Jillaroos Answer Every Mum’s Questions About Their Girls Playing Rugby League
Girls are taking up rugby league at an ever increasing rate, but some parents still have their reservations. So we have enlisted Jillaroos (Australian Rugby League Team) stars Sam Bremner and Bec Young (who is also a mum) to answer the common questions & misconceptions a parent may have when their little girl says “I want to play Rugby League” this year.
1. Will she get hurt?
Sam Bremner, Jillaroos Fullback
I played every sport under the sun growing up, including touch footy. Initially my mum was fearful of junior league, whereas my dad, who was a coach at the time, wanted me to play – so touch became the compromise. Today, mum is our biggest fan and is the first person to say how safe the game is.
Personally I found I had far fewer injuries playing rugby league than other sports because I learnt the fundamentals before playing in competition, learning how to safely play and receive tackles.
The rules for junior league have changed this year so the game has become safer again, more free-flowing and more fun. Teams are smaller, there are more tackles per set and field sizes are smaller so the players are getting more time with the ball and getting more runs and more tries, which puts the most smiles on their faces.
Bec Young, Jillaroos Forward & mum to a 6 yr old girl
Reality is, you can get injured in any sport, which is why it’s all about preparing our kids for the game and teaching them the rules that prevent injury. There are going to be bumps and bruises along the way, but it’s the same as netball and any other sport out there.
My daughter trains with me each week and is learning and building her confidence. What I like most about junior rugby league is that the coaches are fully accredited and qualified to teach our kids the safest version of our sport, so they learn how to enter into tackles, or be tackled. Kids learn really quickly so know what to expect from a tackle and how to position themselves to be safe.
2. How young is too young to play Rugby League?
The earlier you start, the better it is for your game. I started playing when I was 18 years old after playing touch all my life and I wish I had started earlier as there is no doubt I would be a better player today. It’s all about experience, getting a handle on the ball skills earlier, learning to make decisions on the field, and ultimately, have more confidence with the game and the team around you.
The junior league coaches are so great too. All they want is for the kids to have fun and enjoy their time on the field. Kids can in the Under 6s, but if you have a little one raring to go, they can start training earlier with the team, you just won’t see them playing in the Saturday games.
Kids can play in the Under 6s from five-year-old, but it really is up to the parents when they think their child is ready to play junior league. For me, my daughter was young when she first started being around the game of Rugby League. Some kids take to the game earlier than others and some start later depending on confidence. It’s important the child and parents are ready.
3. Will she have to play with boys?
Yes, playing with boys is all part of it. I’ve noticed girls mature and adapt to the game a lot quicker, so they often improve faster than the boys do at this age anyway. It’s great to see.
Once they leave the Under 12s division, the genders divide into teams. From here the girls work their way through the women’s age divisions intel the Opens at 18 years old.
Yes, the teams are mixed, but it doesn’t make a difference because you’re all playing the same sport. It’s about playing for the jersey so in competitions you’re playing your hardest whether it’s a boy or girl you’re against.
Also, female registrations are growing so it’s not likely they’ll be alone in teams. If this is important to you or your daughter, have a chat to one of the development managers about finding a local team with a stronger girl contingent. Or better yet, grab a friend from school and play together.
4. Will they be bigger than she is? Placing her in danger?
You play with bigger team mates and smaller team mates. It’s the nature of all team sports. And in junior league, size really doesn’t matter as you’re taught from the start how to tackle safetly to protect yourself and opposition. It’s a huge part of junior league education and the modified game.
It’s age group versus age group and yes, there will be some boys and girls that are bigger than others – sometimes it’s the girls who are the biggest on the team. It all comes down to learning the right techniques, so get them in early so they learn the right way to play first.
5. What equipment will she need?
Every girl needs a mouth guard, and in fact, in most regions, mouth guards are compulsory to play with.
Most of the Jillaroos and I play with a mouth guard, head gear and shoulder pads, which is of course an option for all junior players.
It’s essential to wear mouth guards and for some teams they insist on kids wearing head gear also, but it is the child and parent’s choice. Some nice boots are a must too.
6. What happens when she can’t play with the boys anymore – will there be a sustainable girls comp in our area?
There are so many opportunities for girls to progress their league, playing in older women’s leagues including the under 14s, under 16s and under 18s comps. From here you’ve made it to the Open division which could be a social game, regional, for your state or better yet, your country.
The pathways for girls in rugby league is only getting better as more girls get involved. It’s very exciting.
I live in Newcaslte and our women’s division pathways start with the under 14s and under 16s school competitions held over summers. From 16 years old you can play for the under 18s and from there, you’re in the Opens division.
As more girls join our sport, the stronger these competitions will become and the better the pathways. I’ve noticed that girls who play from a young age are the most interested in playing on into their teens and beyond.
7. What are the benefits of her playing Rugby League?
There are so many benefits to our game, but what I have appreciated and connected with most is the supportive culture of rugby league. From grassroots to elite level, this is the most supportive community I’ve been part of, and I love rugby league for it.
There are also many great role models in the sport leading the way, showing our juniors what a good work ethic is as well as the benefits of strong teamwork.
I first started playing rugby league because I loved watching it, and I had no idea then what avenue it would take me on. I’m now in my eighth year playing, helping to coach junior players; visiting schools to teach lessons on wellbeing; I have a tournament named after me which I so incredibly humbling; and I’ve had the honour of travelling the world to play the game I love with the most genuine group of friends. The game now defines me and I’m so proud of that.
Junior league and rugby league is a wonderful sport to be part of. For starters, it’s a fun and social game to be part, but also importantly, it teaches our kids about health and living a healthy life – from drinking water, to eating the right foods, as well as the regular and enjoyable exercise.
The comradery and sense of belonging and community is also such a wonderful long term benefit too. The game also reminds us of important values like working hard to get what you want – whether it’s a certain jersey or desire to play at a higher level. Setting and achieving goals is important for kids to take through into adulthood.
8. Is she better off playing touch football and then switching to League later on?
It really does depend on the individual. I started playing touch football before making the switch later in my teens, and I only wish I had started with junior league earlier. The best way of getting better and more confident with a sport is to play it.
I see value in our kids trialling all sorts of sports, but you only have to look at the kids who have played junior league from a young age to see the benefits of doing so – the confidence and skills are a level above.
If there is an opportunity to play early, I would start my child early. It’s a great way of breaking down the game for these kids and teaching them what to expect from the game to become more comfortable with and ultimately get more out of it.
9. Are football clubs inclusive of female players?
Female participation in league is building and the NRL, state league and clubs are all on board. League clubs, especially my own in Helensburg, are very welcoming and inclusive of female players. Many clubs have women’s change rooms but if not, the boys will wait for the girls to change before using it themselves. That said, I don’t expect special treatment for being a female footballer. I simply want to be treated equally.
Yes, league is a male dominated sport, but there is a shift happening with more girls and women coming to the game than ever before. Girls are actually really good at the sport so where once boys might be seen to go easy on girls, we’re now seen as a competitor wearing the opposition’s jersey.
“One of the best qualities of Rugby League is how inclusive it is in every way – your size, culture, race, religion, sex is irrelevant. The game welcomes everyone to play no matter where you’re from.
10. Where do I start?
Visit nrl.com/play to find out where your closes club is and have a chat to your local development officer about their free Come and Try clinics where your kids can experience the game to see if they like it. Registrations for this season are still open.