Sport Sister Podcast - Season 3, Episode 5

Episode 5 – Inspiring girls to play sport: Vicky Molyneux and Natascia Bernardi.

Vicky Molyneux has played Rugby League for 25 years and is the Current Captain of Wigan Warriors women. She made her England debut in 2007 and was the first woman to be inducted into the Wigan Warriors Hall of Fame. Natascia Bernardi has been coaching girls football since 2017. She is the Head Coach of QPR U12 Girls and is in a coaching placement at QPR Women’s First Team as part of the FA WNL Coaching Programme.

Vicky and Natascia join Natalie Doyle to discuss how they were inspired to play sport and how they try to inspire the next generation of girls to do the same. They talk about the importance of positive role models, the impact of social media, and how they utilise their core values when coaching girls.

If you don’t win, you learn. Take every opportunity as a learning opportunity.

- Vicky Molyneux

Read this episode’s transcript

Natalie Doyle

Welcome to the Sport Sister Podcast where we bring together professional experts with grassroots pioneers to discuss key topics for women and girls sport. I’m Natalie Doyle and today I’m joined by two inspiring women from different sports. Vicky Molyneux has played rugby league for 25 years and is the current captain of Wigan Warriors Women. She made her England debut in 2007 and was the first woman to be inducted into the Wigan Warriors Hall of Fame. Natascia Bernardi has been coaching girls’ football since 2017. She is the head coach of QPR’s under 12 girls and is in a coaching placement at QPR women’s first team as part of The FA’s Women’s National League Coaching Programme. Two women with different backgrounds from different sports but with a lot to say on a really interesting subject. Let’s hear what they have to say.

Vicky and Natascia, thank you so much for joining me today. We’re going to be talking about inspiring girls to play sport, so I’m really looking forward to hearing your experiences both in terms of inspiring girls and being inspired yourselves. Let’s start with that point I think. Vicky, if I start with you first, what inspired you to play sport?

Vicky Molyneux

I think, first of all, my family has got heavy roots within sport. My dad in particular, he played professional rugby for Wigan, for Rochdale, for Blackpool. My uncle played. It was kind of, a bit of a rugby league family, but my mum she was a talented sportswoman as well and I think going back to my education, I was really fortunate to have a really invested and passionate PE department. Even at primary school the value of sport there was highly recognised and within secondary school, there was just that many ample opportunities to represent the school in different sports and develop my skills in different ways. And I felt supported by my PE teachers and I felt that if I was good at something then they’ll help me feel like that and the more I felt like I was talented at something it helped my self-esteem and the enjoyment of different sports. I loved competing in a variety of different sports until I found what my true passion was. But through that love of competition in particular as well, I’m quite a competitive person and I’m just trying to push myself to whatever stage I could possibly get at it in a variety of different sports. So I think yeah, definitely, going back to secondary school and family pushing me and supporting me to reach the heights in whatever I wanted to do.

Natalie Doyle

It sounds like a number of different factors came into play there from different areas of your life.

How about you Natascia? What inspired you to play sport?

Natascia Bernardi

It’s very interesting because I’m completely on the opposite side of the continuum. My mum threw me into doing any sort of sports activity because in the culture where I came from, which is Italy, in the 80’s, it was suggested that it was good for the health for young people, for kids. And I was very outgoing and I was always running and out and about, so my mum said ‘okay, let’s put it into sport so at least you’re not gonna do mischief in the streets’ and stuff like that and that’s how I started. So I’ve done, you name it, I’ve done swimming, I’ve done gymnastics, I’ve done volleyball. I’ve done all sort of sports but I would say football, because it wasn’t available, and I’m one of these people that I love sports but sports don’t love me back in the sense that through sports, I had a lot of fun, got all my friends, got a lot of skills and then I had my uncle who was at the time quite strong in weight lifting, was regional champion of weightlifting, so he kind of kept me up with the interest of doing sports. But more so I think I got all my crowd there, I got so many friendships, solid friendships, and very honest friendships. So I think that was what kept me in the sports and then because my country hosted the Italia Novanta which is Italia 90, so the World Cup in the 90’s, that’s when I fell in love with football and I tried to play football, not to see them, but that’s how I got into sports.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it’s Interesting, you’ve both talked about the influence of your parents in really being keen to get you both involved in various sports. Do you think that’s important for young girls especially when they’re getting into sport, that they have that parental support and encouragement to put themselves forward into those situations?

