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We Just Don't Trust You: A Response to World Rugby's "Coaching Women and Girls"

The World Rugby Passport: Coaching Women and Girls was recently unveiled and received some well-deserved criticism from the women’s rugby community. I read the Passport and I believe it raised some useful points, but beyond menstruation and the needs of pre-post-natal players, I found the suggestions in the module apply to players of any gender. Are women more ‘curious’ learners than men? Isn’t problem-based learning (the approach WR references to engage curious players) just a better overall approach than the ‘coach as authority of all knowledge’? As I continued to read, I found my brow furrowing over some obvious, eye-rolling stereotypes of women as learners. World Rugby was chastised for using dated research - which isn’t bad in and of itself, as lots of studies remain valid over time - but unfortunately, they abstracted those studies to the extent that they are unhelpful.

Much of the problem relying on research studies about girls and women is that women and

people of color are absent from the ‘bedrock’ theoretical research on teaching and learning. Up until the late 1980’s there was virtually no research about women’s learning. All the research we read, all the theory we accepted was based on decades-old studies done by men, with most of the subjects in these studies comprised of white, privileged men at elite universities. The experiences of this small group of male subjects became the standard by which virtually all teachers were trained, standardized tests were created, and our beliefs about learning were concretized.

Does this sound familiar? One could argue that much of the ways World Rugby operates is

based on decades of experiences of overwhelmingly white, privileged males. When people of color or women entered rugby, we were "othered", at best a curiosity, more often a threat to the established order. Despite efforts to undermine or ignore women’s rugby, we thrived. In the past 10 years, women have risen to heights no one in World Rugby previously imagined. Women are selling out stadiums and becoming commercially profitable. Women are also starting to assume administrative leadership positions at every level, including World Rugby.

World Rugby is not wrong to think about educating coaches about the ways social influences

impact players. But the module they offer drifts into the dated "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" trope. Yes, there are differences. Large bodies of research support that girls and boys have different experiences in adolescence that impact their learning. Unfortunately, those differences have often been misinterpreted and exploited to keep girls out of educational experiences, including sports, for their own "safety." While adults have legislated to exclude women from some arenas based on perceived gender differences/weaknesses, the entertainment industry has twisted the research to valorize teenage boys as risk takers and ‘doers’, while teenage girls are cast as wishy-washy, manipulative, mean, or naïve. It’s hard for this characterization not to permeate the larger culture. Is it any wonder why we won’t speak up or need to know more about the people who are teaching and coaching us? It’s because trust is lacking. Look no further than popular movies; girls who are confident, strong, and bold are often portrayed as literal mutants.

Perhaps at the core of much of the backlash to the report is that women do not trust World

Rugby to have their best interest at heart. World Rugby must recognize they need to overcome a lot of historical baggage in the way they've treated women. It may be unfair to visit the sins of the fathers on the sons, but the sons must acknowledge they are where they are because of their privilege as a "son."

When women read reports aimed at speaking for us and our experiences, we are

understandably skeptical. We know that too often our experiences and voices do not exist in

the research and theories that inform this "truth." We see ourselves "othered" once again.

Women in rugby know that we are dependent on governing bodies who have been, and in

many ways remain, resistant to our presence. In its current form, World Rugby cannot be the

vehicle that speaks for women. Women must drive that change. The good news is we have the people, networks, allies, and knowledge to build what we need and deserve. World Rugby’s attempts to lean into the development of women’s rugby could be more effective if they include women’s voices. Conversations about women must be led by women.

The WRCRA will be convening a series of conversations with the women’s rugby community

inspired by the World Rugby Passport piece. We’ll offer some topics, times, and venues in the coming weeks. Our hope is that in the coming months, we can engage a large community of folks to discuss critical issues and to develop action plans.

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