The new team at didi rugby Blackburn and Ribble Valley are getting classes across their area into full swing this term.
Following a successful launch back in December 2021, sessions are now running at Clitheroe RFC and Mellor Village Hall and Field, Blackburn (see below for booking details).
New classes will also begin at Pleckgate High School Dance Studio in Blackburn from Saturday 12 February (see below for booking link).
Sessions are for children aged 18 months to 6 years of age.
The classes are run by the rugby fanatic O’Ryan family: John, James and Sam.
They are all determined to spread their love and passion for the sport, encouraging young children to get involved, get active, build confidence and most importantly, have fun.
didi rugby Blackburn and Ribble Valley
“It’s been really exciting. We’ve had so much fun building and planning for it.” James said.
“It has been weeks in the planning process and we’re so happy classes are now up and running!”
John has twice received commendations from the Rugby Union for his services to community rugby for mini and youth engagement and for engagement and for promotion of girl’s rugby opportunities.
“I’ve been coaching for about 15 years in all different age groups” he said.
“I’ve been embedded in the Blackburn and Clitheroe area, helping out at all the schools and different coaching facilities we have here.”
didi rugby CEO, Vicky Macqueen, attended the launch and said: “I have been so impressed the level of planning that has gone into this. The amount of effort the guys have put into the launch is amazing.
“Now regular classes are up and running, I am certain John, James and Sam will do a great job of introducing our wonderful sport to youngsters in the area.”
To find out more about attending classes, visit our ‘find a class’ page to book your free taster session at any of our venues.
didi rugby’s latest ambassador was eating at a Nandos restaurant when she got some of the best news of her life.
It was so unexpected though, she thought her parents’ surprise card was a complete wind-up.
Jodie Ounsley sat with her mum and dad eating chicken when she prized open an envelope from her mum.
It said: ‘Congratulations on your first professional rugby contract with England’!
When her parents Jo and Phil convinced her it was no joke, confusion turned to shock… and then excitement.
The girl from Yorkshire who was born profoundly deaf in both ears was now an England Rugby Sevens player.
Jodie loved every minute of training with her new team-mates who she said ‘did everything possible’ to make things as easy as possible with communication an obvious challenge on the training and playing surface.
Head coach Charlie Hayter said of Jodie after she joined the camp: “She showed some great physical attributes so we wanted to offer her a contract.
“Since she arrived, she has fitted in really well with the rest of the team and made great progress. Jodie loves a bit of banter and she puts extra hours in to make sure that she really understands what we are doing too.”
Sevens team mate and head coach of didi rugby Worcester, Alex Matthews said Jodie was a joy to be around.
“Fortunately for me, I was Jodie’s mentor in the Sevens programme, which to be honest, I think benefited me more so than her,” said Alex.
“Her resilience and dedication is unbelievable, not only shown through her training and mindset, but also shown off the field through her personal circumstances of overcoming being born profoundly deaf and having integrated into a team sport.
“She’s modest and authentic, with the natural desire to help and inspire others. She’s a brilliant ambassador to have on board at didi!”
While Covid-19 has made her Sevens future uncertain for the time being, she is determined and very driven to be back with a bang when competitive England Sevens rugby returns.
Until then, playing for Sale Sharks and being a didi rugby ambassador are two of the things that will keep her busy – and she is throwing herself into the latter with a live Facebook broadcast in didi’s ‘Skills and Storytime’ online session during the latest national lockdown.
“I was really nervous doing it but wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone,” said Jodie. “But I really loved it and had great fun.
“didi rugby is great for kids. It gets them active, mixing with other children and gets them into good habits at a young age. I am really pleased to be an ambassador and will love getting involved.”
didi rugby CEO and founder Vicky Macqueen added: “Jodie is a joy to be around and her attitude is infectious.
“She was brilliant doing our Skills and Storytime session online (see pic below) and we are absolutely made-up that she has chosen to become a didi ambassador.
“I am sure she will be inspiring lots of other youngsters to take up the sport and join our classes in the coming months.”
Jodie was born without hearing but a Cochlear ear implant and speech therapy has vastly improved her ability to communicate with speech.
