Learning from the book

Women’s rugby mentorship program builds leadership

By on September 4, 2013

Becky Carlson sits in her office. A large portrait of Quinnipiac women’s rugby team celebrating its success last season hangs on the wall. A crystal figurine of a “No. 1” sits on her desk. And boxes of meticulously folded “Quinnipiac Bobcats Rugby” sweatshirts lay next to her desk.

Also atop her workspace sits a booklet with the Bobcat logo on it. It’s not a playbook, nor is it her scouting report. Instead, it is perhaps the most telling depiction of her commitment: The 2013-2014 Quinnipiac women’s rugby mentor program.

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“We have seven incoming freshmen this year, which makes up a large population of our team,” Carlson said. “They’re having to adjust to new people, not just the style of play, but the personalities, their behaviors. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we create something that answers those needs?’”

Carlson, the Quinnipiac women’s rugby coach, and her staff developed the system after receiving input from larger schools at an award ceremony in Boston. After some adjusting, she crafted the mentorship program to establish a sense of accountability among both the freshmen and upperclassmen on her team.

“I think what’s interesting is we’re seeing more and more in the media, there’s all these reports about this generation saying that nobody wants to take responsibility and everyone wants to be CEO’s right away,” she said. “Both my staff and I wanted to put this out there to defy that stereotype and say these student-athletes are out here to be accountable for their actions and will represent their university in a positive manner.”

The program began with a “speed dating” round for the mentors, who voluntarily decided to enter themselves into the system, getting to know each freshman player. After careful deliberation, the upperclassmen decide who is the best fit to be their mentee.

“When I found out coach Carlson and coach [Michelle] Reed put this together, I was very excited because I felt like I had something to offer to the incoming freshmen,” junior prop Jennifer Salomon said.

After assisting freshmen last year, Salomon entered the preseason having heard about the new opportunity. It wasn’t until she received the fully-conceived program that it really hit her.

“I was like, ‘This is legit,’” Salomon said.

Shortly after, Salomon began working with freshman hooker Maddie Gegeckas.

Gegeckas, quiet in nature but aggressive on the pitch, is a sharp contrast to her mentor. At practice, Salomon will uplift her teammates, encouraging them to push their bodies to the fullest. The freshman, working closely aside her mentor, will embrace what she is instructed and match the expectations brought about.

“Immediately when I saw her I knew she was very shy, and I’m the complete opposite,” Salomon said. “I knew it would be the perfect match, I wanted to get her out of her shell.”

Carlson’s program sees the mentor and mentee complete timetables to further establish the sense of responsibility. The two are required to have at least one meal per week together, alongside completing studying hours. Not only are these timetables enforced, but the staff also laid out exercises for the mentees to read and go over, to remind them of their commitment to being a student-athlete.

Standing out within the first few pages is a reminder of the four core values of the Quinnipiac women’s rugby program: respect, honor, integrity and excellence. Carlson believes that these provide guidance for growth.

“I think too often the mission and somehow the core values get lost in what you’re doing, and we want to make it less about rugby and more about developing the athlete all the way around,” she said.

Gegeckas agrees with the inclusion of these values, and feels that one stands out in particular to her.

“You have to have honor in everything that you do,” the freshman said. “You need to present yourself in a good way and put the best foot forward.”

Also included in the draft of the packet is a letter from the player to her parents or guardians, assuring them that they will be alright away from home. Ultimately, Carlson thinks that this is one of the most important pieces to the entire mentor program.

“We wanted to kind of send a message to the parents from the student-athletes, not guidelines that are made by the coach, not me sending an email out,” she said. “But a message from the student-athletes to their parents saying, ‘I’m going to be fine, if anything happens, I will be soliciting my mentor, I will be soliciting the QU officials here, my coaches.’”

Moreover, it is a concept like this that freshman flank Tayler Schussler feels speaks most about her team’s coaches.

“It says a lot about our coaches actually,” she said. “It really proves the fact that they’re not just here to prove that women can do what men can do, they’re here to build us up as individuals for our communities, to go out in the world and be prepared and to have a better understanding of ourselves and more confidence in ourselves.”

Regardless of the fact that the program is not even a month old, Salomon echoes its praise. She also feels that other teams on campus should adapt something similar.

“We’ve only had these girls on the team for a week, and the best thing I’ve heard so far is them saying that they feel like they’ve been on the team for a year already,” she said. “And that was probably one of the best things I heard. It’s because of this program.”

But for the coach, the implementation of the curriculum is just another step in fulfilling a prophetic march towards championship glory.

“In the beginning, we started out as a group of walk-ons,” Carlson said. “There was a lot of doubt. They said we wouldn’t be able to make those kids into rugby players. But we had a group of kids committed to those core values and they went against the grain and became successful by going to nationals. There is no potential that you can’t work with to make an amazing product.”

Yet no matter what success the team achieves throughout the season, Carlson says each individual partaking in the mentor program will be reminded of their importance to the machine. After all, it only takes opening to Page 1 to be reminded of such, as each is greeted with a powerful quote.

“There are no bad crews,” the book reads, “only bad captains.”

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