From 0 to 75 players: Leanne Riley’s guide to growing a girls’ team

In 2016, Harlequins and England star and Girls Rugby Club’s Advisory Board member, Leanne Riley helped set up the girls’ section at Guildfordians Rugby Club, which has grown to more than 75 players.

The key element to this success was her work in engaging girls with rugby within schools. With girls playing rugby in schools, it became an easier step for them to start playing club rugby.

Her four-step guide is a great resource for coaches looking to work with schools and get girls rugby on the map in their town.


“I started from scratch. I looked at the geography of Guildford and identified what schools would filter into certain rugby clubs. I sent a lot of emails and if I hadn’t heard back in 7-10 days, I would resend a similar email. If I then didn’t hear back after that I would call the schools. Teachers are incredibly busy and therefore the amount of time they spend on their emails is very little. I learnt to never call in the morning or the afternoon, I’d always try and call within lunchtime to try and catch someone that was on a break.”

“Be persistent and sell the idea. Remember to convey to the schools that it’s not costing them anything. If it’s successful I used to leave some kit for the schools. The caveat is that the kit has to be used for girls’ rugby. It’s helping the schools set something up and getting the girls interested.”


“Learning what works and what doesn’t is key. The second time I went into schools I had learnt that I needed to be in PE lessons. I would then use that engagement to drive after school clubs. Girls might not automatically turn up to rugby after school club, however by the end of a PE lesson they’re having a great time.”

“Coaches should go in with a simple plan and then progress it from there. One knock on one girl’s confidence and she won’t come back. I’ve had positive feedback from some girls who didn’t want to get involved at the start.

“You have to make rules to get those girls involved, for example, every player has to touch the ball before you score. That gives everyone confidence. If you encourage the engagement from them, you’ll have girls running up and down the pitch that didn’t want to touch the ball at the start. Girls are open to it if you give them the opportunity.”


“I’d recommend playing a lot of games, nothing technical. Often rugby netball is key start and then you can move that game on. The girls are so netball focused, often they don’t want to run with the ball. You can quickly progress games using different rules, for example, if you catch it static it’s a turnover so that it forces them to move.

“I’ve also used a 10 pass game: teams have to make 10 passes in a square and the opposing team have got to try and intercept. Running forward passing backwards to anyone who’s played football or hockey is alien. People naturally start asking how they pass a rugby ball and not do a netball pass, so you can teach them an underarm pass, but then take that straight back into a game, where they’re only allowed to do an underarm pass. Anything else is a turnover.”

“You build it up slowly. The first week or two is just games. Depending on the ability and age, week 3 or 4 you can break it down into some more rugby specific skills and simple handling of catch and pass. You can start to bring in a game where they can pass in any direction but to score they have to pass backwards.”


“The younger ones (year 7 and 8) are better for school to club transition. Where they’ve just moved up to the big school and everything is new. There’s often a few barriers in getting them to the club. You’ve got to get parents on board, otherwise they won’t turn up. It is hard to do.

“I’ve often done it through leaflets. The girls have gone home with a leaflet and given it to parents, informing them what they’ve done, who the coach was and where club training is. It’s something visual for the parents. If I’m at the schools and then I’m at the club on Sunday, I’m the common dominator. The girls know that I will be there. It’s not as if they’re turning up to a new place where they don’t know anyone. There’s a direct link and I will meet girls as their parents are dropping them off.”


Try these game ideas to use within school sessions to help introduce girls to rugby


If you’re looking to adapt your rugby netball sessions like Leanne, check out these ideas.


Girls play rounders at school so try breaking down that fear factor by using a game they’re familiar with.

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