Premiership Rugby Scholarships giving Kaitlyn Kelly a unique opportunity

Diving in at the deep end is something American coach Kaitlyn Kelly has become accustomed to during her rugby journey, having stumbled upon the sport through the Army.

The 30-year-old, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, went to the United States Military Academy on a basketball scholarship before being hooked by the challenge rugby presented instead.

She has since made the transition from player to coach and will be one of 26 Premiership Rugby Scholarship winners from the US who will come to England this weekend to hone their skills.

As part of the once-in-a-lifetime experience, Premiership Rugby will provide the coaches with a comprehensive introduction to the ins-and-outs of a top-tier English rugby club.

Those taking part will visit Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and Wasps while also completing a Level 300 coaching training course, co-delivered by Premiership Rugby and USA Rugby.

And Kelly is relishing the opportunity to meet like-minded coaches and expand her rugby knowledge so she can continue to support the growth of the sport in the America.

“I wanted to apply last year but my mum was fighting breast cancer and I didn’t want to leave at that point but it popped up again this summer on Facebook,” she said.

“It was posted on Women’s Rugby Connection, which is a great forum to help women coaches and players connect, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring which is how it all came about.

“I have been to England before so I kind of know what to expect in terms of how much rugby is involved in the whole UK culture and how it’s something people do from an early age.

“I’m really excited to get back into that culture where when you tell people you play rugby and it’s not surprising to them, it’s the norm. I’m excited to learn more.

“The chance to visit Premiership teams like Saints, Tigers and Wasps is really exciting, but I’m also looking forward to being able to connect with other American coaches.”

Kelly was initially thrust into coaching during her time at the United States Military Academy at West Point before taking on the role of player/coach at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Her stint there as player was abruptly ended by injury, forcing her to re-evaluate her participation in the sport to ensure it did not get in the way of her finishing her military service.

After moving to Washington DC, Kelly discovered the prestigious Scion Rugby Academy and has not looked back since, learning her trade as a team manager and assistant coach.

She was also given the opportunity to coach the All-Army Women’s Rugby team, playing a key role in organising the first-ever All-Armed Forces women’s rugby tournament.

Now the Premiership Rugby Scholarships initiative, which is run in partnership with Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby, will help support her professional coaching development.

And Kelly insists the similarities between the Army and rugby are plentiful, highlighting discipline and an ability to make decisions under pressure as two traits they both have in common.

“Rugby actually translated really well into the military aspect of my life, being in chaotic situations and having to make decisions under pressure, trying to be two steps ahead,” she said.

“Talking to lots of my friends and teammates who have been deployed and been in those situations in real life, it really translates over and prepares you for real-time decision making.

“I just had to dive in to coaching and do it to the best of my ability as I didn’t have any certificates or anything when I started, I was just thrown in there and I fell in love with it straightaway.

“I hope this experience will mean I can come back to the US and have that network of coaches, so hopefully we can grow the sport and the game and culture of rugby more in America.

“Opportunities are few and far between for rugby players to play at the next level while serving their country so that’s something I really want to be able to take that back to these girls.”

Following quickly on Kelly’s heels will be the next group of Premiership Rugby Scholarship winners, who will travel to England in early 2020. Applications for the 2020 Scholarship visit will open early in 2020.

To be in with a chance of winning, you will need to submit a video outlining how the experience will positively impact your coach delivery and you must have completed your USA Rugby Level 200 coaching qualification prior to the trip.

In addition to the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby the following partners have been instrumental in the Premiership Rugby Scholarships programme: Austin Huns Rugby Club, Austin Valkyries Women’s Rugby Club, Carolina’s Geographic Rugby Union, Glendale Raptors, Rugby ATL, Rugby United New York, Rugby New Jersey, Saint Thomas Aquinas Rugby, Southern California Rugby Football Union and the United States Rugby Foundation.