Women’s National Team – What’s your Opinion?

I am sure most of the women’s rugby world was following the Women’s National Team’s progress at the Nations Cup and have also been following Goff’s and other news sources updates on the tournament. Goff’s latest article Eagle Eye on USA Women (subscription required) has really stirred up the pot. Within two hours of posting the article there were already 2 pages of comments and overnight there is another page of comments.

Some of the points of Goff’s article in my opinion are out of line and some are of course right in line. Along the same idea, some of the comments are well thought and well written, while some of the comments are low-class and irrelevant. However, I do not want to open a hate fest or a negative arena like Goff’s comments have become. Let’s really get down to the nitty gritty and lets talk about what we really think will help. Put Me in Coach posted along the same lines yesterday and a few of you have emailed with similar interests. I have posted one of the best written responses yet and Kalie from Brown University has let me know that I can share it on this forum.


I realized very quickly this afternoon that Alex Goff did a pretty good job opening a tricky can of worms regarding the WNT. The responses to his article are all over the place (the ones posted on the site), but clearly he hit some nerves in the wider rugby community….

I have plenty of criticisms for Goff, and often I just take his writing with a shaker of salt and leave the rest be.

But I don’t think that his article should be the only point of reference for what he’s talking about. He goes from lesbianism to league structures–it’s too much at once, it’s too complicated and his oversimplification is a bad choice to make…one conversation is about collegiate play, one is about adult league structures, another is about elite level professionalism, one is about national team development structure, another is about the presence of communities within rugby, another is about sport and sexuality and identity…etc etc He leaves it as a jumble, and his audience sounds like its running right into that jumble.

I think it would be a very interesting opportunity to capture more articulate and thoughtful responses, writing, opinions, and questions that come from some of this. Untangle the different ideas that he gets at, and shed the most accurate light on the issues. While it would be easy enough to send out a few emails to my own rugby network and get well written thoughts back, I figured I’d turn to you first, and see if you think it’d be worthwhile to use this as a chance to invite people to respond personally (personal email) and honor the well written arguments…synthesize some things into your own blog entries, or something like that. Pretty much, I started writing down what I had to say, but realized my ideal would be to coordinate….to really look into this in a legitimate way… your thoughts??? I must sound vague right now, but I have some specific ideas spinning around my head…

Let me know what you think if you get a chance.

Kalie Gold

Brown University ’08
Brown Women’s Rugby (alumna)

So Kalie has started the conversation, what do you want to talk about? What parts of this program need tweaking? Is it really money, sexuality, staff etc…please keep in mind that I will not delete your comment or email because it is negative, but I would hope that we can all be positive and really work on things that can be fixed.

Send me your thoughts via email or leave them in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Women’s National Team – What’s your Opinion?”

  1. The comments on Goff are embarassing, I am glad YSC and Put me In Coach are trying to take a positive look at this.

    In my opinion I like the idea of the Division play where this is a Top 8 and then a D2 or whatever you want to call it.

    Thanks for posting!

  2. Wednesday Aug 27, 2008 in Columns Eagle Eye
    image for this article

    August 27, 2008 – Today we humbly submit a wakeup call to women’s rugby in America, courtesy of a now four-game test-match losing streak, and a nine-game losing streak for their senior national teams.

    Now before we get into this, let me tell you that I am not just a reporter and writer on American rugby. I have been involved with the women’s game as a coach and administrator for many years. I have seen women play rugby at every level, and seen it played well and poorly at every level. I have had long and meaningful talks with many connected with women’s rugby. This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction. I knew I was going to write this some day. That day has come.

    If you care about women’s rugby being better, and if you care about the national team doing better than being shut out by Canada, then read on:

    1. Changing coaches won’t do a thing. It doesn’t matter if you think we need a new coach or not. It doesn’t matter if you think player A should be starting instead of player B. The USA will only get better if we address deep-seeded issues in the way women play rugby.

