Olivia Ross has been playing rugby for nine years, since she was 4 years-old. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Olivia Ross has been playing rugby for nine years, since she was 4 years-old. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Westshore Rugby aiming to get more girls playing

Player numbers were hurt by the pandemic, but have recovered recently

Westshore Rugby Club hosted a Girls Can Rugby event on Sunday, as one of dozens of clubs across the province organizing to get more girls interested in the sport.

The number of rugby players dropped drastically during the pandemic, said Kelly Hanvey, youth director of the Westshore Rugby Club. They’ve increased about 50 per cent as restrictions have loosened, Hanvey said.

“[Players] have been isolated, so they need to hit things. Honestly, they came out and I was very surprised, but they’re disappointed if they’re not hitting bags each practice.”

Despite growing numbers, it can be hard to keep kids in the sport as they get older. The number of girls participating between the ages of 12 and 15 drops especially, Hanvey said. Westshore Rugby had 25 girls registered in its under-16 team prior to the pandemic. As of this year, those 25 would have aged into the under-18 team, but now there are only four players left.

Olivia Ross, 13, has been playing rugby since she was four years old. She enjoys the sport because of the friendly community around it.

“It is kind of is scary at first, but once you get the proper techniques it is really fun.”

She’s been trying to get teachers interested in running rugby programs at her school in the hope of getting more kids interested.

Hanvey said access to the sport through school is one of the biggest gaps they’re trying to address. If left out of school, kids aren’t exposed to it.

“It’s a complicated sport. It’s full contact. Any old teacher cannot teach it or they’re very nervous to teach it.”

Cassidy Conkin, a school teacher with the Sooke School District, is a former player with daughters in the Westshore Rugby Club. He’s trying to get students at his school interested in playing and he’s also engaging with national team players – who train at the Rugby Canada centre in Langford – to come out and offer coaching time for younger kids, as he did when he was a player.

“Now it’s our turn to lead, and to lead those younger players to understand that it’s more than just them, it’s more than just their game, their play their skills, their training – it’s about something bigger, and for them to be conscious of that.”

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Olivia Ross practices with a tackle bag during the Girls Can Rugby event on March 6 at Westshore Rugby Club. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Olivia Ross practices with a tackle bag during the Girls Can Rugby event on March 6 at Westshore Rugby Club. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Age groups ranged from under six to under 16. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Age groups ranged from under six to under 16. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)