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, I definitely do. I think for boys and girls as well, a barrier being a young child or emerging into a sport, you are reliant on family support to take you to training and to make sure you’re kitted out, but I think particularly females who have low self-esteem and anxiety can take over a little bit and have that doubt, particularly if you’re wanting to try something new, and having that push and that support network is really important I think, particularly to take that first step to try something new and trying a new sport but also continuing. Sport can bring its pressures, as can life and when you’re trying to juggle everything and perhaps things are not going your way, you might not be selected or injuries, for example, I think that parental influence is really key, and but not the be-all and end-all, but it can be a turning point for a lot of people I think.

Natascia Bernardi

I think it could ignite something and I think it’s very important in terms of support, especially, as Vicky said, if you want to go pro, if you are aiming to go farther than just playing at sport. I can see in girls definitely how having a supporting family and that help you in striving in helping you overcome any of those in your life to reach whatever you want to reach out from sports is very important, but nevertheless I think also peers are important as well, especially for girls, I think it’s what I’ve seen in participation of girls is that, depending on the age of course, but more so for teenagers I would say, if a friend is there even if for a push or just as a support that will do as well. So I would say family and friends as well when possible. Right friends.

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, I think it’s feeling valued among your peer group, and that status that comes with it. For me, I always wanted to do my mum and dad proud. I wanted to hear them say that I played well and making them proud was really important to me. I feel like now, my effort, my roots, it’s because of that. I’m not the most technically best player in the competition, but I think my work rate and my effort is up there and I think it routes back to wanting to not just doing myself proud, but those people that matter to me.

Natascia Bernardi

I think that is so true in participation of sports, because if you get silly, and I mean if you are not, let’s say perfect, which most likely when you start a new sport, is very hard. But having a friend there that actually, maybe have a laugh, but saying ‘no no, that’s good, that’s good, keep going’ beside the coach on the side. I think it gives a little bit of a boost to the person.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, because you need to enjoy it at the end of the day, don’t you, before you reach those levels where you do get into a more competitive environment. When you first start getting into sport when you’re younger, it’s mostly just because you enjoy it and you’re having fun and like you said Natascia, about having your friends around you. Obviously, women’s sport has come a long way in recent years but when you both got involved, who were your role models that inspired you to get involved? Was it more around your friends and family or was it other people in the public eye?

Vicky Molyneaux

For Rugby League, we’re on a journey still and the sport is emerging. And when I first started playing, I was fortunate enough to know a couple of the girls who were playing for Great Britain. It was Great Britain then, it wasn’t England and, I knew them personally just through the local club that was around but other than that, you didn’t have the role models. The social media, you know, it does have his negatives, it’s been amazing for a lot of women’s sports to raise the profile and to start showcasing and highlighting role models to inspire young girls to take up on sports. So, I didn’t really have, you know, where the young girls coming into sports now, will have these role models that they see on social media all the time and and other sources of media. We didn’t really have that then within rugby league in particular. So I think for me, the role model side of things wasn’t really there. I think that the push from the people around me, that was always wanting me to push me to be better. I think my love of it, I just loved the game so much and the minute I stepped onto that field I felt like me, and I feel like me, that’s where I was most confident and the best version of myself. Not the pressure but the push to be the best teammate, to be the one who was always encouraging each other, I think for me that was my drive because we didn’t really have those people to look up to. That visibility just wasn’t there like it is now and it’s not perfect yet, but it’s definitely getting there.

