Rugby teaches many lessons for Riverside girls

Volleyball is not a contact sport.

So when Luise Maties decided to expand her athletic repetoir by joining the girls’ developmental rugby team at Riverside secondary school in Port Coquitlam, she was understandably apprehensive about tackling and getting tackled.

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Actually, “I was quite scared,” the Grade 11 student said.

But confronting that fear and overcoming it is one of rugby’s great life lessons said the team’s coach, Jeff Kwok, who’s taken on the challenge even though he currently teaches at Maple Creek middle school.

Girls rugby is back at Riverside for its second season, after a hiatus of several years, because Kwok believes in its worth to build character and develop leadership and communication skills in young athletes. Once they get used to getting hit, that is.

“Until you get hit, you can’t know what it’s like,” he said.

Teagan Ewert’s been there, done that. The Grade 12 student is in her second year with the team and she said her confidence to throw herself into the scrum has grown as she’s learned more about the sport, and herself.

“I’m pretty used to it now,” she said.

As the only developmental team left in the Tri-Cities, after Gleneagle’s team moved up to AAA competitive rugby, most of Riverside’s 22 players are new to the game. But learning it together is part of the reward, Kwok said.

“Rugby is a pretty tough sport,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage for them to get out there to play.”

To smooth the learning curve and ease prospective players’ fears, Kwok encourages friends to try out together. That ensures everyone has someone to lean on when they’re feeling trepidatious, and to motivate them as their comfort level increases.

“Having a friend to do this with is always fun,” Kwok said.

That was exactly Maties’ motivation to try rugby, she said. And when she took to the field for the first time, she was struck by the supportive atmosphere.

“It’s a tough game, but we’re here to help each other,” she said.

Ewert said that support reinforces the team culture and camaraderie.

“We all learn together,” she said. “My teammates helped me learn, and now I can help others to learn.”

And there’s much to be learned, Kwok said, like core skills such as how to make and take a tackle so the girls can play the sport safely, training to improve their cardio, along with rugby’s myriad rules.

“They’re all willing to learn,” he said.

Which is one of the reasons Ewart can’t wait for the team’s practises to evolve into real games, after spring break.

“You have to think on your feet,” she said. “I still don’t know everything.”

• The Riverside Rapids girls rugby team plays its first game of the season on Wed., April 3, 3:30 p.m., at Gates Park.

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