Spending the day with England Women’s Rugby

I have been lucky enough to be part of Sport’s Coach UK’s Coach Aspire Programme for the last 18months or so and through my Coach Mentor on the programme recently got the opportunity to spend the day with the England Women’s Rugby Union squad as they trained at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford.

Firstly, I should say that the facilities at Surrey Sports Park were first class. There had been a lot of rain for a good couple of weeks when I visited so I was expecting the pitches to be a bit wet and muddy but they were perfect-just a bit of bounce in the turf which I guess made hitting the floor a little more comfortable?

Rugby 1

The squad getting ready for the first session of the day. PA’s on the scaffold ready to film the session.

On to the team: Unlike the men’s game the women are all part-time players who are either studying or working at the same time as trying to develop their international playing careers. I guess it’s just like the men’s team used to be 20 years or so ago. Despite not being full time athletes the squad was full of players who were clearly 100% committed to being the best they can be. As a result the intensity of the training sessions was exceptional, the players were working hard and weren’t holding back from contacts despite it being day 1 of a training camp. It was great to watch but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be in the middle of it!

Head Coach Gary Street set the agenda for the day in the morning team meeting and reminded players why they had all come back to the squad this year-essentially ‘We prepared hard last year and worked hard. We thought we were at our best. We were good but it turned out we weren’t quite good enough” (For those of you who don’t follow Women’s rugby England lost 13-10 to New Zealand in the final of the World Cup in 2012). It was inspiring for me and I’d never even seen Women’s rugby before-I can only imagine the effect it had on the players who had been in the final a few months earlier.

Gary, Graham Smith (Forwards Coach) and the whole support team put a lot of effort into setting the right environment for the team throughout the day. In terms of the physical environment the equipment, facilities, support staff and so on were all first class. The training sessions were recorded by Performance Analysts so that they could be reviewed, the team’s Sport Psychologist was at the session watching the players and their reactions to different situations and the Doctor and Strength and Conditioning Coach were on hand to monitor the players and make sure they were ready to take part in the sessions. It really was a case of World Class support for World Class athletes.

Just as important was the psychological environment that was set up-not only the inspiring speech in the team meeting in the morning that really set the performance expectations for the day but also how the sessions were designed and the attention to technical detail. The morning sessions were all about preparing the players to make the right decisions at the right time under pressure-players were working hard with little recovery time and having to decide what play to make given the situation they faced. In the afternoon, the focus changed to take players outside of their comfort zones and see how they reacted, who stepped up to a leadership role and took charge of the situation and how they interacted with each other.

It really was a great experience spending the day with the squad. The attention to detail, the professionalism of all the staff and players and the quality of the environment that was created was exceptional as was the performance level. We were made to feel really welcome by the coaches and all of the staff and I would like to thank everyone for being so welcoming and open in talking us through their thinking and their plans for the future.

Rugby 2

Forwards Coach Graham Smith has the undivided attention of the group as he gives some technical feedback in a rare break in action.

Note: When I went to see the team they were preparing for the Autumn Internationals. They have now played their first two games and come away with convincing wins against France and Canada-the hard work is obviously paying off. Keep up the good work everyone!

For more information on England Women’s Rugby click here.