Former Black Fern Vania Wolfgramm is helping to unearth and up-skill the next generation of female coaches, match officials and administrators through the Ako Wāhine Educator course.

Wolfgramm, in her role as Game Development Manager, Women's Rugby at New Zealand Rugby, wanted to empower more women to get involved with the game in communities across the country, whether or not they had previous playing experience.

Subsequently, she took the World Rugby Educator programme and adapted co-designed it to appeal specifically to women.

In October, 16 women enrolled on the first Ako Wāhine Educator course. Earlier this month those participants were invited on a reconnection retreat that was also attended by World Rugby General Manager Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir, and Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director, Michelle Hooper.

Plans are already in place to roll out the programme further, with three regional Ako Wāhine courses set to coincide with this year’s Farah Palmer Cup.

“We've taken that same concept and moulded it and made it real specific for women,” Wolfgramm told World Rugby.

“For me, it needed to be broader than just coaches. I've been in courses that are very specific to coaches and in the women's game I believe we really need to grow those opportunities but [also] the capability of our women in those current roles, of which we don't have many. 

“So, if we look at the coaches and then it's administrators, managers and referees. So, we went to a specific, wider and broader realm and we also invited a few other people from other codes. 

“I think if we take a step back, the thinking is if we manage to open the door to women and they come through, and those environments are set up for them, they can relate to the presenters and they know it's specifically for them. 

“Then, we get them through the door, [and] we would be able to provide them with some upskilling education around those roles.”

‘Magnificent presenters’

Of the 16 women who began the Ako Wāhine Rugby Educator course in October, three have already made strides towards careers in administration, with one being appointed to the North Harbour Rugby board.

Wolfgramm points, too, to the success of participants who used the course to build their confidence, overcoming nerves and anxiety to get to a point where they now feel comfortable enough to present.

“We had [former Waikato Women head coach] Wayne Maxwell,” Wolfgramm said. “His role was to give feedback and his feedback, again, just reconfirmed that growth. 

“He mentioned a couple of the women that were on the programme that, in October, we couldn't actually ask them to present… we couldn't get them to ask questions or it was quite difficult. 

“Six months later their review and their questioning were just top-notch and some of the presenters had gone from [being] a little bit, I suppose, timid to just, we had some magnificent presenters.”

Tight Five

Noticing that some women felt intimidated when stepping into what remains a male-dominated world, Wolfgramm has also been working on a project she hopes will make female players, coaches and educators feel more comfortable.

Tight Five (female considerations) is a checklist educators and others can use to ensure that everybody enrolled on a course, or working for an organisation, feels comfortable.

That could entail checking in with participants at the beginning of a course, tailoring the language that is used to deliver it or ensuring that amenities, such as toilets, are close by and clean.

Wolfgramm said: “From a female lens, I was trying to make our teams understand, or have a think about, if you're going to run a workshop and there are four women that walk through and it's a room full of 20 guys, have you considered X, Y and Z? Or have you considered how they feel, perhaps? 

“[For] some of them, the penny's dropped. I realise that some of the things that I find really, you know, quite normal or very simple is not actually front of mind for some of our men. And, that's just a fact. 

“So, I just did a whole massive brainstorm — and went to anybody and everybody, men and women — around some of the female considerations.”

Wolfgramm and her team are currently putting the final touches to the campaign, which she hopes will become second nature to those facilitating courses in the future.

“We’re probably really protective of the women's game,” she said, “and we just want to make sure that it's right and that it's correct. 

“If it hangs around for five years and it gets ripped up, that will be awesome.”

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