College is still when most players in the U.S. start playing the game of rugby. It is not surprising that most players are not 100% sure of what to expect when they are first asked to pick up a ball. Once they do their lives are changed forever both on and off the field.
But the challenge facing rugby in the U.S. and teams working to recruit new players and fans is convincing potential recruits that rugby is more than 80 minutes of overly aggressive players hitting each other. The Emory University women’s rugby team has developed a great way to highlight the many ways rugby has a positive impact on players with their #BecauseOfRugby campaign.
#BecauseOfRugby was the idea of Emory’s president and captain Danielle Berkowsky. Danielle was studying abroad in China over the summer and missing the game and her teammates when she started to think of ways to recruit new players for the coming season. She was inspired by a series of photographs of players from Harvard women’s rugby team celebrating their bodies and thought the concept could be expanded to more directly speak to how rugby touches a player’s life and be a recruiting tool.
“(Rugby) is a community that fosters a healthy lifestyle and positive body image,” Berkowsky told 365.WorldRugbyShop.com. “We are taught to be confident in our bodies, take pride in our skills, and recognize where we want to improve.”
After coming up with the concept, in true rugby fashion the entire team came together to implement the campaign. The team worked with photographer Rebecca Han to capture a unique image of each player with them adding a statement of a lesson they have learned ‘because of rugby…’
The campaign was all about recruiting players so each image had ‘Hit Like A Girl. No Experience Necessary.’ at the bottom of the poster. The message that it is not about the hard tackles and that anyone can play rugby resonates.
“As all rugby players know, our sport has a stigma of being violent and only for big, aggressive women. Our goal was to show Emory women that rugby is for everybody. It can be a place for the big, aggressive women, but it can also be a place for small women who love to run, tall women who have never tackled before, and anyone in between.”
The campaign launched on facebook and immediately started to build an audience. The message is reaching people on the Emory campus and around the world but is staying close to home at the same time. The parents of most of the players know less about the game and hear so many incorrect stereotypes that it is good to hear the positives.
“I think this campaign will help to show family members the positive and empowering environment of rugby and how the benefits outweigh the potential risk. In a world that is constantly telling women that we are not good enough, rugby is telling us that we are.”
Don’t be surprised if you see more from the #BecauseOfRugby campaign. The Emory women’s team has received requests to use the campaign by other college teams. And with it having such a powerful message easily geared toward recruiting new players as well as the players who have taken skills learned from rugby to their post-collegiate life.
Emory is fine with other teams using the campaign just requesting that ‘teams give credit back to us when they publish their photos.’ The focus for Berkowsky and her teammates is to build their roster for the spring 2015 season. With a coaching trio of former and current members of the Atlanta Harlequins and eager squad, the team is hoping to win another USA Rugby South championship.