As rugby continues to grow throughout the Caribbean, NACRA has introduced the game to St Kitts and Nevis using its values as the hook
The joys of rugby are well known up on the South African highveld, down in the Welsh valleys and in the Canterbury plains but now the game has arrived at a new and, arguably, even more exotic destination.
A spot of cricket on the beach or sprinting on the athletics track may be the sporting activities that first spring to mind when the sun-soaked Caribbean twin-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis is mentioned. However, while cricketers such as Keith Arthurton or athletes like Desai Williams have previously inspired the country’s youngsters, potentially a new breed of rugby player will be the ones making headlines in years to come.
Over the past year, kids in St Kitts and Nevis have been introduced to the game thanks to World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby initiative, enthusiastically implemented by the North America Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA).
The Get Into Rugby scheme has already been a hit in other Caribbean countries, such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, where there was already a rugby presence. In 2014, NACRA set the task of introducing the game to areas where rugby was not played, by working with local Olympic committees.
Indeed, the programme has been hugely successful throughout the continent with 16 NACRA unions taking part in more than 50 locations around North America and the Caribbean. So far that has introduced 13,900 youngsters to the game for the first time, including 6,200 girls, through more than 600 training sessions and Get Into Rugby festivals.
St Kitts and Nevis embrace Get Into Rugby The St Kitts and Nevis National Olympic Committee sent a representative to NACRA’s ‘New Country’ initiative in 2013 where rugby was explained and introduced to people who had never experienced it before. The NOC immediately embraced the introduction of Get Into Rugby so, in 2014, it invited NACRA to make a first visit to train teachers and volunteers.
Trinidad and Tobago woman Kwanieze John, who works as a Get Into Rugby instructor for NACRA, and Tom Jones, World Rugby Regional General Manager, were the lucky ones to make the trip to the shores of St Kitts and Nevis. John has since made a second visit, this time with Kurt Weaver of USA Rugby.
John explains the importance of directing their rugby education programme towards primary and secondary age students.
“We need to build a culture and, as young kids are more impressionable, it needs to be the right culture. This is particularly true as there is no local rugby for them in St Kitts and Nevis. It's about the opportunity to make rugby their own,” she said.
So, what is this rugby culture like?
A rugby culture is being instilled
“It is great to address education, health and physical fitness through sport to become not just a better rugby player but to become a better person,” she said.
“Teamwork is heavily emphasised. The integrity of the game, that they have to be honest, they have to be accountable to their team-mates, their coaches, their school, keep maintaining good grades.”
These efforts are supported in St Kitts and Nevis and in other Caribbean countries by the fact that rugby has become part of the physical education curricula. It was during her own school years in Trinidad that John herself first encountered and fell in love with rugby.
“The coach came into our school and she had a very powerful personality, and I wanted to be as strong as her. That was what it was really about for me because I had no idea what rugby really was when I got started, not a clue!”
It was this character building aspect of the game that particularly appealed to the then 15-year-old.
Rugby helped me to make friends
For me, rugby was an opportunity to travel and to make friends with other girls my age who were just as passionate to be as involved with sport as I was. Rugby did a lot for my character as well, you were seen as a strong girl in school.”
Ten years later, John’s desire to promote rugby across the Caribbean and experience in doing so is impressive considering she is still only 25.
In telling of how rugby impacted upon her life as a teenager while growing up in the tough Port of Spain neighbourhood of St Barbs, John expounds on how rugby can be used to help fight socio-economic disadvantage.
“Rugby was an escape for me. I grew up kind of rough, in a sense, in a place where your peers heavily influenced you. Rugby was a lifesaver for me because I grew up in a harsh community. That was just my environment but it wasn’t who I really was. Who I am now has a lot to do with the school I attended, my mentors and the people who looked out for me.
“In my community I saw a lot of girls have children as teenagers and that became their whole life. What rugby did for me was see beyond that, that there were different paths and there are different experiences you can find through sport.”
Desire to inspire others
John’s path that began with rugby has included being capped for her country at senior level playing both sevens and 15s, studying at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, working with the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee and last year being their chef de mission for their delegation to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
These achievements she believes stem from her involvement in rugby and feed into her desire to inspire others.
“I know what sport did for me as a young woman and I have always wanted to share that opportunity with others. I want to inspire others to take up sport as a career or working in sport development as a career. The changes sport can make to the lives of young people are priceless.”
She once again returns to the social aspect of rugby when expressing the benefits of sport for young girls in particular.
The value of solidarity is so important
“We emphasise the values of rugby such as solidarity and how, as women, they should not tear each other down but they need to support each other.
“We tell them that they are part of a wider community and that does a lot for girls and the boys. Because sometimes boys feel very alone despite their machismo, so that camaraderie and friendship are definitely parts of the rugby programme.”
John provides some stirring words to prompt any teenager regardless of where he or she may be in the world to pick up an oval ball.
“Rugby really saved me because I didn’t always have somebody to talk to but I would go on the field and all my worries would just drop away. I became a different person when I was on that green grass. When I am out on the field I am really at peace.”
by Kate Rowan Source: NACRA Info Page.