Natascia Bernardi

For me, funnily enough, my idols were men because there was no big advertisement or big sharing of women doing sport, especially excelling in sport that was not the portrait at the time. And also I didn’t grow up, probably I gave a hint saying that I fell in love with football in the 90’s, so definitely no social media. Nothing like that. But even in the newspaper, it was very hard to find news about athletes who’s gender was female. So my idol was a Franco Baresi, who is I would say a defender of Italy in the 90’s. Then I got into the sports thanks to probably the Italian team at the time. And that’s when I discovered people like Mia Hamm and Carolina Morace, they were in sports at a high level portraying what I would have loved to be, but it was a deep research to get those so to echo Vicky I think there is such an opportunity now with all social media but also with all the internet availability and the variety also of people involved in the sport so it doesn’t have to be just a sport, it doesn’t have to be just a gender, it doesn’t have to be a specific kind of athlete, they are from different backgrounds, all over, and it’s so nice to see that the way they are speaking about sports and women sports in particular, it’s in a very sporty way about achievement, about effort, about competition, about the game, and I really, really like that and makes the whole thing more professional and serious and something to be looking up to and something to be ambitious of. I have some of the girls that I coach, they are under 11 and they keep saying I want to be a professional footballer, and I never heard that before. I start hearing this in the last three years. I never heard that before.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it’s interesting, you both raise the fact that sometimes it is those national and international role models as you talked about Natascia in terms of seeing Franco Baresi and other players, probably on TV or maybe at live matches. Whereas Vicky you talk about the importance of those local role models who were playing for Great Britain but you knew them because they played it at your local club. So sometimes it can be more powerful, can’t it? Because it’s a bit more relatable and you think well they come from where I come from so I could maybe do that as a similar journey.

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, and I think you have local towns and local people getting behind that as well. In and around where I live, and not just me in particular, but they can see that I was that teenage girl once doing exactly the same, lived in the same area as you, and you know with some hard work and the right support around you, you can do good things and you can make it. I think that I’m promoting that, you know, it really does instil that self-belief in these young girls in particular, well and young boys, it’s not just a gender-based thing that you know, anything is possible and yeah the cliche saying ‘Aim for the stars’ and you really can make it.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, absolutely, it’s interesting how you both mentioned about social media as well because I think we’d all, obviously, there are plenty of downsides of social media as well, as you mentioned Vicky, but it does provide a platform for people to inspire the next generation to get involved in the sport. Do you both try and utilize social media in that way where you can?

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, I feel like I’m getting better. I feel like I go in waves, sometimes I’m trying to promote lots. I’m not really very tech savvy shall I say, a lot of what I promote is about the game, not just myself, and the club that I play for, but if other people are doing good things, I just think people need to see it. People need to hear it and I think there’s some Rugby League women’s players and men, who are just fantastic at broadcasting these stories. They’re just behind the scenes and the life and sometimes the ugliness of it all as well when it’s not going your way and I think that’s important as well, just to see the human side of it all and the toughs, the struggles, the early morning graft and the late night training sessions. There is, particular for females, there’s a lot of that that goes on and I think showing that’s important. I think it gets that respect and as the quality, as the product that we’re trying to produce, as the quality is getting better year on year I think seeing actually what goes on and the effort that’s put in behind the scenes is really important and to see that and value it.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s what people want to see as well isn’t it? That’s why people look to social media. They don’t want to see all the shiny glossy stuff. They want to see the struggles and the behind-the-scenes and the real life insight into what it’s like to be involved in those sports. How about you Natascia? What’s your social media activity like? Are you better than me and Vicky?

Natascia Bernardi

So first of all my social media and Twitter are locked, I have to because I’m working in schools, that’s what you need to do, unfortunately. However, what I do is, if I see something interesting on Instagram or inspirational or could be anything, obstacles overcoming or something that is specific role. So I’ve sent a couple of things to my goalkeeper’s parents asking to share that or anything that can help them or keep them motivated and striving. Last year, Alessia Russo wrote a letter to her younger self and there was a clip I sent it to my team. That’s to say that I might not be directly using social media to promote the game or to promote the inside of the game, but it’s more like speculative in a way, so more direct and focus on keeping the girls engaged. And I might use that for work when it’s needed to share with my team, I work in a sports team, so that is mainly the use that I do with social media.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned the Alessia Russo letter that she wrote because it highlights again that piece around role models. How important do you think those role models are when it comes to getting girls involved in sport? Obviously there are, we’ve already talked about much more visible role models available now for girls in various sports, how important do you think that is to get girls involved or is it not the most important thing around?

Vicky Molyneux

I do think it’s really important, I think particularly for those from perhaps different ethnic backgrounds or perhaps those with a disability, to see if that’s available. A role model who you can look up to, who you can relate to, is really powerful. You’ve got different female athletes of different body image and again, that’s really important with young girls in particular. I work in a school as well with teenage girls and they do often compare themselves, comparing to what they see online and to see if there are these athletes absolutely smashing life and really confident and found their place in society and value within a team or individual sporting environment. They can think that can be me and it might just be that’s all it needs just to keep going or to take that first step, and like you said, I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all but I think more so in this day and age where there’s so much social pressures on young people, I think to see that can be really powerful stuff.

