Laura-Jane Lewis’ participation on the WISH Women in High Performance Pathway programme has come at a good, if incredibly busy time.
At the end of July, it was confirmed that she would take over from Giselle Mather as Wasps Women coach, stepping up from assistant coach, a role she also held with England Women U20s.
Becoming head coach at Wasps had not been on Lewis’ radar until a few weeks before the announcement, and when she first spoke to World Rugby in August, she admitted she was in a “transition period”.
Although Lewis is an experienced coach, having worked with Bristol and Gloucester-Hartpury before joining Wasps in 2019, her involvement with WISH has given her an opportunity to focus on developing her leadership skills.
That was certainly the case at last month’s residential course, when she joined fellow participants from seven different Olympic sports for a week of learning at the University of Hertfordshire in England.
“It was actually amazing,” Lewis told World Rugby. “Personally, it obviously came at a really great time with my changing role.
“But having the time and space to be able to just think about leadership, we don't really get to do that very often. It's always about the coaching or the on-field stuff.
“But it was really good to do lots of practical things around leadership and challenging your own thoughts. And on top of that, we met some amazing people.
“There were some amazing people there from different sports all over the world and then the facilitators of the course for the week and just allowed us to be ourselves and allowed us to get the best out of it.
“So, overall, it was a fantastic experience and has had a lasting impression on me and I'm sure some of my practices over the next season will probably come through.”
Becoming a coach
Lewis grew up watching rugby with her dad, spending weekend afternoons on the Crumbie Stand at Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road.
However, it was not until she was 16 that she began playing, when she met a group of women who were involved at Loughborough Town.
She would remain with her local club for the entirety of her playing career, at the end of which she began to take an interest in coaching.
“I realised quite quickly I was going to be a better coach than player,” Lewis joked.
It was also around this time that she started to take an interest in mixed martial arts (MMA), going on to fight professionally and compete against some women who now appear at the elite level of the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
She admits competitive MMA did not go “hand in hand” with her rugby ambitions, especially after giving birth to her son in 2017.
Lewis and her husband still grapple and practise judo and jujitsu, though, and she says it’s helpful for her rugby coaching too.
“What I do find now that transfers really well in my coaching is how I see the collision area, some of that one-on-one stuff and… probably scrum/maul as well,” she explained.
“There’s a lot of feel in fighting, similarly at collision areas. You have to feel and experience those exposures a lot to understand how to manage stuff.
“So, I think that really helps me transfer that and then I suppose a lot of mindset stuff. Prepping for a fight, you need eight weeks, you’ve got to weight cut, you then have to do a weight cut before you weigh in, and then you've got to rehydrate.
“It's really intense, so I think for me, I really learnt a lot about what you can do as an individual, which again probably helps me with how I then approach certain things in my environment.”
Lewis is currently focused on Wasps and making the season a success following cup defeats to Loughborough Lightning and Sale Sharks.
“I’m a very competitive person myself so not winning is quite a difficult thing to manage personally,” she admitted.
“My challenge now as a leader is to help the girls work their way through and become the team that they could be while also managing my own competitive side.”
Her ultimate ambition in the role, and her coaching philosophy, revolves around giving her players the tools to improve both on and off the pitch.
“I just love helping people and helping people get better,” Lewis said.
“Since I was 16 I’d coach on my local council at sports activities and then when I went to uni, I did my first coaching course, and then obviously the more you do specific coaching, I did more rugby coaching then.
“So, I just really love working with people, helping people I suppose find confidence and then reach the potential that's in them that they didn't really think they had.”