    2. Did you notice a lot of lesbians play rugby? It’s no secret, nor should it be. Is it relevant? It can be – players have been known to date coaches (regardless of gender for that matter) and some are in serious relationships with coaches, and that can lead to some dicey situations – the potential for conflict of interest, things like that. But those who make selection decisions are professionals, and if it is a problem, it’s a small one compared to what we have to deal with.

    As for the lesbian culture within rugby, it has its influence (how could it not?) but does that turn off young players coming into the game? I don’t think so. I have coached U19 girls for seven years, some have embraced the lesbian lifestyle, some don’t care, and some are turned off by it. That’s just life.

    3. That doesn’t let women’s rugby off the hook. However, the party lifestyle, the immature attitude that rugby is there for you to drink beer and strut around (hay, I’m a rugby player, I kick ass, I’m amazing) is a turnoff. More and more young, serious athletes are coming out of college and high school looking at rugby as a true athletic avocation. They like to have fun, but saving your dedication for the bar after practice isn’t fun for them.

    A far-too-large percentage of women’s clubs still don’t get this. They think they do, they think they are serious athletic teams, but they aren’t. They are in the same situation many men’s teams were in around 2000, and they are kidding themselves. Those men’s teams were downright offended to be so characterized, but they changed nonetheless.

    If you wonder why the good players from your local colleges or high school teams don’t come play for your club, take a long, long hard look in the mirror. Are you in it just for the T-shirt? Or are you playing rugby?

  3. That’s not to say that the national team is like that or the players are like that – it’s just that the overall level of competition in women’s DI club rugby is not high enough to produce players who can make the jump to international. No matter how hard you train and how much you want it, you have to have a high level of competition to prepare you.

    4. Are there any clubs not kidding themselves? Yes there are, several. But even for many of them the level of athleticism we’re seeing at the college level isn’t being translated there. We have asked several experts close to the women’s game to give us a number: if we had a women’s Super League with just the good teams – the really competitive teams – in it, how many would we have? Numbers range from 6 to 10, generally around 8. There message is: We have 125 or so DII women’s clubs, 33 or so DI clubs, and only eight that are really good.

    Why? In part because of the issues mentioned above. Women’s club rugby has a bad reputation among college and high school coaches – a reputation that they don’t put playing and training for rugby first.

    It is in part because, say some, young players are too soft. They have far more done for them than players did 15-20 years ago, and are not mentally strong enough. They don’t know how to make decisions by themselves.

    Or, on the other side of the coin, older players win on toughness, and so skills suffer. Skilled rugby players are stifled before the altar of savvy and toughness.

    In a way, it doesn’t matter. We have to bring things together and make the rugby at the club level, and by extension the all-star level, better.

    5. OK, so we have established, I hope, that our domestic competitions are not good enough. They are too diluted. Not enough of the clubs have the right attitude. That’s fine because that’s eminently fixable. You create a national Super League of 8 teams and a National DI League of 8 more and then a DII of the rest of DI and best of DII and add a DIII for everyone else … bada bing. (Yeah, yeah, money, blah blah blah, it most certainly can and should be done in some form. I see how much clubs travel anyway. This … Can … Be … Done. Canada did it.)

    So. Now we look at the national team(s). It is broken record time because I cannot stress this further – our national team needs to assemble more often and play more often. Simple as that. The women’s club season was switched to fall in part so we could have time for the Eagles to play in the spring. Do they? Hell no!

    It is time for the women’s rugby community, especially former players, to get together to support the Eagles program financially so they can play games.

    It is time for the USA Rugby Board of Directors to not only find money for these women, but find games.

  4. Wow. The article really is all over the place and I can’t figure out why he mentions the lesbian thing. Of all the coach/player affiars I’ve witnessed in rugby, they have been exclusively between male coaches and female players. Has there been a scandal I’m just not aware of, especially regarding selections? He seems to imply that one existed.

    I do care about rugby on the international level and developing as a serious sport. I also care, however, about the rugby that is played at the recreational level. Just as most sports at which we dominate have multiple levels of competition, for the multiple levels of skill and dedication that different people have, to develop rugby as a powerhouse sport, we must have these different levels.

