Getting teens involved in sports is important. If your daughter is keen to play “proper” contact rugby in Singapore, she can – thanks to JIM KELLETT and CLARE KIERSEY, co-founders of the Singapore Valkyries Girls Rugby programme.
Tell us about your own rugby backgrounds.
Jim: I started playing in high school in Canada, then continued at university. After a “lost decade”, I joined the Montreal Irish for about 10 years, until I moved here. I was also actively involved in the club executive, helping to raise money and organise events. Beyond my association with the Valkyries, here in Singapore I play vets rugby with the XV Gaulois and touch rugby with the TRC coaches’ team, the Coffin Dodgers.
Clare: I went to a prep school in Cornwall, a part of the UK that is passionate about rugby. When I was 12 or so, there weren’t enough boys for the team, so the girls were asked to make up numbers – that’s how I played my first game. A few years later, my local town set up a ladies’ team, and my sister and I played. We were about half the size of some of the solid Cornish lasses there but had a slight advantage in speed! It was playing for Cardiff University where I really learnt the camaraderie of rugby – our team got to the University finals and even played at Twickenham, my rugby highlight.
What gave you the idea to start girls’ contact rugby in Singapore, and how has it grown?
Jim: My daughter was playing touch at TRC but wanted to play contact with the boys and didn’t want to do it alone. I found Clare who agreed to help me, and together we started the programme. Through word of mouth, we found two other girls to join us, and we started preparing the girls to join the boys’ under10s contact team.
Word continued to spread, and our numbers started to grow. After six weeks, we had enough girls ranging in age from 10 to 16 to start our programme. Within six months, we had four teams at the Hong Kong All Girls Tournament, where we won three Shields, a Bowl and two age-group MVPs.
Clare: We’re really excited at the growth over the four years, and we now have over 120 girls on our books, aged from eight to 17. They play all over Asia, from an Annual Barefoot Tournament in Cambodia to the All Girls Tournament in Hong Kong. TRC hosts an All Girls Tournament in Singapore in December where teams from across Asia come and compete.
Is it mostly expat girls?
Clare: The majority of our girls are expats, from rugby-playing countries like England and France, but we also have girls from Holland and Canada, and some local girls too – though not nearly enough!
Jim: Thanks to the efforts of the SRU, combined with the rising prominence of women in sport, and the popularity of the less “brutal” 7s version of the game, we are starting to see an uptake of interest among Singaporean girls.
Why is contact rugby a good sport for girls to play?
Jim: It builds self-confidence in a way that is unique. Girls get to be physical without the fear of reprisals – and while still being girls. It also builds team skills and fitness. It’s amazing to watch a tiny wallflower picking daisies one week and then a short time later starting to blossom into a full-on tackling machine! You can almost point out the individual girls’ “turning points” when they go from daisy picker to rugby player. Girl power prevails!
Clare: Rugby offers one of the few opportunities girls have to get mucky and physical. It’s a sport for all shapes and sizes, and it teaches girls many positive messages – that playing as a team and being strong are good, and more important than what you look like. In this age of increasingly equal opportunities for girls, it sends a message to both girls and boys that they should be seen in the same light.
Do you have daughters who play rugby?
Jim: All three of our kids (two girls, 13 and 9, and a boy, 11) are super keen and reasonably proficient rugby players; the eldest daughter plays with the Valkyries and with the Singapore Cricket Club under-13s boys’ team; the younger daughter is in the Valkyries and Tanglin Rugby Club (TRC); and my son is Tanglin all the way!
Clare: As a five-year-old, my daughter stood on the sidelines playing with her My Little Pony, and she seemed distinctly uninterested in playing rugby! She’s now nine and, yes, she’s playing – and I’m coaching her, which is the most challenging task of all!
How do you hope the sport will grow in Singapore and the region?
Jim: I’d like to see more parents accept rugby as a sport that girls can play without losing their girlishness or their focus on academics. In Singapore, there’s often an exclusive focus on academics at the expense of other activities important to well-rounded kids. This is a cultural challenge, but we’re making headway.
There are some wonderful people and groups working with girls’ rugby initiatives. Here in Singapore, these include Wing (the women’s national team coach), Kristy Teh at the Overseas Family School, and the team at the Lycée Français. Regionally, there is Kampuchea Balopp, run by a couple of amazing Frenchmen in Phnom Penh. They help disadvantaged children (orphans, street kids and others) to develop personal and life skills through sport; 700 of their 900-plus participants are girls. There are programmes popping up in the Philippines, Jakarta, Bali, Laos and Myanmar too. It’s fantastic.
How can girls get involved?
Jim: Show up! Join us on Sunday morning at Tanglin Rugby Club – 8am for under-8s, 9s and 10s, and 9.15am for under-11s through 17s. We offer a three-week free trial period; all the girls need is a mouthguard and, ideally but not necessarily, a pair of cleats. After the trial period, we require them to join any one of the recognised junior rugby clubs in Singapore, though they’re still welcome to train with us free of charge.
Clare: We play pretty much all year round during school terms, and we’re always looking for new players!
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