As Women's History Month nears an end, Tom takes a moment to focus on girls on the programme.

On International Women’s day, the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue cut a powerful image staring down Wall Street, whether or not there was something ironic about her global investment patrons. She turned my attention to the many fearless girls that we as RugbyWorks coaches work with on a daily basis. In this post I’d like to turn the light on them, whose understated courage deserves far more credit than I can do justice to here.

It often surprises people that at Dallaglio RugbyWorks we work with both girls and boys. In many ways, the statistics make this a fair response. Like rugby itself, Alternative Provision (AP) is male dominated. Boys are three times more likely to be excluded than girls. On top of this, girls in our age group (14-17) have a well-documented level of dropout from sport. In short, you’d be right in thinking a girl playing rugby in a PRU was unlikely.

Like rugby itself, Alternative Provision (AP) is male dominated. Boys are three times more likely to be excluded than girls.

In London, 23% of the young people we work with are girls. In my view, that’s a high number relative to what we could ever hope to get in a mainstream school.

Anna joined us at Tooting last year, excluded from her mainstream school for poor attendance rooted in self-esteem issues. Outwardly, she is confident and outgoing – each week with a bold new flash of colour through her hair. She’s been one of the finds of the year for us; a fierce competitor and increasingly perceptive rugby player, even when she wears high heels during a session! I caught up with her last week to get her view:

“PRU’s are intimidating places, boys are always looking at you – you feel like a fish in a tank of sharks sometimes. It’s a scary place at first and it’s important to get friends quickly. The worst thing is to be alone”.

“I never thought I’d be doing rugby when I moved here. It’s not just rugby though, you guys are really here for us. It’s a self-esteem booster for us girls really, sometimes we’re better than the boys. When we’re all together it brings us out of our shells. Beth’s so quiet usually in school but in sessions she gets really competitive”.

Anna’s perspective crystallised what I previously understood from afar. In this ‘shark tank’ environment, a platform to not only match but surpass male peers is a liberating opportunity; sport is truly one of life’s great levellers. She has a lot of potential, but struggles still with poor attendance. We are hoping to accompany her on visits to arts schools and universities as an incentive for the final push towards GCSEs. Her desire to study fashion design will materialise if she can give life to the fledgling self-belief she has battled for. Employability trips with us to places like Burberry may go a long way to inspire her further.

It’s important to say that Anna is by no means unique. Across our programme, day in, day out, girls are taking big steps outside of their comfort zone. For each of them, it could be the start of a journey like that taken by Chloe, a remarkable RugbyWorks alumna. In her two years with us, she battled through the anger issues responsible for her exclusion, grasping every opportunity with striking tenacity. Negotiating inevitable hurdles as they came, she too fought hard to unearth self-belief in the most difficult of places. She was recognised at our annual Dallaglio RugbyWorks awards with the ‘Most Improved Young Person’ award in July – a tribute that only she seemed to find hard to accept. Above all, she gained the confidence to believe her true passion, jewellery making, could be her future. In October, she was accepted onto the apprenticeship scheme at Goldsmiths, where we’re thrilled to report she continues to flourish. Her coach continues to work closely with her as a mentor, but now it’s to help design and craft his wedding ring! It’s hard to imagine a finer end, or rather beginning to her story. 

Negotiating inevitable hurdles as they came, she too fought hard to unearth self-belief in the most difficult of places.

Both Chloe and Anna doubted that girls could thrive on a rugby-based programme in AP schools at first. As with all preconceptions though, it takes courage to defy them. For a girl who’s been permanently excluded from mainstream school, it’s hard to overstate just how much courage that really takes. This defiance in a harsh environment is the hallmark of our Dallaglio RugbyWorks girls, who may never stare down Wall Street, but are as fearless as any in my book. 

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