    Why? Because we must have a supportive fan base. Sure, the beer swilling D2 or D3 teams are not necessarily contributing to the skill development overall of rugby (going beyond genders, this applies to men’s rugby as well), but they are supporting our national teams through CIPP fees, Union dues, and attendance at rugby events (the recent Sentanta Cup for the men’s Eagles, for example)(a team which lost significantly to two professional team’s B-sides). I coach a very non-competitive collegiate rugby club. I made it clear that if they wanted to be more competitive, I could easily coach them there. They continue to choose to be a social side. I therefore continue to focus on basic skills enough for them to actually play the game. They don’t consider themselves serious athletes; they will graduate, for the most part, to D2/D3 clubs, or perhaps to no club at all.

    They’ve developed a love of the game, and will continue (as most college athletes do) to support their sport, but not play it, or not play it competitively. That is fine. We need those people, too.

    On a personal level, I’ve been frustrated by the lack of developmental activities for those who aren’t ready for the national camps. I’m a solid B-side player for a club that is probably on everyone’s list for the SuperLeague in women’s rugby. I know my skill level improves each season I’m with this club, but it’s hard to measure my development as a player when my opponents consist primarily of our A-side, and our A-side consists primarily of elite women’s rugby players, either 7’s or 15’s. Our local Union opened their D2 select side up to our B-side, and I happily stepped up to the try-outs. When few people showed up (to a pitch located an hour plus from NYC, in a thunderstorm, and the call for try-outs was only two weeks in advance), the Union decided there was a “lack of interest” and canceled the program for the summer. While there has been continued interest in pulling together a D2 select side, at least from the players, the Union has done little to support this. This type of support (or lack thereof) for women’s rugby does nothing to develop the game in terms of skill level!

    So in the end, Goff has a point about the levels of rugby. I worry about recreational/social rugby, though. Perhaps that should be a division unto itself? Instead of D3 or what have you, to call it seperately from competitive rugby? Perhaps we could also eliminate the stigma of club-switching, allowing players who start on a social side decide to become more competitive by moving up to a divisioned side.
    When I explain rugby to non-ruggers, many times they are surprised that everything from youth rugby to old boys and old girls rugby is governed by the same national office. It is not so much that USARugby can’t continue it’s central role in organizing all of this, but perhaps a bit of decentralization, not on a geographic level, but on a divisional level, would improve the situation.

    Kate NYRC

  5. As the father of a sixteen year old girl who loves rugby, but has no team to play on; I must say that numbers are everything. Grass roots kids leagues are the way to go. Yes, we are talking about twenty to fifty YEARS of hard work, but it is what it is. We must invest in the future of rugby here in the states, if we want it to take hold.

    Now, as an experienced club soccer coach with twenty years and several national coaching certificates in my pocket and one rugby certificate held, working for the well-being of womens’ rugby, I propose a two sided attack; grass roots kids programs from the one side and a better presence by the WNT and upper division clubs across America from the other side. The WNT should take a US tour, as well as play more tests here at home. Play all the top sixteen teams from this years finals and when a player is faced with playing for their home team versus the WNT, they must play for their home side. Coordinate these games with local skills workshops for other clubs in the area, and all the players have the opportunity to receive the same high level exposure to the coaches and knowledge that the WNT pool is getting.

    I have driven thousands of cumulative miles to take my daughter and son to see top level rugby in Texas, from El Paso (Go Scorpions!!) all the way to Burr Field in Austin, (Go Valkyries!!) down to the tip of Tejas (McAllen Knights rock!!), to the shores at Corpus Christi (nothing beats a Crabby whore!!). People who love this game will support it. Those who don’t, probably haven’t been introduced.

