My college, University of Minnesota, had a women’s club rugby team. I always joked about going out for the team – joked because I knew that I would never overcome my shyness and social anxiety to actually do it. But I was serious about wanting to try. I always loved physical sports; in fact I loved physicality a little too much for football, but fortunately I a) knew decently well enough how to rein in my body that I only ever received one yellow card and never did anything that resulted in a penalty shot and b) soon enough was in the goalkeepers gloves which kind of gave me a magic bubble.
So when Peace Corps told me that I would be going to the exact site that I wanted in all of coastal Colombia – the exact one because it was right next to a city, small enough to bike in, and had a rugby team – I knew I had to figure out how to get on the team. Thanks to a random series of events that included running with stranger on the beach at night in flip-flops and then awkwardly chatting up a bunch of strangers in short shorts, I met Gabriel. My second week at site I started practicing with the guys at night. A couple weeks later, I went to the first practice of a high school girls’ team he was forming.
I should mention that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for girls or women to play sports in coastal Colombia. My town is close to the city, so there is a girls’ soccer team (that was not started by a foreigner as far as I know), but while boys and men often go out to the neighborhood park or street to play soccer, girls and women stay at home and chat or do housework. Or girls may rollerskate or dance or bike, but nothing too physical or too organized. So I though it was awesome that a dude would create this opportunity for young girls. That was six or seven weeks ago, and it’s been incredible to see how the young women on the team have learned and grown so much in that time.
I wanted to share with you a bit more about what is going on with girls’ rugby here in Puerto Colombia, so I interviewed Gabriel, the coach of the team.
Interview with Gabriel Orozco
This interview was conducted in a mix of Spanish and English, so parts of it have been translated. It has also been edited for clarity.
How long have you been playing rugby?
Almost 4 years
Are the teams male-only, or have you played on co-ed (male and female) teams?
Only male! No…wait… Once we played co-ed. But only once. It was nice, but difficult for her.
There was only one girl?!
Yeap. Playing sevens. Rugby sevens. Here at Puerto.
That’s more like a girl playing on a guys team than all of you playing co-ed.
Normally co-ed teams have rules like you have to have at least 2 girls on the field at all times or something.
Ok.. So I’ve not played co-ed
Why did you start the girls team?
Cuz… Rugby is for everyone. Having both categories shows that women have the same phyiscal conditions as men when it comes time to play.
Additionally I started this process with the girls because there is a program called GET INTO RUGBY which is focused in including everyone in the world of rugby…most importantly boys and girls.
Ohhh. Is that where you got the ball?
Image from Gabriel Orozco
Did you have to prove that you had started the team to get the ball, or just ask for it?
I had to show that there was already a team.
They gave us 4 balls.
Juan David is also with this same program.
The Cisneros children are in the program too. It’s main for children.
For the next rugbiers prom!
(Note: I have no clue what prom means here, but it’s used a lot in schools. It’s definitely not a fancy dance though.
June 23 update: The rugby girls read this and laughed about this note, and then kindly explained that prom is like the graduating class; prom = seniors.)
Where is GET INTO RUGBY based out of? Like, where is that group?
Well I really don’t know. But the master boss is FEDERACION COLOMBIANA DE RUGBY. It’s like a pyramid.
We are the last
(Note: GET INTO RUGBY is an initiative of World Rugby, the FIFA of Rugby, and is based out of Ireland. Rugby is returning to the Olympics this year, and is leveraging the visibility they will have on the global stage to promote more kids globally to get started playing rugby)
They are explaining rugby in whole Colombia. That’s what the program is about.
Ahhhh, ok. Trying to steal some of those footballers.
You know in my high school, some of the American football players switched to soccer, and the school was mad because they lost good players to a less popular sport.
I feel like that’s how it would be here if people switched from football to rugby if the schools had sports.
Haha…. We are including rugby in schools. You saw us.
Yeah but it’s different.
SUPERATE is like Olympics. Superate is only between students. We are making superate teams.
Oh, cool. I didn’t know that was a thing
That is another GET INTO RUGBY’S goal.
I have more questions about the girls specifically.
Have you had any problems with their parents? It’s not very common for girls here to even play football, and rugby is much more physical.
As of now no problems…but sometimes they don’t give permission to play. Their parents are afraid. I think because it’s new sport. They don’t know how is gonna be. But there are some parents who accept that their children play. When they’re younger than 15 it’s more difficult to ask permission to play.
And since they’re girls, practices need to be in the day. At night they don’t give them persmission.
Oh yeah that’s tricky. And annoying with the heat here!
You’re coaching a group of girls, and many of them have never played a sport before, so there are more obstacles that you may encounter than if you were in another country. What are some of the challenges that you are finding coaching them?
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” – like discipline, passion, physical fitness, etc.
When they are people that 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. Because of this, a lot of times they don’t do the drills correctly. Because of this, sometimes they drop the ball. Because of this, they don’t tackle well. Because their bodies aren’t conditioned for any physical activity.
But some of them, even though they’ve never played a single sport, learn quickly.
When I was talking to Yesid and Betsy after eating salchipapas, I told them that I like organized sports because in addition to teaching kids the value of staying healthy, it also teaches them values. Like discipline, for example. Yesid said he had learned to listen better by playing rugby.
Of course. 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.
You must have had expectations about how the girls would learn and how they would play rugby. Is there any way that they surpassed your expectations?
For example, I was on the beach the first day that they came to practice, and I was actually surprised by how many of them came back the second time. But I was never surprised that they love to tackle or be tackled!
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.
But the process has gone really well.
The learning has been fast.