Girls: Just play any sport... it's a great life learner

Ahead of a fundraiser by Sundays Well Rugby Club, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to Laura Guest, who has represented Ireland in the Rugby World Cup and Women’s Six Nations Championship, about the importance of encouraging girls to play sport
Girls: Just play any sport... it's a great life learner
Munster Women's Head Coach Laura Guest.Picture: ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

PARENTS should get their kids playing as many different sports as possible from a young age, as it’s one of the best ways to learn important life lessons.

That’s according to Munster Women’s Head Coach Laura Guest, who says the most important thing isn’t that kids are especially talented, but that they enjoy what they’re doing, or they simply won’t keep it up as they get older.

“Just play — anything,” is the advice from the accomplished sportswoman whose international career saw her play in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and win the 2013 Women’ s Six Nations Championship.

Laura, who will be speaking at next month’s tribute evening to Joe Schmidt in the Everyman in Cork, is a teacher of Maths and Applied Maths at Midleton College, where she is also head coach of the boys’ senior rugby team.

From Clonakilty and living in Ballincollig, she’s hugely passionate about her work and keeping young people, particularly girls, involved in sporting activity.

“The fall off in girls playing when they hit their teens is well publicised. Unfortunately, we’re still fighting a bit of a losing battle to get 16, 17, 18 year old girls playing sport and I’m not certain how we are ever going to win that, but it’s crucial we try, especially at primary level.

“Boys are out kicking a ball in estates every evening, be it a hurley, soccer or rugby ball, but girls en masse just don’t do that. You just don’t see groups of girls out with a ball. Boys want to play, but girls tend to do what their peers do so the challenge is to get a group of peers to commit to playing and then to create a culture of enjoyment; and with the appropriate level of competition. You don’t have to be an amazing player,” said the almost 34-year-old.

She said she’d love to see young people playing as many sports as possible, and then deciding later if they wanted to specialise.

That’s how she got involved herself in rugby. As a student in Sacred Heart Secondary School Clonakilty, she played soccer, hockey, camogie and basketball before trying rugby, which she committed to.

Laura Guest far right and team mates taking part in the RBS Women's Six Nations Championship, Ashbourne RFC, Co. Meath in 2013.
Laura Guest far right and team mates taking part in the RBS Women's Six Nations Championship, Ashbourne RFC, Co. Meath in 2013.

“Sports is a fantastic life learner. You learn how to work as a team, how to take ownership of errors, how to fix things on the spot, how to take defeats, how to make friends, but also how to learn respect for people for different things. In all walks of life you’ll meet people you don’t like, and you mightn’t even know why, but in sport you learn how to get on with them regardless and that’s very beneficial.”

She also stressed the importance of balance and enjoyment.

“There must also be a level of enjoyment – if people are enjoying what they do, they’ll stay on. Sometimes we can be too engaged in winning. I’m as competitive as the next person but all I ever ask my players is that they do their best, win, lose or draw. I don’t believe in roaring or shouting on the sideline as that doesn’t add anything. I model my behaviour on how I like the game played.”

Reflecting on her own incredible international career, she has no regrets on calling time on it in 2014.

“I started playing when I was 16, which was a lot younger than most people who would have started in college. When I got back from the World Cup in 2014, I captained Munster and won my 10th Inter Pro. I look at rugby as being cyclical, a sort of rollercoaster of emotions, and I felt I had been very fortunate and wondered would I get to that next rollercoaster high again? So I decided to retire and I’ve no regrets, only fantastic memories. Had I stayed I’d have regretted it more.”

Apologetically private about her personal life, Laura will only say she’s ‘very happily cohabitating’ with her partner.

 Laura Guest, Ireland, in action against Wales. Women's Six Nations Championship, Ireland v Wales in 2012. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
 Laura Guest, Ireland, in action against Wales. Women's Six Nations Championship, Ireland v Wales in 2012. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

But she’s much more forthcoming about her dog Indy, who she says is ‘her world’.

“She’s an almost six-year-old Labrador collie cross and I’d be lost without her. I walk her every morning and evening and that gives great mental release and helps me switch off my brain and leave work behind.”

With the 2019 Munster season kicking off in mid-June and exam season approaching, she admits that life is incredibly busy: “There are times I wouldn’t see the inside of my house from one end of the week to the other between school and coaching but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Joe Schmidt. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Joe Schmidt. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

ABOUT THE UPCOMING FUNDRAISER

The Joe Schmidt event in the Everyman on Bank Holiday Monday, May 6, is being run by Sundays Well RFC as a fundraiser in support of the 3rd International Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup (IMART), which will be held in Cork next year.

In what will almost certainly be his last public appearance in Cork before departing for the World Cup and leaving Irish Rugby, Joe will reflect on his amazing career to date and discuss Ireland’s performance over the past number of years and his hopes for the Rugby World Cup. Asking the questions is Cork’s own Matt Cooper, one of Ireland’s foremost broadcasters with an innate understanding and love of the game of rugby.

Liam Maher of Sunday’s Well Rugby Club, and also Chair of the IMART 2020 Organising Committee, said: “We’re exceptionally grateful that Joe and Matt have agreed to support this very deserving cause.

“They occupy incredibly demanding roles and their schedules are jam-packed. The fact that they have given their time so willingly to this event is a testament to the calibre of people they are.

“We’re also really proud that Cork has been chosen to host IMART 2020. That decision, I think, is in part due to Ireland’s international reputation as a rugby powerhouse but it also has much to do with our growing reputation in mixed ability sport.

“Mixed ability is about valuing everyone’s potential and celebrating what’s at the heart of true sport — participation, passion and fun!”

Laura feels that rugby has traditionally been an inclusive sport with a place for everyone — although she admits that’s changing, particularly when it comes to the men’s game.

“There’s not a lot of difference these days between a centre and a prop whereas a few years back there would have been a significant one. It’s moving more towards a collision sport where players feel they need to be bigger to survive the hits associated with it.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever see the likes of Peter Stringer, who was a fantastic international player, on the field again. The focus is on getting bigger and stronger and while that has benefits for the game it means the sport isn’t picking up the same type of person as it did before.

“Women’s rugby doesn’t have that level of physicality and there’s still a place for players who are small and slight. We don’t have the luxury of the same base of players either so we’re delighted to see anyone play.”

This is Laura’s third season with Munster and ahead of the season kicking off in June, she says their main focus is to reclaim their Inter Pro title.

“That’s our target, which is the same as the other squads, and each year it’s getting more and more difficult.

“There never was an easy game but this season will be extremely close,” she predicted.

To book tickets for the Joe Schmidt event see https://everymancork.ticketsolve.com/ or at the box office

The event will also include actor Gareth John Bale, who has toured internationally with the highly-acclaimed one-man show GRAV, about legendary Welsh rugby player Ray Gravell, extracts of which he recently performed in the Welsh rugby team’s dressing room in Cardiff before their epic win over England.

Gareth’s TV credits include The Indian Doctor, Requiem and Casualty for the BBC as well as a leading role in the psychological thriller 35 AWR for S4C.

There will also be a few surprise appearances on the night.

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