As part of National Volunteer Week, Rugby Australia looks to highlight and celebrate some of the outstanding people in the Rugby community that make the game so special, with no one epitomising this more than Vanessa Van Dongen at Elizabeth Rugby Union Football Club
When you talk about the growth of the Elizabeth Rugby Club, van Dongen is one of the leading volunteers at the forefront of it.
Van Dongen joined the club five years ago when her children wanted to play the sport, stepping up as junior coordinate when she noticed a gap coming from a netball and soccer background.
Since then, she has filled in a number of roles to help the club, including but not limited to coordinating the teams, making sure new players are safely put on the right team, ensuring managers/ground marshalls are in place and dealing with conflict resolution between refs and coaches.
Under her leadership and incredible commitment to the club and the sport, participation at the Elizabeth Rugby Club has skyrocketed, something Van Dongen takes incredible pride at.
“Seeing the growth and direction of the club (makes me proud)…When I first started at the club five years ago, my child had one or two players in their team, the coaching wasn’t the best, people were rocking up late and we didn’t have numbers,” she said.
“In the last five years being junior co-ordinator and on the committee…seeing us develop from not being able to field a team to now being where every single team is full. This is the first year we’ve had U6/7s all the way up to U18s for such a long time. We’re now having good issues where we’re trying to work out how to monitor and deal with having 27 players at the U16s.
“My committee is amazing so I would not have been able to do what I have done without my committee.”
Along with this, Van Dongen and the club have set up a leadership program, with currently includes five players from the U16s team as well as several others.
It extends more than just on the field, helping those that might not want to keep playing but still feel connected to the club, looking to set up their future.
“We’re in an area where there is a lot of behavioural issues and kids that may not have had the best school or home life,” she explained.
“Yes we can be tough and there is consequence of certain behaviours but it’s about learning how we can deal with that better, is there an underlying issue and being responsible for your actions.
“I do a lot of mentoring for the older and younger players. My U14s, 16s and 18s ref the junior kids, plus they have the connection and interaction that’s been led in the past couple of years that’s been led by example by the older kids that’s been led and filtered through that it’s expected you run water for the younger guys, you help warm them up.
“It’s not an individual feel, it’s a community…it’s about responsibility, fun, inclusion and also discipline.
“Ultimately to win a game is fantastic, but there’s no point winning games if your club and players aren’t happy and we’re wanting to make sure it’s not just a winning side but a happy and productive side…the foundation is Rugby but it’s about being a community support and being there for all the kids.”
With the Wallabies set to play their first game in Adelaide since 2014 against the Springboks on August 27, Van Dongen was hoping the presence can help grow the game in the area and help showcase what makes the sport so special.
“It’s so exciting,” she added. “It’s that potential that it’s so close to home. In SA, you do have that thing where we fighting against NSW and Queensland because there’s that skill level and AFL and soccer takeover but to have that influence here justifies our sport.
“We actually have that vision, we can see a live game instead of watching it on TV. We have games at the club that we watch but I have so many people approach asking about tickets and the kids are so excited about having an opportunity to see players in SA and seeing them play.
“It would be such a fantastic way for SA and Australia, that would filter through and the demand would there.
“I’ve come from a netball and soccer background and I came to Rugby not understanding the technical aspects and I had to play for the women’s team for a couple of years to understand that. What is so good about Rugby it suits a variety of shapes and sizes…Rugby we like the short kids, the taller kids, the kids that are a bit broader and we don’t care that you might have zero experience because you’ll learn that.”