For coach Sarah Batzavalis (AKA Gards), teaching the girls and boys in the Under 6/7s at Southern Suburbs Rugby Club about rugby is more than just the physical basics and rules of the game. It’s about life.
The inaugural Women’s captain at the club, this is her second-time in a coaching role, plus she is still playing – providing a vital leadership and mentoring role to a team featuring a lot of ‘newbies’ to the game in 2020.
Off-field she’s a professional early educator, so she’s a natural fit to coach the youngest players at the club.
This year she’s overseen a boom in numbers at the club among the youngest players – before COVID-19 happened, there were just four registered in the Under 6/7s grade, but now there’s 12.
Word-of-mouth recruiting is at the heart of the increase, with three-quarters of the youngsters having one or more parents as a current or former Souths player.
In Gards case, that’s a daughter, and as she notes this is the first year that the daughters of women players from Souths have been in the Under 7s – the grade she began her rugby with – heralding a new generation of women playing rugby at the club.
“The best thing about coaching this age group is the smiles and the laughs and seeing them enjoying themselves,” she says. “I have a few techniques up my sleeve for maintaining focus and reeling them in. As well as rugby and fun, we are all about nature – for instance they all now know that in the mud are worms and there’s been a few questions associated with that … like do worms wee, and do they have eyes and do they have a heart?
I grab any opportunity I can teach a child, to harness their enthusiasm and impart knowledge to them. I also think rugby teaches them valuable life skills, without it involving formal ‘teaching’.
They learn about working together as a team, following instructions, ball and hand-eye co-ordination, and how to have fun"
The son of Southern Suburbs President, Tyrone Te Paiho is also in the team, bringing him to the sideline for early games on Saturday mornings. “It is wonderful to see all the kids getting to participate, have a bit of fun together and laughing,” he says. “And each and every game they are getting better and more confident together which is really fun"
He says the fact the Under 7s is inclusionary, with both boys and girls playing, plus its touch not tackle, helps new parents feel more comfortable with the game. “These kids are the future of our game and our club,” he says.