Fuelling Women Champions: Emily Barber Feature
Emily Barber of the Ontario Senior Women’s provincial representative program demonstrates what it takes to reach success in today’s emerging high performance sport sector. As a 23-year-old from Fenelon Falls - growing up in the Kawartha Lakes region - Barber began her rugby career playing for the Lindsay Rugby Football Club, has gone on to play varsity rugby at McGill University and is currently a member of the Aurora Barbarians Rugby Football Club.
As sport has always been an integral part of the Barber family household, from a very young age, Emily played almost all major sports throughout elementary school and high school. From volleyball to badminton to rugby, Barber’s interest in competitive sport manifested at a young age and continued to grow with heightened support from her parents. Emily’s primary sport was figure skating throughout elementary school, basketball during her early teenage years and rugby from grade ten onwards.
“I was lucky to have a very supportive family that made many sacrifices financially and time-wise to make every sport I wanted to pursue accessible,” said Barber. “If this had not been the case, getting to and from and paying for all of my competitive athletics would not have been possible.”
After making the transition from the court to the pitch as a 16-year-old, Emily’s love for rugby became evident when she became a member of the Under-17 Ontario Storm in 2010. Following Barber’s first summer of provincial rugby as a part of the Storm, coach Sean Dunleavy approached Emily with the idea of one day representing Canada on the international rugby stage.
“I had not really thought playing for Canada would be in the realm of possibility prior to him asking me,” explained Barber. “After a taste of competitive rugby and an invitation to a Canada trial the following year, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.”
After playing one season under Rugby Ontario’s representative program with the Ontario Storm, Emily knew that rugby was something she wanted to continue to pursue at the next level. As a young High-Performance athlete, Barber’s love for the sport continued to pay dividends as she was selected to represent team Canada’s Under-20 squad during the Nations Cup in 2013.
Growing up as a competitive female rugby player in Ontario, Barber was faced with several challenges that tested her willingness to compete and inclination to participate as an elite Canadian rugby talent. In Barber’s case, the biggest challenges she had to face in sport came after completing her varsity rugby career at McGill University.
“University is an amazing environment where there is relatively no shortage of time, facilities, medical resources, practice and playing opportunities, coaching support and teammates,” said Barber. “Once I left McGill, I was faced with a shortage of opportunities to play and improve my rugby for the first time in my life. I had to go out of my way to seek time and resources to keep skills up, train, get feedback, and balance a full-time job. Specifically, when you leave the city or area you went to school in, you lose your entire rugby network and support system.”
Growing up and maturing has a direct correlation with developing an effective work-life balance. As teenagers graduate high school, start post secondary and enter the ‘real world’, many individuals find it difficult to continue to do the things that they love – as life can be very busy and demanding. Life’s challenges can sway one’s ability to devote important time and effort into certain aspects of life – such as work, school, sports, family, friends, etc. In Emily’s case, she was faced with life challenges that raised some questions around whether or not she could continue to play rugby at a competitive level.
We asked the Senior Blues hooker if those life challenges ever made her want to drop out of sports – and if so, what helped her stick with it.
“Absolutely. The challenge of balancing a very demanding full-time job with a very time-consuming commitment like competitive rugby can push anyone to question if the can manage both,” she said. “Ultimately, the camaraderie, challenge, and diversity that rugby brings to my life made it impossible to give up. Sonia Sennik also played an important role by believing in me after missing national team selections and reminding me that competitive rugby can be fun too.”
Balancing a fulltime job and a competitive rugby career clearly has its difficulties; however, it is also clear that rugby is a sport that builds a strong sense of community by developing important life skills while providing a valued sense of belonging.
We asked Emily if she had witnessed any friends or teammates drop out of sports – and if so, for what reasons.
Without hesitation, Barber commented on how she has seen many friends and teammates withdraw from competitive sports mainly due to financial issues. The Ontario veteran also mentioned how there is a difficult transitional phase when athletes are trying to make the jump from the Under-20 program to the Senior Women’s program.
An athlete typically falls in love with their sport because they have been given a significant amount of support – whether it’s from a parental or coaching standpoint. We asked Emily if there were any specific coaches or parents that inspired her to join or stay in sports. As parental support was inherent in the Barber household, Emily was quick to credit her past and present coaches who help mold her into the rugby player she is today.
“My high school coach, Kirk Wilson (I.E Weldon) was a huge part of my early rugby success; he strongly encouraged me to try rugby (and give up basketball) and, subsequently, to try out for Ontario. My current coaches, Kevin Jones and Sonia Sennik have played a large role in reminding me how much more there is to rugby than the sport itself; from developing leadership skills, to paving the way for equality in women’s sports, the impact of rugby reaches far beyond the pitch.”
Role models play a crucial role in terms of motivating an athlete to train, compete and improve at the highest and most competitive level. We asked Emily if she had any role models to look up to during her time as a Rugby Ontario athlete. Barber was sure to acknowledge current coach of the Ontario Blues Senior Women’s program, Sonia Sennik on all that she has done to help young women pursue their dreams on and off the pitch.
“Certainly, Sonia Sennik has been an amazing role model throughout her time as head coach of the Senior Women’s program. She brings a very balanced perspective; similar to myself, she has many goals outside of the rugby world that she is working towards simultaneously. I was also lucky enough to train with Canadian Women’s Rugby legends Latoya Blackwood and Kim Donaldson leading up to the 2014 RWC, as we were all living in Montreal. Their hard work, dedication to the sport, and ability to push their own personal limits was inspiring.”
Though Sennik has been a strong role model throughout Barber’s time with Ontario’s Senior Women’s program – we asked Emily if she went through a time in her life/rugby career where she could have benefited from a role model but didn’t have one. Barber touched on the fact that she was enrolled in a post-graduate program in a new city, and how it would have been extremely valuable to have a player role model that shared similar goals inside and outside of rugby. However, Barber was fortunate enough to surround herself with many amazing role models over the years. More specifically, when Emily lived in Montreal, she was apart of a large group of women who trained and played together regularly. Barber asserts that this group of women were instrumental in pushing her beyond what she thought she was capable of.
Moving forward, we asked Barber what changes she would like to see implemented in women’s sports.
“I would like to see equality in the financial resources allocated to support provincial and national women’s rugby. For far too long, Canada’s National Women’s Rugby team were paying significantly more to represent their country than their male counterparts.”
Lastly, we asked Emily to provide advice to young girls aspiring to play rugby at a high level.
“Set goals, ask the right people what you need to do to get there, and find a network of people that push you continuously to improve and push your limits,” she said. “Never lose sight of the fact that rugby is fun!”
ABOUT FUELLING WOMEN CHAMPIONS
As champions of healthy living, providing nutrition and playing an active role in our communities, Canada’s dairy farmers’ mission is to see that no hurdle exists that might hinder the passion for the game. The goal: to support women’s sports so they will become more watched, more appreciated and more financially stable, from the grassroots level to the elite level.
Visit womenchampions.ca to learn more
ABOUT RUGBY ONTARIO
Rugby Ontario is the provincial sports governing body responsible for the organization of rugby in Ontario. Our mission is to establish a stronger identity for rugby in Ontario by promoting the sport’s core values and by fostering a culture of inclusiveness and excellence on and off the field of play.
To learn more, visit http://www.rugbyontario.com/
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Communications Coordinator - Rugby Ontario