Even so, life was far from easy at a mainstream school and she became drawn away from academic pursuits and into the sporting environment. PE, athletics and running were things she loved doing and success soon followed.
She is a five-times champion of the annual ‘Coal Race’ in her native Yorkshire where you literally run for a mile with a bag on coal on your shoulders!
Ju-Jitsu titles arrived in her teens and then she flew to Turkey as a 16-year-old to compete against fully-grown women in the 100m and 200m Deaf Olympics.
By then, rugby was already on the horizon but doctors had warned against the dangers of playing contacts sports like rugby with the implant. Her dad looked into it and was satisfied that that danger would be greatly reduced with a scrum cap on.
“I soon rocked up at my local club, Sandal, with a scrum cap and boots and explained I was keen to play but had hearing issues,” Jodie Ounsley explained.
“They threw me quickly into a side and then threw me onto a pitch where I really didn’t have much of a club what was going on. I found myself on the wing and when I first went for the ball, I literally tripped up over my own shoelace! I picked up the ball and just ran for my life. Somehow, I passed a few people and scored a try. It was exhilarating and I loved it.
Jodie got a place at Loughborough College aged 16 and left home ‘to play rugby’.
There was soon age-range appearances for England but her rugby career really took off after she had recovered from a dislocated shoulder.
Then came the Nandos with mum and dad, an England Sevens deal, a new club in Sale Sharks, the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year 2020 award and a driving ambition to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games still firmly in her thoughts.
“I would say to anyone who struggles with a disability, just go for it and try rugby,” said Jodie. “Don’t let your disability not be the reason for giving rugby a go.”
Professional rugby referee Sara Cox is didi rugby’s latest ambassador.
And she is keen to support classes that will teach youngsters the ‘valuable social skills’ to help them grow as individuals from an early age.
Sara first got involved in rugby when she was 14 and represented local clubs Exeter, Saracens and Cullompton before she retired from playing the game at the age of 17.
Undeterred, Sara qualified as a rugby referee, officiated her first international when Italy played Ireland in 2014, added the World Cup in France to her CV and, in 2016, became the first female ref to be centrally contracted by the English RFU.
In 2020, she was assistant referee at the Bath v Wasps men’s game in the Gallagher Premiership, with her first appointment in the middle of a top tier English game surely only a matter of time away.
“Getting involved in didi rugby at an early age teaches children lots of different things,” said Sara. “It’s less about the rugby at that age and more about the interaction with other kids and learning social skills along the way.
“In all walks of life, at any age, you will always have to deal with other human beings and the earlier you start to learn the skills required to do that, you can carry that on into adulthood.”
Having been a shining light for women’s progress in rugby, Sara is obviously keen for young girls to take up a sport that has been very good to her.
And she is encouraging girls of any age to take on the challenges that may come their way.
“Humans have challenges in all walks of life and in whatever they do,” said Sara. “We all have hurdles to get over and the challenges do not stop. You have to keep moving with the times and embrace what comes your way.”
didi rugby founder and CEO Vicky Macqueen says the whole didi rugby team is excited to have Sara on board.
“Not only is Sara a wonderful referee and a great person, she is an inspiration to any youngster taking up the sport,” says Vicky.
“Sara has decided to become a didi rugby ambassador and support our efforts to get young people active and having fun. Her determination is a great example to young people and she is a fantastic role model too. ”
Young didi rugby coach Caitlin Clark is the star of a new feature article in the Daily Telegraph.
The 17-year-old daughter of didi rugby Reading franchise co-owner Donna Clark tells the story of how she has always had to battle against the system as a young female rugby player striving to be able to develop her skills at the same pace as boys.
Having played the game side-by-side boys as a youngster, things changed dramatically when mixed sexes were not allowed to play together from the age of 12.
All of a sudden, boys were playing on bigger pitches, playing longer matches, allowed to push in the scrum and hand-off, while girls were not.
The Daily Telegraph
Caitlin, who has ambitions to reach the England national team as a player, said she felt held back and put down.
She told the Telegraph: “I actually questioned whether rugby was a sport I should be doing. It was almost as if us girls weren’t worthy enough of playing because the rules were – and still are – so different, especially physically. Things were and still are so simplified for girls at that level.”
