Warrior Built Part Six: The Next Generation of Rugby Players
It’s no secret that Utah has one of this country’s richest rugby communities. Going back decades, rugby has been central to Utah’s sports community at the youth, high school and collegiate levels. It’s this community that helped kick start my journey in rugby 10 years ago that eventually led to stints with both the USA 7s and 15s women’s national team. And it’s that same journey that the Utah Warriors hope becomes a common aspiration among boys and girls here in Utah through our growing grassroots development plans.
To date in 2022, we’ve seen over 2,500 kids participate in our Jr. Warriors’ clinics or leagues, a number that will continue to grow as our partnerships with local entities grow. We’ve also seen hundreds of school and community leaders participate in our Educators’ Nights and Coaching Clinics as we’ve shared the Jr. Warriors’ and Utah Warriors’ methodologies for coaching rugby using the “F-U-N” methodology that stands for Fundamentals, Understanding and ‘Now Play.’
In total the Jr. Warriors program has, in its short time, introduced thousands of kids and hundreds of parents and community leaders to the excitement that comes from the sport of rugby and I’m so excited to see that number grow exponentially in the years to come.
We are so grateful for all the parents, children, teachers, coaches and everyone else that helped us teach the sport of rugby to over 1,600 kids since the start of the 2022 season!!
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) June 10, 2022
My rugby journey began at 14 years old, watching my older brother play rugby for Highland Rugby, a nationally decorated local rugby club. Highland embodied what it meant to be a rugby player. They didn’t just teach the skills of the game, they based their entire program around the culture of the sport and standardized a level of respect in each player. They stayed true to the old saying “Football [soccer] is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen.”
Even as a young girl with no female programs around me, witnessing the on-and-off-field actions of these high school boys reeled me in and I was determined to find a way to play the game myself. So, in high school, I started the first ever Herriman High School girls rugby team. I knew the culture of this sport would not only impact my life but provide a space for other girls around me to feel included and empowered to be an athlete. These were mostly the girls who didn’t play soccer, didn’t cheerlead and maybe had never even played a sport. They never felt like they fit a ‘mold.’ Rugby gave us a home.
From this moment on I knew I was going to dedicate my life to this sport.
After High School I went on to win three Division II National Championships in College before transferring to a Division I school and was subsequently invited to the USA Women’s National 7’s team and trained at the US Olympic training center in the four-year build up to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Although my journey didn’t end with being named on the final Olympic roster, I traveled the world alongside some of the most incredible women I will ever meet and gained experiences and knowledge of the game and other cultures that I would have never had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Like any journey, my time playing with the US National team had many peaks and valleys. There were good days and bad. Great coaches and leaders and the not so nice ones. Loving teammates and the “we’re just coworkers”. From these ups and downs, I have gained a new level of love for this game and how to provide the best possible experience for the next generation to play it.
Being back in my home state of Utah where my rugby journey began 10 years ago fills me with an entirely different level of pride. The Utah Warriors, and more specifically the Jr. Warriors program has given me a platform to widen my reach and fulfill this new passion.
The Jr. Warriors program does everything for the children in our community that Highland and Herriman did for me all those years ago. It provides an opportunity for all kids to feel included, empowered, encouraged, respected, and be a part of the Utah Warriors family.
In no other sport do you see the professional players consistently engaged in their communities, working with the Jr. Warriors players, like our Warriors do with these kids. It excites me to come to work every single day knowing that I get to be the start of my local community’s rugby journey. I have passion and pride to grow this game, to give these kids opportunities and show the state of Utah how special rugby and the Utah Warriors organization is.
— kimballkjar (@kimballkjar) September 3, 2022
If my experience is an anecdotal example of what the Jr. Warriors programs are providing then kids will not only have lifelong friends and life-lessons to hold on to, but they’ll also have an experience that no other sport can provide in terms of inclusiveness and positive physical and emotional development. Helping to grow the game of rugby is so much more than just brand development, and to that end we love seeing the positive changes it makes with every child we have the opportunity to work with.
We moved the needle last year with the launch of our first ever Jr. Warriors League season and I am thrilled to say this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come. There are so many amazing organizations that we’re working with right now to expand this grassroots initiative that it is exciting to see where the Jr. Warriors program will go in the years ahead.
This op-ed was written by Jr. Warriors’ Manager Ashlee Byrge. If you have questions on the Jr. Warriors program or how the Utah Warriors can help support your organization’s goals for inclusivity and empowerment for kids of all ages through the sport of rugby, please feel free to reach out to [email protected] or 801-897-9763.
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