Reassessing Role Models and Guest Coach Dr Anna Stodter

This post is available as an audio reading (by the author!) here…

Reassessing Role Models:

“All women become like their mothers – that’s their great tragedy.

No man does – that is his.”

Oscar Wilde


At the very start of this project, I wrote about the impact that my father had on my taking up rugby – and lost to the world of Irish dancing forever – but I only briefly mentioned my mother. She has always been a huge supporter of me when playing, now coaching and also in my career as a teacher. Like many sons, I think I fail to appreciate my mother and may well befall Wilde’s tragedy above – a fate I hope to avoid.

I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been to raise three children on her own after the passing of her husband. If am looking for role models, why am I over-looking her?

This got me thinking: so often our role models are the same gender as ourselves. Why is that? Ask yourself: who do you admire? Who inspires you? Does gender influence you when you think about this? Why? How many people’s virtues should we be more attuned to? Are we wearing gender-conditioned blinkers that mean we miss out on those who might influence and inspire us?

Guest Coach: Dr Anna Stodter

One of the ways I have wanted to promote positive gender dynamics in sport has been through using female role models. Previous posts have covered how I have used some video footage from games or interviews with female players to try and do this. We have looked at phenomenal athletes such as Portia Woodman and Heather Fisher and the players I coach have been suitably impressed by them.

I have also wanted to have external coaches work with the team, namely female coaches. This week we were privileged to have Dr Anna Stodter come to visit us and coach the team. When she is not lecturing on Sport and Exercise Science, Anna coaches Cambridge University, plays with Saracens in the Tyrell’s Premiership and has won 8 caps for Scotland. To say we were honoured to have Anna work with us is an understatement.


This is something I have been really excited about as it was a chance for me to learn from another coach. What was especially exciting was that it would be directly in the environment and with the individuals I work with. If you are a coach and you have not had someone else coach your team, find someone to do so – it is enlightening.

While I led the initial parts of the training, it was good to invite observations from Anna to get a different viewpoint and voice in huddles. She is currently undergoing her Level 3 RFU qualification and tried out a ‘Pressure in Defense’ game. This is an area we are hoping to work on in this weekend’s fixture so it was hugely helpful for the team’s development.

Another aspect about the game Anna designed was the element of chaos it created. One of our aims as coaches is to develop a team that can adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the game of rugby. Therefore creating chaotic scenarios and situations in training helps us to push the team in this regard. Too often in the past, I took part in drills that we were striving for the aesthetic over the long term development of our skills . We got good at drills and not the game or sport we were playing every week. As ridiculous as it sounds, seeking out the best transfer from practice to pitch is something I am only getting better at more recently even after over a decade of “coaching” experience! Anna’s game-design was something I took so much from and it was great to observe how she conducted huddles and interacted with players.

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After the session, we – as coaches – had a chance to sit down and debrief on how the session went. What was particularly impressive was how eager for feedback Anna was. I often find my ego getting in the way, especially if it is with something I have invested a lot of energy or effort into. It was so refreshing to see a coach make themselves vulnerable and seek out some critical review of their work.

While Anna was leaving, some players were on hand to comment on what they had taken from her session. I have extended the invite for Anna to come back for a session if she ever manages to find time between coaching, playing and lecturing! We are also hoping to see Cambridge in action for both the Women’s and Men’s Varsity games on the 6th of December. What a day of rugby that promises to be. (Although being an Oxfordshire school, our loyalties may now be somewhat split…)

Later that evening, I happened to be supervising some students as they completed some homework. One or two of the group were members of the team I coach and had been involved in the sessions with Anna earlier in the day. They were eager to ask me more about Anna and if she had a highlights reel on YouTube. While they were supposed to be studying for an upcoming assessment, I later caught the same students watching a rugby match on their laptop. It was from the Women’s game: England vs Scotland, where Anna came off the bench.

Rather than scold them for digressing from their studies, I started to feed their curiosity for good rugby and directed them to the Tyrell’s final last year between Harlequins and Saracens. We also were able to have a conversation about the referee in that fixture, Sara Cox having recently become the first female referee to officiate a top-flight men’s game in England, as she oversaw Northampton Vs Wasps. They were suitably impressed.

While this project is being led by me, it does not mean in any way that I am not learning from the discussions, experiences and situations it presents to us. I am learning so much and by having a player and a coach of Anna’s calibre was another big step for me as a coach and of course for the players in my team. I am also finding out more and more about the quality in the women’s game and so too are my players. If you are a coach, I would recommend opening yourself up to such experiences – Anna had kindly offered for me to come and coach her women’s side in the New Year – for both you and your team: you will never know what you might discover.

If you would like to know more about some of the aspects explored in this article, click on some of the links below:

On Dr Anna Stodter:

Tyrell’s Women’s Premiership:

Sara Cox:

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