The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on rugby with clubs and academies, gyms and pitches across the world falling silent for the foreseeable future.
But that does not mean the game cannot have an impact during this uncertain and difficult time.
American organisation Girls Rugby, Inc. is devoted to providing girls aged 7-14 with the chance to learn life skills while engaging with the sport and its core values, and is committed to ensuring that does not change during the pandemic.
Launching on 7 April and rolling out for an initial seven weeks, Girls Rugby L.E.A.D.E.R.S. is a free online programme devised to help keep participants active and engaged with rugby from the safety of their own homes.
“When USA Rugby announced that all rugby should halt in the United States for the foreseeable future we knew that our families were going to be really disappointed,” Girls Rugby CEO and co-founder Jenn Heinrich told World Rugby.
“We had a lot of girls who were really looking forward to the spring season and we didn’t want to disconnect completely from our community.
“Our programme is unique in that we combine a leadership and values-based curriculum that is delivered through rugby. While it is challenging to deliver on rugby right now, we thought about the ways that we can still connect and deliver something that is fun and engaging and that aligns with our curriculum.
“We’re living in a virtual world right now and we wanted to make sure that we offered something that our families could participate in.”
Girls Rugby was founded by World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Heinrich, Erin Kennedy, Rugby Americas North Regional Development Manager, and former USA Eagle Hannah Harper in 2018.
In less than two years it has grown from pilot programmes in California, Colorado and Oregon to catering for around 350 participants in multiple locations in five states.
And although the Girls Rugby L.E.A.D.E.R.S. programme was designed to keep Girls Rugby connected to that existing community in the USA, it looks as though it could have a truly global impact.
As of Monday, 670 participants from 26 countries had signed up, while of those registered within the USA 26 states were represented.
“We’re all seeking ways to connect with our community and some sense of normalcy,” Heinrich added.
“This programme provides that for the girls that are already in our programme and familiar with the values and leadership training.
“This is a continuation for them and an introduction of our programming to others. In rugby we often talk about the values that are so intrinsic to the game but this is a very intentional approach.
“Sometimes you have great coaches who really deliver on that values piece and sometimes you don’t. We want to be really intentional about building a curriculum that delivers on those values and teaches life skills they can use both on and off the rugby pitch.
“And there are lessons in positivity as well. These girls are going to focus on values that are positive, that do something to build them up, to build their self-confidence, to build their self-esteem.
Learn and grow on lockdown
“As they’re sitting at home they can continue to build and to learn and to think about different ways that they can be better leaders even in this situation that we’re in.
“And so I think that’s a really powerful thing, to have an opportunity to learn and grow, to maintain some continuity and also a way to stay connected to their rugby community.”
Participants, who can take part via Facebook or through a private website, will receive resources on Tuesdays and Thursdays that include worksheets, colouring pages, videos, crafts and at-home exercises. The programme will be available in Spanish as well as English, with translated worksheets and subtitles for all videos.
It is hoped that the programme can also provide a benefit for parents of those taking part as they adjust to spending more time at home with their families.
“The big thing for us is as families are at home and struggling to deal with this new sense of normal during the pandemic that this is an opportunity for them to connect with a greater community, to continue to connect with their rugby community and to maybe be a part of something that’s a little bit different,” Heinrich said.
Kennedy added: “We know the things that we love about the game are not so much the physical aspects but more so the values and the relationships and connections that we get through the game.
“This is just one little way of doing that and keeping you connected while you’re at home and hopefully you get something really positive out of it.”
For more information on the Girls Rugby L.E.A.D.E.R.S. programme, visit www.girlsrugbyinc.com/leaders.