There is a determined young girl darting around the park in the under 9s for South Coogee, and she’s the quickest player on the park. South Coogee’s Indy Gibson is lighting fast, breaking away from scrums and hurling herself into oncoming opponents.
It’s a family affair for Indy. She plays alongside her two brothers Oscar and Finn, the only girl in either of the Under 9’s teams. Her dad, Daryl Gibson, is the coach.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Daryl Gibson is one of Rugby Union’s best. One of the All Blacks’ most versatile backs, he played in 19 tests with the team between 1999 and 2002. He was the best utility man in the game, as good at fullback as he was on the wing or at second five eighths.
Since ending his playing career in the UK in 2008, he’s been calling the shots from the coach’s box, first as an assistant coach with the Crusaders and then with the Māori All Blacks. In 2013 he moved to Sydney to take on the role of Assistant Coach with the Waratahs, before being promoted to the team’s top job earlier this year.
For the love of the game
But on Saturday mornings in Sydney, the 41-year old father of three is on the sideline supporting his team, just like hundreds of other parents – rain, hail or shine.
“I’ve got triplets and they all play in the same team. My daughter is the team’s best player. Having all three of my kids playing really highlights how much they love the game, and that’s part of the reason why I do it,” says Gibson.
Despite his considerable experience, a smiling Gibson concedes that coaching kids is anything but simple. “I always think you’ve got to control and manage the kids before you can teach them anything,” he explains.
“It’s the most difficult coaching of my week, but equally, it’s very rewarding to see them improving from when you started with them to the end of the season.”
Gibson wants to give his team every opportunity to experience that winning feeling, but he also thinks the game has more important things to offer.
“I want them to go away from rugby today with a really positive experience around enjoying themselves and learning to love being part of a team. And I think if we can do that and send them away happy, they are more likely to keep playing.”
Families, the glue of grassroots rugby.
Gibson has been involved with South Coogee Juniors since moving to Sydney around five years ago. As it is for all parents, the former All Black and his wife, Liana, can find it a bit of a challenge to wrangle kids and rugby gear into the car to get them to training sessions and matches.
“I think we’re no different to most other families. It’s a struggle to get them out of the door and into the car, but certainly once we are ‘up and at ‘em’, they love being here and they love playing the game.”
But getting the team of youngsters to the game isn’t the only challenge faced by grassroots clubs. Funding is always a struggle for teams like the South Coogee Under 9s, and it’s the parents who step in to make sure that there will always be a team for their kids.
“The common experience in a rugby club is that you are forever selling raffle tickets, and the burden is on parents to raise funds,” says Gibson.
In recognition of this, AGL partnered with NSW Rugby from 2016-17 allowing AGL customers to nominate a rugby club of their choice to receive a donation from AGL of up to $150. Over $45,000 was donated to grassroots clubs, giving volunteering parents a helping hand.
A bright future for women in rugby
While Indy was ducking and weaving, the Australian women’s rugby sevens team were preparing for an Olympic campaign that would see them come away with the gold. Their success is a watershed moment, and it began at the grassroots.
“I believe through greater exposure of the Australian sevens team doing really well, I think you will see a far more definite pathway cemented for girls, and I think it is really important,” says Gibson. It paints a bright future for young, talented girls like Indy.
It paints a bright future for talented girls like Indy, who plays for the sheer fun of it, not because of any expectations from her famous Dad:
“She loves it; I wouldn’t force her into doing anything” Gibson says firmly. Like most parents, he just wants to make sure his daughter has fun and the game is safe. For now, Indy is relishing every moment of her game on a rain-swept suburban field.