Natascia Bernardi

Yeah, I completely agree, I think it’s very important to have a variety of role models, as it is very important to have a variety of sports. So if you can see it, you can be it, that’s what has been said several times about women in football and I strongly, strongly believe that, and I think also as coaching forces it’s very important that there is a variety of coaches from different backgrounds, different ethnicity and being able to inspire young people in general in doing any sport and maybe overcoming any possible barriers because sometimes you feel like you’re not represented. I had a chat with another coach, and she said I look at the England team and there is no one like me and how can I say to my girls to be inspired by the England team? I showed them the Nigerian team because that’s my background and that’s what the majority of my girls are and I pick some clips from them because they need to see that there are also other avenues. It’s not just about England. It could be about any other place, any other nationality, especially if they have other passports. So I think that is very important.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah I think you’ve both raised a really important point there about different types of role models are really important, especially Vicky, as you said, when people are comparing themselves to people online, and that won’t always be the most positive people to be comparing yourself to so if you do have a variety of different people, especially if they see people who come from the same background as them or people who look like them then they’re the sort of role models that can have a real positive impact. Obviously, you two will both be role models as well for your own involvements in sport. How do you try and be a positive role model in your current positions and roles?

Vicky Molyneux

Good question. As a player, I’m a more senior of player, I’m on the same pitch as a lot of girls who were seventeen years old. I’m nearly double their age, and I think it’s important when I’m trying to lead by example with the younger girls, for example, I’m trying to show that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not putting your team first, you’ve got nothing. I think that team-first mentality and that really strong work ethic and having that common purpose is really important. You know, the let’s be the most competitive team. If we have that, we can strive to be something and but I coach some young girls at Rochdale Mayfield Rugby Club and I think they are obviously new to the game, a lot of them, a lot of them have only been playing two years maybe at the most and just to say that it’s alright to lose a game. It’s all right if we don’t win, you learn. You don’t necessarily lose because you learn something and it’s the response to that failure or not seeing it as failure, but it’s the response that’s important. I think I’m trying to instil those values. Of course the the rugby ability is important because that’s why they’re there, but just trying to make them good people and trying to make them resilient people, not just in rugby but just life. I once got told that to have a good squad or to have a good player, have a good athlete and a good person, and if you have those two things you can make a rugby player, you could make a footballer or whatever sport it could be. But if you’re a good athlete and a good person and you’ve got something that you can work with and you’ve got something that’s special. So I think just those little bits of values that I’ve seen is important, that I think have made a difference to me. Hopefully then I can pass it on to these young girls as well and not just the people that I play with but the girls that I’m coaching.

Natascia Bernardi

For me, I think being myself in terms of being accountable. So if I ask everyone to be there at seven o’clock I’m there at 6:45pm and if I’m there at 7 I will say that I’m sorry because I’m late. So being able also to say sorry when needed when you are misunderstood or when you are simply in the wrong, so to make them understand that. Even I sometimes don’t get it, but they can rely on me because I’ll always try my best and sometimes I just get it wrong and simply be honest. I’m quite direct, I don’t fluff around. They know that. And they might be a little bit sceptical at the start but they also appreciate that honesty is something that I am and something that I like to be, so if they have any feedback, and they are sometimes quite strong in their feedback, then I’ll take it on board and try to make it better. So it’s a two-way conversation. And also that I work hard, so hard work most likely pays off, it’s not the only thing but if you don’t put in the work then you cannot pretend results. So that’s what I show in what I do. So I’m more of a person of preach what I say but I also do what I say. It’s not just asking them to do what I want them to do and then doing it or behaving completely opposite and I think that is one of the strengths with my players because they know that what I say, what I do is what I think and there is nothing different.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah I think that’s really important isn’t it? You’ve both talked there about the importance of holding yourself to those high standards and delivering those standards to the girls that you’re coaching and I think that’s really important as well in terms of not just developing them as players, whatever sport it might be, but in terms of developing them as people. It’s about showing them being a positive role model in terms of being accountable, being honest, having good integrity, all of those good values that you’ll bring into your coaching roles as well which will impact those girls much later in life whether they’re still involved in the sport or not. Is that something that you take very seriously and is very important to you both?

