Showcasing Strategic & Tactical Thinking in Women’s Rugby

Recapping the 2023 WRCRA Conference organized by USWRF with Director, Kerri Heffernan; and presenters Liz Masen, CEO of Athlete Assessments, and Becky Carlson, Head Coach of Quinnipiac Women’s Rugby.
Rebekah Box
Client Experience & Marketing Manager – Athlete Assessments

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The new year is well and truly underway, with Athlete Assessments’ CEO, Liz Masen, returning from presenting at the 2023 Women Rugby Coaches and Referees Association (WRCRA) Conference organized by the US Women’s Rugby Foundation (USWRF). This year’s conference agenda focused on ‘The Wisdom of The Game: Strategic and Tactical Thinking in Women’s Rugby’, and included a number of interactive workshops looking at the topics of coaching philosophy, behavioral awareness, strategic planning, improving the coverage of the game, and more.

kerri_Heffernan headshot

Kerri Heffernan, Director of the WRCRA Conference shared some background in shaping the theme and content for the year,

“2022 was the 50th anniversary of women’s rugby in the US. There has been a growing recognition in the past few years of the strides the sport has made and how deep the coaching talent is in the women’s game. However, we have found that many in the larger rugby community praise the ‘relational and team building skills of women coaches but rarely highlight the strategic and tactical skills of women coaches. So, we decided to showcase some of that strategic thinking through panels, conversations, and awards – and frame the conference around strategic thinking.” 

Kerri herself has made a significant contribution to the development of women’s rugby, commencing her college playing career in 1976 and continuing as an athlete until 1990 before a hiatus to complete a doctoral program. In the early 2000’s she transitioned into coaching, a career she pursued for many years before making what she describes as a natural transition over to the USWRF in 2017 into the position she holds today. 

Acting as the gateway to the women’s rugby community, the sold-out conference included coaches from youth, high school, college, club, premier league, and the Women’s National Teams. The WRCRA celebrates the coaches, administrators, referees, and players, past and present, who have made the sport what it is today, while also highlighting the ongoing pursuit for the future of the sport.

During the conference, Liz was joined by Coach Becky Carlson, Head Coach of Quinnipiac University Women’s Rugby, via video conference to deliver their session on ‘The Coaches Challenge: Skillfully Merging Behavioral Theory into Your Coaching Practice’. Liz and Coach Carlson delivered a highly practical application of this work for coaches to be able to use back in their own programs, with the duo sharing a healthy mix of theory and application for coaches in real life.

With a highly engaged audience participating in the session, Coach Carlson shared what she feels would have been the coaches key takeaways, 

“I think for the coaches of WRCRA, because they are so diverse across a number of different levels of coaching whether it’s youth, high school, or college, that the biggest takeaways might have been that we all have so much commonality in our need to build our communication skillsets with our athletes. That need is something I believe we did a solid job in demonstrating how the concept of DISC and the elements and behaviors that are included in DISC are something anyone can assess with a simple guide on some of the basics in observing behavior.”

Coach Carlson has been a pivotal player in the development of Women’s Rugby in the United States, being one of the first athletes to join a collegiate program in the sport’s infancy. Now, into her second decade as Head Coach of the Bobcats program, she continues to be instrumental in the sport’s growth. From developing athletes who go on to play professionally, to the coaches who go on to lead emulating NCAA level programs at other universities, to acting as a voice and mentor for those who need it most. Sharing why she feels the topic of the presentation was important she added, 

“Long gone are the days of ‘do as I say because I said so’. There is a craving for more explanation of why even more so than ‘how’ in our line of work. This makes the concept of building relationships and understanding our athletes even more crucial in shaping success but also in handling and growing from failure. I think we are at such a critical point in our history in the industry that the more interested we are in expanding our knowledge in behavior theory, the more likely we are to see the value in what we do come to life and that will equal a longevity in the profession that we are slowly seeing dwindle. The preservation of not only the brilliant sport IQ’s of our coaches but also those with a drive to remain curious about our athletes’ behaviors beyond what we assume we know, is paramount to survive and thrive in this profession.”

On the second day of the conference, Liz also ran a CoachDISC focused workshop for the coaches who had benefited from completing and receiving their own CoachDISC Profile by participating in Liz’s Playmaker Ph.D. research. Liz described the session,

“The session was designed to debrief their own Reports and give the coaches the opportunity to deeply understand their own coaching style. Having a big group of coaches to work with meant that they could compare and contrast with each other, which included lots of ah-has and laughter. Our time together also focused on better understanding their players and fellow coaches to improve their communication, leadership, and working relationships. It was the last day of the conference and after the awards dinner, so I was extremely impressed with how interactive the coaches were and appreciative of their high level of enthusiasm to participate.”

Following the conference, Kerri shared that the feedback so far has been unanimous, “Overall feedback is very strong, and folks really loved Liz’s presentation. Liz describing the development of the DISC and its application, combined with Becky, a rugby coach using DISC, really resonated with the audience.”

Also interwoven into the event were a number of breakout sessions, networking opportunities, an insightful and experiential player wellness symposium, and an inspirational awards dinner which Liz noted as being one of her personal highlights,

“The Awards Dinner was an incredible event. Having been to many in my time, this presentation was the most inspiring I’ve witnessed. In honor of Kathy Flores who has left an amazing legacy in women’s rugby, each awardee shared their own stories and experiences which were heart-warming, teary, inspirational, funny, and truly left a mark on everyone there.”

And with a massive year ahead for women’s rugby, we asked Kerri to share some insights into what’s ahead for the foundation. “A lot! We are launching or expanding programming and looking to increase our membership. We’ll be expanding the women’s rugby history project and launching a digital library of historical films and instructional videos for the coaches of women’s rugby.”

To conclude, Liz reflected on her overall experience at the conference,

“Women’s rugby has a very proud history and encompasses women and men who truly are dedicated to their sport and the growth of opportunity for the women’s game. I can’t wait for next year!”

Where to from here?

The WRCRA provides a professional home for coaches, referees, players, administrators, journalists, and fans within women’s rugby, if you would like to learn more about what they do or become a member, we encourage you to visit the USWRF website.

If like Coach Carlson, you are interested in developing the athletes or coaches in your sport, we encourage you to reach out to us to discuss how we can tailor a program inclusive of our sport-specific DISC Profiles to suit your needs.

WRCRA Conference cover mockup

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Bo Hanson

Senior Consultant & Director

Bo Hanson’s career within the sport and the business sector spans over 25 years, delivering leadership, management, and coach development. In addition to his own athletic career comprising of four Olympic appearances and including three Olympic medals, Bo has worked for many years with coaches and athletes from over 40 different sports across the globe. Bo was also the winner of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) 2023 Award for L&D Professional of the Year, for his dedication to L&D and transformational work across various industries.

After a successful career in sport including four Olympics and three Olympic Medals, Bo co-founded and developed Athlete Assessments in 2007. Bo now focuses on working with clients to achieve their own success on and off ‘the field’, and has attained an unmatched track-record in doing exactly this.

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