by Brianna Thompson
The thing that has given me the most joy so far since arriving at site has been the girls’ rugby team that I practice and play with. They all began practicing the week after I did, at the end of April. Watching them develop as players, as people, and as a team has been a true joy. From the first day they showed up on the beach, apprehensive and full of complaints, I could have sworn that only a few of them would return. The sport has its way of capturing people’s hearts. Almost three months later, there’s still a solid team of high school girls who get more motivated each day to grow stronger and faster, and who excel on the field.
The truth is that there aren’t a lot of opportunities like this in most Colombian communities. Sure, kids play soccer all over the place, but there aren’t a ton of places where kids can play organized sports, which is where a lot of character development happens. Coach Gabriel told me, “Rugby teaches you to respect others. A difference that separates it from football is that in rugby nobody can raise their voice. Nobody can talk to a referee. Anyone that makes a gesture at him is not respecting authority and is immediately penalized. Rugby teaches you to respect authority. To listen when you are being corrected. To not hurt your opponents.”
Certainly, one of the biggest challenges that Gabriel has faced as a coach is the girls’ inexperience with sports, both in terms of how they perform and how they behave. “For me it would have been better if they had played any sport before rugby. It’s easier because then they already have ‘sport attitudes.’ (Discipline, passion, physical fitness, etc.) If they are playing a sport for the first time, it’s more difficult because they have to learn these things that they don’t already know.”
Despite these challenges and the girls’ initial hesitance, Gabriel also praises their growth. “They’ve surpassed my expectations. I thought it would be more difficult to be a coach. It’s my first time as a coach starting with a group from zero. Fortunately, they’ve learned quickly. They basically know how to play rugby. Now they just need to learn a bit more of the technique and rules. The process has gone really well. The learning has happened quickly.”
I talked to one of the players, Betsy, about her experience playing rugby. Prior to this she had only played soccer at school, but like many of the girls, didn’t really like it. “What I like about rugby is the perspective that it gives about a team. We play together and need each other all the time at the game, and no matter how much you push someone there will never be a problem because we are all like a big family.” I am very lucky to have this little family at my site!