As a teenager, Caitlin was always bigger than most other girls in her under-13 age group, yet she was forced to train with nine-year-old girls nearly half her size. While boys were allowed to play up an age group, the rules didn’t allow Caitlin to move up into the under-15s.
Changes in the rules
The Telegraph feature goes on to outline Caitlin’s frustrations as a female rugby player and cites other discrepancies and inconsistencies in the grass roots game facing girls, as opposed to boys. With the numbers of girls playing the game increasing, it will be interesting to see if the game’s governing body (RFU) make any changes in the rules and structure in the coming years.
Whatever happens on the playing front, Caitlin is a hugely-respected member of the didi rugby Reading coaching team and is loved by dozens of youngsters she coaches on a regular basis.
Reading co-owner Craig Hunter said: “When didi rugby Reading launched in early 2018, Caitlin came along with Donna Clark, her mum and my business partner, to help us out. She has been with us ever since.
“She has developed her confidence and coaching skills throughout this time and is everything we look for in a coach. She has excellent rapport with all the didi superstars and parents alike and is a great role model for them all – but in particular the girls.
“With the development of the girls game at club level going from strength to strength, we are really keen to progress the didi players into club rugby when they are ready to join the Under-6 age groups. As soon as we can get Caitlin on an RFU Level 2 rugby course, we will, and she can then look to lead sessions on her own and build a team of coaches around her to help didi rugby Reading grow.
“Caitlin is also very keen to deliver kids didi rugby parties as soon as we are able to so safely and in line with Government and RFU guidelines, something she will be excellent at I have no doubt. If we could clone Caitlin we would.
didi rugby coach
Mum Donna added: “As a parent, I can’t put into words how proud I am of Caitlin, she has been playing rugby since she was six years old and has always shown great tenacity and passion for the game.
“With such determination, she has gone from strength to strength both on and off the pitch. She never ceases to amaze me with everything she has achieved whether it be at club, county and Centre of Excellence level.
“I have also seen her blossom as a didi rugby coach, she has such patience and can instantly spot a child that might be struggling or needs a bit of extra support and just knows how to make them smile and helps them gain their confidence.
“Her years as a rugby player have helped bring her expertise to a coaching role and through creating her own session plans ensures that every child progresses with the fundamentals of the game, whilst having fun!”
The founder and CEO of didi rugby, Vicky Macqueen, has become an RFU Level 4 coach after 18 months of study.
It means she is one of less than 10 women in the country to hold such a prestigious coaching position, which is designed and delivered by the game’s governing body, the Rugby Union.
She joins fellow Level 4-holders Wasps director of rugby Giselle Mather and soon-to-be Exeter Chiefs Women’s head coach, Susie Appleby, who is also a didi rugby franchise holder.
Although Vicky said she would like to get involved in similar high-level coaching one day, she said her 100% commitment at the moment was to the continued growth of didi rugby.
And she believes that large parts of the information she learned studying to become an RFU Level 4 coach will help grow and improve didi rugby in the future.
“It has been an amazing process with so much to learn and I feel really privileged to have completed it,” said Vicky. “It has taught me a lot in terms of rugby leadership but for didi rugby too because there is lots of coaching, management and psychology involved.
Level 4 coach
“There are so many aspects to achieving Level 4 and it has been a great educational experience for me.
“There is a massive overlap between business and sport and this has bought everything together for me to help enhance didi rugby.
“The growth of didi means I need to be 100% involved in the business and the mentoring of franchise holders at the minute. But I love coaching and being out on the field so taking on a role with a club in the future in definitely in my sights…if I get the time!
Vicky was approached by the RFU to join their coach educator team a couple of years ago and that is another string to her bow in terms of helping and mentoring coaches of the future.
didi rugby plays an active part in helping clubs implement that framework and has developed formal links with clubs in England to create a natural pathway for children to keep playing the game when they graduate from didi rugby age groups.
With Vicky designing all of the programmes and care at didi rugby, parents can be assured that their kids are in very good hands and are being taught all of the right things if they come to a didi rugby class.