Reflections on the Growth of Women’s Rugby

Kristen Thomas

By Kristen Thomas | February 21, 2017

I have been thinking a lot recently about my journey in rugby and the overall rise of women’s rugby in the United States. As a women’s studies minor in college, I am extremely passionate about women’s issues, particularly our role in sports. As I reflect upon the last several years, I realize that we women have accomplished a lot. For the first time ever, women’s rugby was in the Olympics, and women’s rugby is now tabbed an NCAA Emerging Varsity Sport. Most importantly, however, thousands of girls are picking up a rugby ball.

I found rugby later in life than most professional athletes find their respective sports. As a basketball player and sprinter growing up, I had never heard of rugby. After giving the sport a shot in college, rugby has provided me with opportunities that I never thought would be possible. I encourage all women to give rugby a fair shot.

Over the last several years, I have traveled the world playing rugby. I have played rugby on nearly every continent, and, although I did not get to participate due to injury, I experienced the Olympic Games in person. I still have dreams to make the roster for the Olympics in 2020 and look forward to competing for a spot on the world’s biggest stage.

Rugby has given me the opportunity to meet and train with world-class athletes. Living at the Olympic Training Center, I am surrounded not only by tremendous rugby athletes but by other athletes pursuing their Olympic dreams. Training in an environment with some of the best athletes in the world is truly an honor and something I would never have experienced without trying rugby.

Growth in Women’s Rugby

Women’s participation in rugby is at an all time high. According to the NCAA, there are over 300 collegiate women’s rugby programs with over 11 thousand players. Over five thousand more girls are picking up rugby at the high school level, with many more participating in rookie rugby. Combined with thousands of adult women playing club ball across the United States, women’s rugby has a bright future.

It has been amazing to see the growth of the women’s game on the collegiate level. The Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) hosts a women’s division every year, and the competition there has been getting better and better. It is great for women to have the opportunity to play in a stadium filled with thousands of people. I wish I had the opportunity to play on that big of a stage during my college career and look forward to attending the CRC in June.

In addition to the growth at the amateur level, the professional level is making advances. The USA stop on the HSBC World Series tour has been moved from Atlanta to Las Vegas to coincide with the men’s event next week. I got to taste what it was like to play in Las Vegas last year, as it was an unofficial tour stop, but we played most of our games outside of the stadium. I am excited and confident that playing the whole tournament in a large venue in front of bigger crowds will continue to bring greater awareness to the women’s game.

The Way Forward for Women’s Rugby

Women’s rugby has seen unprecedented growth in the United States, and I feel it is my responsibility to help move the game forward. I am thankful for the opportunities Penn Mutual has provided me to have my voice heard as I strive be a role model for young girls interested in playing rugby.

Growth in women’s rugby will take strong leadership. Some people are leaders through communication, while others lead through actions. However, strength, discipline, understanding and organization are all qualities that I have learned are important in good leaders. It will be people with these qualities that help take the game to the next level. I hope I can continue to share the lessons I’ve learned through rugby with others and continue to grow the sport.

I am excited for what the future holds for women’s rugby, and I look forward to continuing my rugby journey and figuring out ways to pay it forward.

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