My earliest memory of sport was that I was slow compared to the others in my class at school, and as far as I can remember, I always felt unfit and struggled with body confidence.
I remember being able to give anything a decent bash – tennis, badminton, Irish dancing, hockey, and even a stint at the athletics champs on shotput (mainly because nobody else in my all-girls school wanted to do it).
My experience of sport as a child was mostly getting involved at summer camps, or during PE lessons, and I never really developed in anything because music took priority.
I loved swimming and that was my only real exercise as a teenager, as there wasn’t any risk of injury to my fingers, which I needed to play violin with.
However, swimming was time consuming and wasn’t readily available, it certainly wasn’t as easy or accessible as going out for a run, so my fitness struggled for a long time during my late teens/early adulthood.
My career as a violinist lasted until I was nearly 30 years old, and when I stopped playing professionally, I saw an advert for Tag Rugby and decided on a whim to go along to a free taster session.
I was so nervous walking up to the session and very nearly turned around many times. What if I wasn’t able to catch the ball, what if everyone else was really good and I was picked last for a team, what if I made a fool of myself?
For some reason or another, I pushed through and managed to go. I arranged to meet a friend there, probably the only reason I went through with it, but I’m so glad I did. I loved it and couldn’t wait to go back again.
Even though I was terrible when I first started and didn’t know what was going on half the time, I remember feeling so good after running around outdoors (including in the rain and mud) for 40 minutes each week.
It wasn’t long until I joined a second team, and started playing two days a week.
One week down at the league, I heard people talking about a new women’s team called ‘Boys Don’t Try’, which was being set up to play in a beginner mixed league and they were looking for new players.
Playing all women in a mixed league would be a big challenge, but someone suggested I should join and before I knew it, I was on the team.
That was when my love of Tag Rugby really grew and my fitness started to improve.
Playing with all women meant we had to do everything ourselves on the pitch.
Until then, most of us had relied on the more experienced male players who were naturally more confident and vocal on the pitch, many had played rugby or other sports before so had a much better awareness of what to do.
We were so lucky to have a couple of really experienced women playing on our team who helped us get up to speed and it wasn’t long before we moved up the ranks.
We became the team that nobody wanted to lose against, because we were all women.
It was really exciting but we worked really hard, putting extra practice in before our games each week.
We were all totally invested and wanted to keep improving, there was an incredible energy and momentum around that team – everyone wanted to be part of it. So much so, that we had to set up a second team.
It was really empowering to see the team progressing and when we started to win some big games, we felt like we’d won the World Cup.
From there, I was convinced to try Rugby Union and I joined a ‘This Girl Can’ introductory session at a local rugby club, which lots of the Tag Rugby women came to.
I played rugby with Battersea Ironsides in London for about three years before the pandemic and also joined some social Rugby 7’s tournaments which I loved.
I would never have believed you if you told me I would play contact rugby one day, but being part of those teams and clubs gave me the confidence to push myself, I only wish I could have joined sooner.
Exercise and team sports are an amazing way to build confidence and fitness, while having fun and feeling part of something. The friends I made through Tag Rugby are still some of my best friends today.
Before I joined, my social circles were very limited, and London felt quite lonely at times.
Through Tag Rugby, I built up a huge community of friends and there was always something going on to get involved in, be that a one-day tournament, ski holiday or a birthday party.
I wanted my personal performance on the team to improve, so I also started exercising and running outside of our games to improve my fitness.
I also learned to referee which was brilliant as there were hardly any female referees and it massively helped my understanding of the game.
It’s great to see some female-only refereeing sessions and women’s Tag Rugby coaching on offer now via Tag Sports UK Charity who have recently partnered with Try Tag Rugby.
As my experience shows, if women are given the space to build and develop, they can achieve anything they want to.
Tag Rugby is one of the most inclusive sports you can find. There are people from all backgrounds, abilities and fitness levels.
It’s the kind of sport that you need no prior experience to get involved in and it’s really easy to pick up, but the benefits are huge.
When you’re out there on the pitch, you don’t have time to think about life’s stresses and worries, the endorphins flow and energy levels improve.
It’s an amazing way to improve your mental health too, plus there is a fun social side to get involved in.
I’ve recently established the first Try Tag Rugby league in Brighton and Hove, which is so exciting.
We have 140 adults coming to play weekly, and just like me when I started playing, only a handful of them had ever touched a rugby ball before their first taster session.
I run coaching sessions for players and referees, weekly league games and lots of social events.
The community is built on inclusivity and everyone is welcome. If you’re looking for a way to meet new people, make friends, get active outdoors and have lots of fun, then why not come down and give it a try?
Never in my wildest dreams did I think joining that first taster session would lead to me becoming a female sports league founder, but here I am and loving every minute of it.
For more information about Try Tag Rugby Brighton & Hove you can contact Steph by email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.trytagrugby.com.