It’s fair to say that Lindsay Anfield is a pioneer in women’s rugby league.
After a distinguished playing career that saw her represent her country, Lindsay now heads up the coaching team at Castleford Tigers. Her side have swept all before them in the Betfred Women’s Super League in 2019, winning the League Leaders’ Shield on Tuesday night, and were runners up in the Challenge Cup final earlier this summer.
She was the first ever recipient of the RFL Presidents Awards for her commitment to coaching excellence and inspiring the next generation of coaches. Lindsay is Assistant Coach with England, a coach mentor, and juggles all those commitments with her role at De Lacy Academy.
Women’s rugby league is enjoying a rapid rise in the last couple of years, with Lindsay and her Tigers very much at the forefront.
“The initial setup of the Castleford team is something we were trying to do for a long time,” she explains.
“I said that if I was going to do something then we’d have to revolutionise the whole perception of women’s rugby league. It’s not fat women with short hair, tattoos and no real skill.
“I think now, Cas has been a big part in changing the perception and raising the profile of women’s rugby league.
“Right from the beginning, we started giving names on the back of shirts, getting a strength and conditioning coach, and basically mimicking what the men are getting, and what you get at international level.
“I knew that if we did it at Cas, everybody would want to follow. You just need one club or somebody to follow suit.”
The Tigers will go into the end of season play-offs later this month as red-hot favourites to lift the title, with reigning Woman of Steel, Georgia Roche and nominee for the 2019 crown of the league’s best player, Kelsey Gentles in their ranks.
Turn the clock back a couple of seasons, and a number of the players in the Castleford squad didn’t have a pathway to continue playing, and it is that which makes Lindsay most proud.
“When I started at Castleford, I’d been coaching England students, and a lot of them didn’t play rugby for a club. They made friends on an England Students tour to Hungary and all said they want to set up a club.
“I had a group of 16-17 year olds who all came with me to Castleford, and five of them have been recently selected to tour Papua New Guinea with England. It’s quite rewarding to think you’ve taken girls who may not have played club rugby at all to playing internationally.”
It’s opportunity that Lindsay believes is vital to getting more women into coaching, and in turn taking part in sport or physical activity.
“I think women have got more demands on them. Anybody with kids has got a certain amount of demands on them, and coaching is generally on an evening or a weekend when the kids are at home. It’s difficult from the offset.
“There’s a lot more sports clubs for boys than there are for girls, so naturally dads, brothers and uncles all get involved as volunteer coaches. In Cas itself, there’s two rugby clubs and a football club. So in terms of opportunities to coach girls, there’s barely anything.
“I’m the School Games Organiser for Wakefield and we’re always looking to get teachers and parents involved, but there’s so much to it and a lot of barriers to get through.
“I think you’ve got to sell the benefits. You do put a lot of time and effort into it, but it is very rewarding. Your social network widens because of it. My position is quite unique as a former player, but the principle is the same. It’s rewarding to watch people improve and develop, especially kids.
“One of my players who I’ve coaching from the age of 16 has had the offer to go on SAS: Who Dares Wins. She’s from an estate in Leeds, and had we not given her the opportunity to play and helped out with bus and train fares, she wouldn’t be where she is.
“A lot of kids may not achieve academically, but if they achieve in sport then that’s great to be part of.”
If you’ve been inspired by Lindsay’s story, and want to either start or get back into coaching, click HERE to find out more and complete our online expression of interest form for money towards a coaching qualification.