USWRF-WRCRA Horizons Initiative

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Building the Next Generation of Coaches and Referees


“Crouch, bind, se….mmmph…” Projecting an authoritative voice through a mask was just one of the challenges participants faced during a recent L200 coaching course in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nine of the fourteen participants in the course were women including four WRCRA Horizons Project coaches and both coach instructors.


WRCRA launched the Horizons Project in February of 2021 after discussions with and wise counsel from Katie Wurst, Mary Swanstrom, Ros Anderson, and Amanda Cox. The Horizons Project was developed to strategically increase the numbers of women coaches and referees in the U.S. by funding certification courses for women over the next five years. In addition to regular Zoom meetings and course certification, the program builds support systems throughout the women’s rugby community for participants and provides participants with a range of coaching and refereeing opportunities.


Coaches at the recent L200 course

There are currently fourteen women in the Horizons Project coaching certification pathway and seven in the referee certification pathway. All of the coaches have completed the Level100 coaching course and four have recently completed the L200 coaching course. We are working on getting the referees prepared for the L100 referee certification and finding them opportunities to practice referee skills.


To date, all the courses and Zoom sessions have been taught by women and it should be noted that Nancy Fitz initially created the online introductory coaching course and Lee Bryant initially created the referee course.


The idea of gender specific programming is always controversial. Some argue that excluding anyone is detrimental to the whole or that segregating women from men in training will somehow lead to coaches and referees who are less capable. Yawn. Educational research has shown the value of gender segregated education at every level for all genders. While the neuroscience of gender-based learning has shown that the differences between genders is negligible, social conditions of classrooms remain problematic to boys and girls. Research shows that boys and men speak more often, are more likely to command the instructors attention and take up a greater amount of space in the classroom. In co-educational settings, girls and women are likely to speak less and are less likely to take risks. This is true as well in experiential educational settings, like sport. WRCRA believes that women-led coaching and referee courses provide participants with female role models - the ‘if I can see it I can be it’ mantra. Given the statistically low presence of female coaches and referees in rugby, these women-led opportunities are crucial for aspiring women coaches and referees.


The USWRF/WRCRA is committed to funding the Horizons Project for 5 years with a goal of getting 100 women through the L200 coaching course and 50 through L300. We also hope to get 60 women through the L100 referee course. We believe these to be modest goals and we are prepared to increase those numbers to respond to the demand. While WRCRA is committed to covering all fees and providing internship opportunities for participants, the cost of the program is still substantial. We will work with GU’s and private donors to create a stream of funding that will allow us to grow the program and continue it beyond our five year funding window. Funds will pay for coaching and referee courses, as well as transportation for participants and instructors to both the courses and internship opportunities. We are working closely with USA Rugby to ensure that participants complete all courses and materials in compliance with USAR and World Rugby guidelines.


In this first round, participants were identified and nominated by WRCRA members. As we move forward, we will continue to solicit nominations from WRCRA members and open an application process. Please keep an eye on our website and newsletter for updates. If you have any questions please contact us.


Upon completing the L200 coaching course, we are asking participants to become members of WRCRA and complete their WRCRA Coaches Bank profile. This increases our ability to build networks of support for participants. WRCRA members are inviting participants to coach and referee at summer camps, to shadow coach or practice their referee skills at weekly team practices, and to participate in Zoom conversations with experienced coaches and referees. Our intention is that this program becomes a loop - participants gain experience and professional certifications and in subsequent years they teach courses and mentor new participants in the Horizons Project.


One lofty goal we harbor is to work with USAR, RAN and WR to sponsor a senior educator course for WRCRA members. We ultimately hope this support launches women into senior level educator positions and helps them attain leadership roles on the committees with oversight and decision-making authority about coaching and referee education, qualifications, etc. We believe our members can serve as a critical support network for women as they rise in the ranks.


Ultimately our most strident hope is to build robust, sustainable coach and referee networks at every level. Join us in this important initiative. Join WRCRA.



Participant Profiles


Learn more about some of our Horizons Project participants!


Brittany Marie Dykes, 26, Boston, Massachusetts


Occupation: Customer Success Manager, Pear Deck Started Playing Rugby: Spring 2013 Teams: University of Southern California, Tulane, Lagniappe, Beantown (currently) Positions: Scrumhalf and wing



Favorite coach?

Jessica Mallindine, Tulane Women's Rugby Football Coach. Jess is an amazing coach! I've always enjoyed her approach to coaching us. I felt that she really understood everyone's strengths and weaknesses and developed drills to help us in those areas. Personally for me, I felt that she really helped me hone my skills as a scrumhalf offensively and defensively. Jess understood that I was quite the firecracker on the field and found ways to help me control that a little better. To this day, I often reflect on what I learned from her.


Favorite player?

I don't know if I have a favorite player. I feel like every player brings something to the pitch and to the team that is valuable. I appreciate everyone that comes out on the field whether for a match or for practice and they give 110%/the best that they might be able to give that day.


Why do you want to coach?

Rugby has had such a positive impact in my life. It's definitely a sport I hold near and dear to my heart. I want to continue to spread that love and joy for rugby through coaching! It has always been a dream of mine to really step up and help with Youth Rugby and through these courses, I can better equip myself to be a strong, positive coach for my players.


What are the qualities of a good coach?

The ability to simplify drills and skills to be easily digestible by all players at various skill levels, patience, empathy, and drive! What goals do you have for your coaching career? At a bare minimum, I want to complete the L200 coaching course before the end of 2021.