Thinking about it, with refereeing and broadcasting people have shouted about it [the lack of women], but I guess with coaching it’s not been as prominent and not discussed as much. People have looked at it from the players’ side and said “does she have the best coaches supporting her” but have not looked at it from the female coach’s side.
“When I did my Level 1 there were a few women on the same course, but when I went to Level 2 I was the only woman on the course. I didn’t find that a problem, but some women might find it uncomfortable if they are the only woman in the room. Women-only coaches might be the answer, because then once they are in the system they would gain confidence and develop.”
Maggie Alphonsi is a member of The NatWest RugbyForce, bringing her playing and coaching experience to help grassroots clubs improve their coaching expertise. To register for a chance to have Maggie join your rugby club, visit www.englandrugby.com/natwestrugbyforce.