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, I think it comes before anything for me. I think what Natascia said, that honesty and that accountability, you would never ask the girls to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself, or anything that you don’t believe in. I think yeah for me, qualities and the people skills, the life skills, is really important and you get those things right before anything, I think, there’s going to be moments where particularly in team sports that teammates will bicker, personalities will clash. But how do you manage that and they are children at the end of the day and they are learning and it’s about showcasing and modelling those positive behaviours that are going to be valuable to them and in all stages of their life.

Natascia Bernardi

Yeah, and to add to that, those are the things that kept me in sport even though I was not necessarily successful or a top elite athlete, is just having people, that I learned discipline and I learned how to be accountable. I learned how to lose in a safe environment, I know how to have my team having my back when I did a save, I was a goalkeeper, and I missed it, as I learn how to raise my hand when I missed it because it was my fault, so I think all these are soft things that actually help you in life and make you the person and shape you the person that you are because when you speak to anyone who has played sport or is passionate about sports, kind of most likely share those values and that’s why I think it’s very important that you live through these values and you might teach them and as has been brought up earlier I think you need to look at your footballers or your rugby players as people first. Because you might not be the coach that takes them to the WSL or to the higest level of rugby, but you might be the person, the coach, that actually help them in being disciplined.Or help them in actually getting better in being accountable. So those are the things that I think are important because at the very end, they will become others independently of being successful or unsuccessful at their sport.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, that’s so important when you’re working with young people I think especially.

We’re getting to the end of our time and I always like to end each episode by getting the last piece of advice from you both. So if we’ve got anybody listening who wants to do their bit to inspire girls to play sport, what advice or tips would you give them?

Vicky Molyneux

I think, it’s kind of like, just do it. What’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is that you don’t enjoy it and it’s not for you. But I think just try and if it doesn’t work first time round, if you get that knockback, then it’s part of the journey and it’s part of the story for you. That will be something that will lead to something else. Other doors will open. So I think I said before, if you don’t win, you learn. So I think take every opportunity as a learning opportunity. If for example, you didn’t get selected for that team, then why is that? And taking those opportunities to get better and taking feedback and criticism as a way of getting better and I think that outlook on feedback and the outlook on criticism, obviously done in hopefully a good way, feedback is great, it’s powerful. Never take it as a negative. It’s not personal. And I think sometimes when we think it is personal, that’s when we maybe fall out of love with a sport. That’s maybe when we walk away but it’s not personal. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to get better and just that outlook on not doing something right, if you master that and get with that and try and get your head around that it will be really powerful and help them along.

Natascia Bernardi

On me, if you want to inspire young girls and getting into any sports, find your why. Why do you want to do that? So you have a sort of personal mission. And I think the best way is to do some research on the internet to try to find maybe the governing body or the organisation that is leading the sports that you want to use. And if you have a specific sport or you might find somebody on either social media, on Linkedin, that is already doing what you have in mind, so why don’t you hook up, for example, if I’m thinking about football I don’t know people like Coach Ali or Manisha Tailor, those are two people that for me were very inspiring when I started my journey as a grassroots coach and I think there are several others, assuming in any other sport. And I’m sure if not one, maybe others will be happy to receive a message, and where you can say ‘Hey, I just saw what you do, I would like to do something similar, do you know what I can start?’ And I think you can start an easier conversation. Most people they are so inspiring that they’re having really a mission and a heart in inspiring young girls doing any sport, could be football, could be cricket, could be rugby, could be gymnastics, are more than happy to have other allies to have to help out, so I’m sure they can help them out. So yeah, those are the suggestions that I have.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, really good advice from both of you there. It’s been a really interesting conversation. Thank you so much for giving up the time and I’m sure there’s a lot of helpful advice and tips for people to take away. So thank you very much.

Vicky Molyneux

You’re welcome. No problem.

Natascia Bernardi

Thank you so much for having me.

Vicky Molyneux

Yeah, thank you.

Natalie Doyle

I really enjoyed that conversation with Vicky and Natascia. It was great to hear both of their journeys into sport and how they got inspired as youngsters to try various sports and forge the path that they have in sport after that. But also I just really enjoyed hearing about the values that they each bring to their coaching roles and they’re exactly the sort of people that we want to be coaching young girls. So we’re very lucky to have them involved in their respective sports.

A huge thank you once again to Vicky and Natascia for joining me and we will be back again in a couple of weeks with another episode. We’ll see you then.

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