Kristen Clardy – Premiership Rugby Scholarships programme revolutionises game for US coach
Ask Kristen Clardy about her experiences on the Premiership Rugby Scholarship programme, and she’ll tell you that what she learned went above and beyond what happens on the pitch.
The 33-year-old was one of 14 coaches that travelled across the pond in March as part of a ground-breaking initiative run by Premiership Rugby in partnership with the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby that aims to grow the sport in the US.
Clardy, whose coaching credits include founding two high school teams as well as assisting on the staff of Capital Selects – a women’s all-star team in Washington DC, where she has lived for a decade – visited Harlequins, Saracens and London Irish, as well as Twickenham Stadium and Rugby School, for a series of exclusive coaching clinics during her trip.
And conscious of how significantly the experience has impacted on her coaching, Clardy conceded that it forced her into an all-encompassing reassessment of her role.
“It completely changed the way that I run practices,” she said. “I coach students who are living in the inner parts of DC; they’re mostly low-income and they’re dealing with a lot in their lives.
“I just don’t think that I can trust them enough to do this, and the coach turned to me and asked ‘why not?’
“And it was kind of a lightbulb moment – let me try this out. As soon as I started letting the kids drive what I was doing, letting them be the decision-makers, letting them come up with the rules to create a go-forward situation, they really started taking ownership of the game.
“It allowed me to really focus on what I needed to focus on as a coach, which was developing the players.”
Clardy and her fellow coaches were joined by 16 US-based rugby players, and the high school teacher was grateful for the collaboration between coaches and players, developing connections that she has maintained with her peers Stateside.
She has been able to seek advice and work collaboratively with nearby high school coaches in order to maximise the benefits of the programme, and she hasn’t limited those efforts to the sport of rugby.
“I’ve been working with two [American] football teams adapting rugby-style tackling into football and that’s been great too; I’m able to take what I know from rugby into other sports,” she continued.
“I went to my new high school, went to their football coach and said ‘you should let me do this, I can fix a lot of your injury problems.’
“We’ve only had one concussion, and it wasn’t due to a bad tackle.
“I get a lot of girls that want to play football, but they’re not allowed because girls can’t play tackle football in the US, so as soon as I tell them that they can come and play rugby they get really excited.
“I’m hoping that as rugby becomes more well-known and as people begin to see the difference in the safety aspect then it will start trickling over into football and that sport will start to see some of the benefits that rugby has figured out.”