Excellence and Empowerment in Women’s Pro-Sports

Excellence and Empowerment in Womens Pro-Sports

Last week FEW Japan held its first online ZOOM event with Japan Women’s Rugby Team Head Coach, Lesley McKenzie. We are pleased to announce that it was a success! Thank you to Lesley for providing solid advice on team building and motivation. An engaging Q&A session followed thanks to our member and guest participants. We cannot wait to cheer for Japan Women’s Rugby once they are back in the game. Here is a summary of our dynamic discussion:

About Coach Lesley McKenzie

Originally from northern British Columbia, women’s rugby coach Lesley experienced her first rugby game in high school and it has been her life’s passion ever since. She has since played in the 2006 and 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cups and has ventured to New Zealand to serve as a rugby girls’ development co-coordinator and a rugby game development officer. Since 2018, Lesley has been in Japan starting as an assistant coach for Japan’s national women’s rugby sevens team. She is now the head coach for Japan’s national women rugby team – the 15s.

“Rugby is a metaphor for life.”

It was because of being from Canada (ice hockey and American football are the national sports), as opposed to being a woman, that she had to challenge perceptions of her rugby knowledge. Despite these perceptions, she insisted she has been welcomed into her role as a coach with wide arms. She recommended preparing in advance and doing your research, which will help build your credibility. Lesley reminded us to constantly reflect on how our skills can be transferable. For example, athletic skills and playing well as a team transfers over to other areas of life. “Rugby is a metaphor for life,” she said. 

Lesley drives the teams’ intentions, image, as well as internal curiosity about each of their roles. Working well on the field together requires group determination and effective communication. To cultivate good group communication, Lesley insists on having story time at the training camps, a tradition analogous to telling stories around a campfire. Everyone at camp as the chance to tell a story, creating deeper connection among the players. 

Encouraging Assertiveness

As Head Coach, Lesley likes to encourage assertiveness and wants everyone on the team to be heard. Regular, short sessions are effective, and she tries to manage them so the players don’ t get overworked. Rugby is a confrontational sport and challenging the players to tackle others much bigger than them is tough. It appears that contact and collision skills are not taught as rigorously in Japan. The players have strong running, catching, and passing skills, but their contact skills need practice.

As Head Coach, Lesley tries to tackle perfectionism and the fear of making mistakes. The team needs to be knitted together and this helps them bring the core of themselves into the game. There is something about the dynamic range of people in the team and community that is truly inspiring.

Challenges of COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2019, Lesley and the team have missed the energy of the camps. They are currently using online team challenges and are trying to find new ways to continue their training. Keeping the game literacy up-to-date is critical, especially as there are fewer opportunities to play outside. 

Having to communicate only online, Lesley finds communication on the team has become more direct. Players are put in a position where they have to answer questions.  

How will Japan do in 2021?

The team needs to get to Quarter Finals and go from there, Lesley projected. As there has been lots of training while on their school teams, the players’ commitment is impressive. 

FEW is looking forward to cheering on the Japan Women’s Rugby Teams for success in 2021!