María Ribera has admitted her involvement in the WISH Women in High Performance Pathway programme has convinced her to “fight” to achieve her coaching ambitions.
Ribera, a former women’s test and sevens international who represented Spain at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, dreams of one day becoming a full-time coach and leading her country.
As a coach, she has already enjoyed club and regional success, while she has also coached Spain at U18 and U20 level.
Despite being the first Spanish woman to get paid for coaching the game, Ribera does not earn enough from it to call it her full-time job.
She hopes enrolling on the WISH programme can help her change that and Ribera’s recent experience on the residential week at the University of Hertfordshire in England has left her energised.
“I've been coaching at a high performance level but at the same time it has been really hard to do it like a full-time job because there is not the money,” Ribera told World Rugby.
“So, sometimes I feel like I have to stop and to retire [from coaching]. The programme has changed my mind to really fight for it.
“It has changed me a lot because I feel that I’m not alone, I'm not alone with World Rugby, I'm not alone with the national union, I'm even not alone around the world.”
The IOC is tackling the challenge & creating pathways for more women to reach the highest levels of coaching. The @wish_pathway programme funded by Olympic Solidarity aims to equip over 100 women for coaching at elite levels by 2024. #WomanCoach #InternationalWomensDay2023 #IWD pic.twitter.com/FNMkCpuwit— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) March 8, 2023
“That is the beginning”
Funded by Olympic Solidarity, the WISH programme is designed to address gender inequality in coaching at the Games.
Ribera is one of 97 coaches who have enrolled on the programme since its pilot in 2019, representing 17 sports and 53 countries.
Three of the cohort who met in Hertfordshire last month, at the start of their 21-month course, are from rugby; Ribera, World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Liza Burgess and Tavaita Rowati.
It was an opportunity for those three women, their fellow participants from other sports and the course facilitators to meet in person for the first time and Ribera described the residential week as a “unique” and “rich” experience.
The Spaniard believes the participants “need to keep working together” to create change and has kept in touch with Rowati and others since returning home from England.
“It was not about leaving it all there [in Hertfordshire]. That is the beginning,” Ribera said.
“At the end of the week, we realised that [the other participants] would be our big supporters.
“Sometimes we don’t have big coaches around us or people that have the same ambition, that want to grow as much as you. So, over there you found that, and you realised that you are going to have that forever.”
Finding a path
Lead facilitator, and World Rugby’s WISH lead, Carol Isherwood was on hand to put the participants through their paces during the third cohort’s residential week.
Isherwood has been involved with WISH since its pilot edition and her work on it shaped certain aspects of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme.
“They’re always the most amazing weeks with these women coming together from all different sports and all different countries and getting so much out of it.
“It's just incredible how much they they've gained and grown in confidence and connection by the end of the week,” Isherwood said.
“[María] threw herself into the course and contributed lots throughout the week, the coaches are all really great. It’s a joy working with them, they’re all so appreciative and get empowered by each other and from the course itself.”
Preparations are already underway for the fourth cohort of the programme, whose residential week is scheduled for August.
Meanwhile, past participants will remain in touch with WISH so that Isherwood and her fellow facilitators can gain a greater understanding of the obstacles women face when trying to find elite coaching roles and they can maintain the coaches network.
“I really recommend it, absolutely,” Ribera added. “It helps you sit with yourself, to really believe and to [find] the path that you want for you.
“I’m really grateful… I think it is one of the best things that I have done in my life. I really hope [it continues] for many years because that will ensure there are more female coaches in the Olympics, the World Cup and in international competition.”