“Rugby just engulfed my life,” Kanisha Vincent says as she recounts the story of how she fell in love with the oval-ball game.
Vincent was introduced to rugby when she attended a Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee youth camp in 2010.
Having previously played netball, she was attracted by the potential for both contact and running with ball in hand that the new sport offered.
Shortly after the camp finished, Vincent joined the Royalians club in Port of Spain, and within two years had earned her place on the Trinidad and Tobago women’s sevens national team.
“We did some hockey and different things (at the camp), but rugby was just one of the things that really caught me. It looked like a lot of fun,” Vincent said.
“It just seemed very different from anything that I had done up until that point. I did try hockey for a bit, which was not for me, so rugby seemed like a new and interesting experience.
“We have a small community, so it was also very close knit. People were very friendly, and I was just very comfortable being in rugby.”
The game has had a profound impact on Vincent’s life off the pitch as well as on it and led her to pursue a career in sport.
Following the completion of a BSc degree in Psychology, with minors in Criminology and Sociology, Vincent decided to pursue a Master’s in Sports Performance at the University of Portsmouth.
Her year in England, during which she represented Harlequins Women in the inaugural Premier 15s season, proved to be the first step on her path into rugby administration.
On returning to Trinidad and Tobago, Vincent vowed to help the country’s union set and raise standards for the women’s game and having retired from playing in 2019, she is currently the chair of its selections committee.
Selection is an area of particular interest to Vincent and has formed a key pillar of her work so far on the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme.
“That is the area where it is most prudent for us to adjust in order to see a domino effect in other things,” she explained.
“If we set a standard and we say athletes need to be at a certain level of fitness in order to be part of our training teams, it means that our coaches, our athletes understand that this is the standard they need to be at and they adjust.
“So, I think when we set standards, we encourage change in other areas.”
Vincent was announced as one of 12 participants for 2022 last March, having been advised to apply by Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Union President, and programme alumni, Maria Thomas.
She has since completed Capgemini courses in Storytelling in Business and Building High-Performance Teams, and is working towards a third, Connected Manager.
“It’s exciting because it’s a different opportunity,” Vincent said about the programme.
“Those two courses were really good. I enjoyed Storytelling in Business quite a bit, it focused on how to open with a story or how to connect your presentation, meeting or conversation with stories that are impactful, that communicate the message you're trying to convey and help you better connect with the audience.
“So, that was really useful. The Building High-Performance Teams was as it sounds, and because our selection committee is a bit new in the iteration that it is now, it was good to have a better understanding of how to then build that out with what we have.”
Her time on the programme has enabled Vincent to make a host of important connections, not least in New Zealand last November.
Vincent attended the World Rugby Women in Rugby International Summit and Events, as well as the Rugby World Cup 2021 final at Eden Park. She then stayed on in Auckland for the IWG Conference, sharing an apartment with her former Trinidad team-mate Thomas and other past participants.
“Staying in the same house, having conversations about our experiences, things like that [highlight why] the network itself is the biggest resource they have now that they’ve built this programme,” Vincent said.
“It was amazing. Being a rugby fan, you always want to go to New Zealand because that is the home of rugby around the world.
“We did get to go to the final, it was an incredible atmosphere being able to be there in the stadium.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life so far, being able to be surrounded by rugby, so many rugby people from different avenues, people who do different things.
“Having those conversations, sharing how we all relate to certain things. Talking about the development of rugby around the world, not just for large unions.
“So, it was a grounding and inspiring experience, and I would do it 15,000 times.”
It must have been surreal too to be among the record 42,579 crowd at Eden Park to watch three women she had trained and played alongside only five years previously.
England players Vickii Cornborough, Abbie Ward and Shaunagh Brown had all been at Harlequins when Vincent – who had never previously played 15s – pitched up to training during the 2017-18 season.
“I went to the first training session and the gap between the level that I was at and the level that they were at was very evident,” she admitted.
“It encouraged me to want to work harder. You get to training and obviously, you see Rachael Burford, there was Shaunagh Brown, who was getting into England rugby, there was also Leanne Infante.
“You go into training, and you are surrounded by people you see on TV. It was scary, it definitely was a bit intimidating.
“But I think that over time I saw myself improve so much more quickly than I've ever seen improvement in my playing before.”
Despite arriving in England as a 15s novice, through training with Harlequins and playing for the University of Portsmouth, Vincent improved so much that she made her Premier 15s debut as a replacement in February 2018.
It is that determination and drive that means that when Vincent predicts Trinidad and Tobago can qualify for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, you should sit up and take notice.
“I’m hoping that we qualify for the Olympics in 2028,” she said. “I believe that our pathway is quite straightforward, and we do have a good opportunity to get there.”