    As far as sexuality, I am pleased to say that my sixteen year old is non-judgemental. I am not sure if she is leaning toward a certain preference or not, but I don’t care. She is my daughter, friend, and a capable tackler/bruising runner (with a bad knack for leading with an elbow). What your preference is, is no one else’s business. In fact, the hardest hit I have received in the last few years of mens league came from the All-Texas lock from the Dallas Diablos, an alternative lifestyle team (I’ll take the one on two instead of running towards THAT guy again!!). I don’t know if he is gay or not (I don’t care), all I do know is he has excellent tackling technique (and I am no slouch with ball in hand). So, all arguements aside, you are either a rugger or not!!! When you step on that field and carry that ball toward my lane, I don’t care who you wake up beside tomorrow or are kissing tonight, right now I am going to plant one on you, baby; or be laft face in the mud grasping air as you run along your way.

    Side note: Congrats to the WNT. Seeing the scores and the write ups from the England games, I am pleased that you ladies are stepping up and giving some of the knocks that you are learning from. Keep up the hard work!! We all love our American women!!

    Wendy, keep up the good work with the blog-o-rama!! I swear I’ll get those pics to you girls.

    Jerry from Mudville

  6. Wendy, I don’t follow the WNT much, but as a fan of the sport, and a good friend to several who also play, I agree a lot with Jerry. I think that the issues that need to be dealt with in the sport have to do with having a strong presence at the top, getting the word out to younger players (I wish I would have heard of rugby before I hit my 20’s! Now I’m too nervous to try to learn to play!), and saying a big screw you to anyone who brings up the discussion about sexuality in the sport. Seriously, like Jerry says, either you’re a rugger, or you’re not. You can either hang with the big dogs, or you can’t. What should matter, is whether or not you can tackle and carry a ball, not whether you like balls. I’m sorry if my last comment seems in taste, but it makes me angry when some opponents of rugby chalk everything up to sexuality.

  7. Thank you Jerry for your comments! You are exactly right… who you wake up next to is no one’s business when it comes to playing rugby. We need more people like you in the rugby world.

    I’ve heard many people in my years use sexuality as an excuse for why women’s rugby struggles and its getting old.

    Homosexuality is not a characteristic of women’s rugby. Women who are strong, hard working, competitive, beautiful, dedicated, fearless, passionate, powerful… that’s what women’s rugby truly is. It’s a sport that requires women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Its the only sport I know that unites such a variety of women. But, I don’t recall one position description calling for a straight woman.

    Thanks to everyone who is looking at the real issues…. numbers, coaching, games, and support.

    My small 2 cents,

    The Girl

  8. IMHO Goff’s article is confusing at best and out of order at worst. That is the way in which he put his point and the information he used to make it.

    However, the state of the international game and the set up for the domestic game in the US seems to be at odds with what is happening this side of the pond.

    One of the previous posters mentioned that it is about numbers coming into the game at a young level but there needs to be a hook. We have the hook in so far as the national team are very good but if you stratch the surface the funding is a joke compared to the mens team as it is for the game as a whole. However at club level there is a huge gap in the structure.

    From my point of view there needs to be a plan, a pathway, and a goal. Points which most of the previous posters mention are all valid.
    You need a focus at club level on being the best you can be excepting that some squads might be more interested in the social aspect rather than the playing one. However the better players, coaches should end up at clubs with more of a playing vision.
    The league structure will then test the clubs but this needs to be in a way which is both sustainable and entertaining. You don’t what to travel hours for a game which is watched by one man and his dog. You also want better media coverage.
    Again this is all part of a bigger plan and one your union needs to drive forward.
    From a groundswell effect the national team can only benefit but you are right you need some internationals being played in the USA. This is the challenge to some of the other unions too.

    As for the comments on sexuality IMHO this is a red herring as far as the ability to play rugby is concerned. You could have the same discussion about religion, political beliefs or anything else people form opinions and make alignments on. If you want to play rugby and progress then that (along with a whole host of other things) becomes incidental. Not unimportant just not as important as other things. Good coaches and players will always success providing the intrastructure to play and train is avaliable.

    P.S Love the positive approach to an article which could have opened the taps on a whole pile of nasty stuff.

    Also really enjoyed reading all the comments on this post as there are some excellent points.


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