by Kurt Woock
Writer for and on behalf of the City of Glendale
On July 17, dozens of young rugby players arrived at Infinity Park. They came from as far as California, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Idaho. They came to play, learn, and grow in the seventh annual Girls High School Rugby Camp. “This camp gives these girls the opportunity to play more rugby with different levels of players and to get coaching from really strong women and coaches,” said Jenna Anderson, youth rugby programs manager at Infinity Park.
Great coaching is the cornerstone for all youth programming at Infinity Park. Luckily, there’s a deep pool of talent from which to draw. Glendale Rugby coaches, Raptors players, and players from the USA national team were on hand to share what they know with players whom they just might call teammates in a few years. “I think that my favorite part of this camp is the variety of coaches we bring in,” Anderson said. Young players, who might have only ever learned from one or two coaches are suddenly learning from more than a dozen coaches, each of whom has different coaching methods, skills, and experiences. This was a big deal, Anderson said, for young rugby fans, some of whom had seen or read about these top rugby players before coming to camp. “A lot of times, the girls are starstruck,” she said.
The effect of camp reverberates beyond the four days the girls were there, and the camp in some ways reaches an audience larger than those who participated. Young players bring back home with them the various skills and approach to playing they were exposed to. While growing quickly, the rugby resources available in any given area in the country probably can’t match the coaching and experience levels found in more established sports. Even a very good coach can only offer a single perspective. Learning from many coaches, as the campers were able to do, is beneficial in itself. Camps like these can have a pollinating effect; a visitor can take her experiences back home, and those with whom she plays then have the opportunity to learn something new, raising the rugby IQ of the entire group. Anderson said that the involvement of women who are currently playing the game at the highest level makes this phenomenon that much stronger.
In addition to spending time working on specific rugby skills on Infinity Park’s main field, campers learn a holistic approach to developing a healthy lifestyle, including time spent learning about nutrition and exercise. Anderson said that coaches introduce girls to a new kind of workout every year. One year this meant working with kettlebells. Another year campers headed out to Red Rocks to battle the stairs. This year, the girls took part in a yoga class. That was in line with this year’s focus on the mental aspect of rugby.
“It’s important to understand that rugby isn’t just a physical sport; you need to take care of your body and your mind,” Anderson said. “We talked all week about how to be your best athlete, and that does not necessarily mean you want to make Team USA.” She said the coaches and players frequently talked about the importance of simply having and sticking to a plan, whether that was a plan for a practice or game, or a plan to get into college. Mealtimes at camp became a time during which coaches coached players on topics that were larger than a single on-field skill. “Each day at lunch, we talked about how to go into the field with confidence. We talked about coachability, and what coaches are looking for: Are you positive? Do you better your teammates? Do you push yourself? We talked about figuring out what your highest level is.”
During the week, campers experienced Infinity Park as if it were their home turf. For many, it was their first time playing in a stadium that big. That, plus the chance to work with some of the nation’s best coaches and players, isn’t something you’ll find at most summer sports camps. “We have all these cool things in Glendale,” Anderson said. “We want to share them.”
The eighth annual camp will take place in July 2018. Anderson always hopes to welcome new girls to camp, but she also expects to see plenty of returning campers. She said she recently heard the highest compliment about the camp from a young camper: “We had one girl who is really talented who comes back every year. And she wants to come back next year. She asked, ‘How do you guys do it? How do you have camp every year and not teach the same thing?’” That was good news for Anderson, who sets out to do just that each year. “We’re always expanding, bringing in different drills. When you do come back year after year, you’re getting a new experience. The only thing that’s the same are the facilities.”