This month Club Matters Meets caught up Tamara Taylor, England rugby union player and captain of the team in the 2015 Women's Six Nations Championship. We chatted about her experience growing up in women's rugby and how she gives back to the sport.
How old where you when you joined your first Rugby club and what was it called?
I was 15 years old, about a month off being 16 when I joined my first rugby club and it was called Henley Rugby Club down in the beautiful Henley-On-Thames. It was a club that my brother was already playing at and a Women’s team started, so as soon as I saw it advertised I took myself along.
What do you remember about the club? (the atmosphere, culture, social aspects, how it was run, the people you met there?)
I was quite nervous because it was a senior women’s team and I was only 15 going on 16…but I remember all the girls being really really friendly and the club has really good links between the Mens’ and the Womens’ sections and the community. It had a real family atmosphere to it and even when I went to watch my brother play there would be kids everywhere, parents watching and people on the sidelines chucking a ball around. It felt like a really welcoming and friendly place to go. It didn’t matter if it was Wednesday night training or if you were down there on a Saturday or Sunday you could always walk into the clubhouse and feel welcomed by everybody. I think it’s got a lot more professional now and the Mens’ team have gone through the ranks, but each time I’ve been back, there’s always someone at the door to greet you which I think is really important to keep getting people to come back.
How important was this grassroots introduction to sport in your personal development and in becoming a professional athlete?
Grassroots sport is absolutely pivotal in any sportspersons’ life as you generally don’t go from playing at school into a professional contract in whatever sport you do! There’s usually some sort of transition and grassroots sport is really where you learn your trade and develop the first part of your skills, especially as a rugby player. I think for me personally, I had to be quite brave to go to my first club in the first place because it was a senior womens’ section and I hadn’t really played any rugby so it taught me a lot about bravery, resilience and courage and actually if you can be brave enough to take that first step into the unknown it made a massive difference for me and made me love rugby even more and it’s my love of rugby that’s made to go on to work as hard as I possibly can. You can’t get those professional athletes without the first starting point of the club and community and the support network you get with grassroots clubs.
What is your fondest memory of sport when you were younger?
I grew up in Zambia and Botswana until I was 7 years old, the lifestyle was just being outside barefoot in a pair of shorts running around. My Mum was a PE teacher. I can remember hanging around after school and chucking a tennis ball against a wall waiting for her to finish. Another really fond memory of mine was when we first moved to England and playing Quick Cricket just outside the house on a bit of grass with my Mum, Dad and Brother…everyone just chucking a ball and you used the little stumps behind your feet as the wicket. Just playing outside in the sunshine trying my best to beat my brother and failing miserably normally!
Is there a particular volunteer/club member from anywhere along your incredible journey that made a real impact in your life? Is there anything you would like to say to them?
There’s a couple of volunteers and club members. My first two rugby coaches back at Henley Scott Perkin and Jerry Edwards, they were the ones that kept me going, kept me enthused and ultimately, they moved me from playing in the back to the forwards which is where I’ve ended up playing and where I got capped for England as a forward. They were volunteers who turned up every day rain or shine. They were a real motivation for me, they kept me going as a youngster in the squad. I just want to say a huge thank you to them, I don’t think they realise how huge an impact they made on my rugby journey. More recently, there’s two guys at my current rugby club, Graham Sykes and Tony Corpse. They are just pure volunteers and have always been involved with the Sharks Womens’ team and the help in absolutely any way they can: being a treasurer, cooking bacon sandwiches in the morning for our away trips, coming and helping in any kind of club negotiation. They have completed my grassroots rugby from the coaching guys at Henley to the ‘grown-ups’ as I like to call them up at Darlington Mowden Park. Just a huge thank you to them for all the time they put in – they don’t get paid and we’re all probably a real pain with how much we ask of them and yet they keep helping us – they are just amazing!
Do you plan on volunteering your time and giving back to the sport that made you the woman you are today?
Yes, definitely! At the moment, I’m very fortunate that the job that I do is within rugby and I coach within the community game which is amazing to get paid to give back, but I’ve also helped out at clubs and schools volunteering my time trying to help inspire people being a professional athlete and going back to where it all starts at these schools and clubs and I know whatever I do for a career in the future, I will 100% be going down to my local rugby club and helping out with coaching and anything that I can. We need volunteers in clubs and I was helped so much by the volunteers across my career that I couldn’t possibly not give back.
Is there any message you’d like to give to the volunteers who help run thousands of sports clubs up and down the country?
A massive thank you! For all the work that they do. I know that sometimes, from a personal experience it feels like you’re doing a thankless job, but you don’t realise how much of an impact you’re making on people around you and the jobs that you’re doing and how much that helps others. So, thank you and keep going! As sportspeople, I think we’re always trying to be better and be better versions of ourselves and I think that’s true of all the volunteers as well, you’re doing a great job!
Tamara is taking part in the LMAX Exchange Everest Rugby Challenge playing the highest ever game of rugby in history next April in support of Wooden Spoon, the Children’s charity of rugby. Any sponsors can be made here: https://uk.virginmoneyygiving.com/TamaraTaylor