Breaking Barriers – Tanya Dhar
Tanya Dhar is not an ordinary girl by any standards. A student of City University in Hong Kong pursuing a BBA degree (having been offered the Outstanding Athlete Sports Scholarship by the University), she is one of the few Indian women Rugby players and Rugby coaches in Asia.
Holding the title of HKRU Girls’ Youth Coach of the Year, which she received in May of last year, this young girl of 19 years has created a place for herself in this male dominated sport. Not only was she selected to represent Hong Kong at the Youth Olympic Asia Qualifier U17 Girls in 2017, she is currently coaching the ‘HKU Sandy Bay RFC (Rugby Football Club)’ U14 team. On invitation by “Child Fund Pass it Back” program, Tanya also participated as a Coach , at the Rugby World Cup held in Japan in October 2019. We sat with Tanya to know a little about what inspires and motivates her, and discussed some of the key barriers women in Rugby face.
Who inspired you to play Rugby?
I’ve been lucky enough to be inspired by many people throughout my Rugby journey. My dad introduced me to Rugby at the age of 4 and he is 100% the reason I kept playing. Following this, I was lucky enough to have a sequence of coaches that made me truly enjoy and fall in love with the game and since then I haven’t looked back. Today, the girls I play with and the girls I coach, inspire me every day to evolve and keep growing- both as a player and person.
What is some of the best advice you have received and from whom?
To “back myself”. I have consistently been supported by my coaches to have implicit faith in my abilities. But the one moment that sticks out in my mind, is my coach encouraging me right before the 2020 Grand Championship Finals. To get carried away on the eve of such momentous games is only human, however knowing that she had immense belief in me further strengthened my confidence.
What motivates you the most when you are playing on the field?
Without a doubt- my family. The most important thing for me is to make them proud. My parents have sacrificed a lot to help me get to where I am, they have stood up for me countless times, and they pushed me to be the best I could be in whatever I chose to do. Before every game, no matter how big or small, I think of them and that gives me motivation.
What is the one thing you know now about playing this sport, that you wish you knew earlier?
Mental toughness and resilience are essential to Rugby. The traditional approach to the game is about enhancing physical attributes, but the higher up you go, the mental aspects become more essential. One has to be able to take the rises with the falls, celebrate the wins, face rejection and come out of it stronger and to withstand pressure.
What advice would you share with young women entering a male dominated sport?
My advice would be to not let anyone ever tell them can’t do something. If you have a passion and love for sport, throw your heart, mind and soul into it. Women have as much of a place in sport as men and nothing should deter us from living our dreams.
What are some of the barriers you see girls in rugby facing?
There is a stigma around girls playing Rugby because of the stereotypical perception of it being a ‘rough’ sport. The learnings of rising with every fall are quintessential to rugby and these cannot be taught in a classroom. Also, it was tough to hear people make negative comments and ‘jokes’ about girls and women in sport. The best way forward is to ignore such detractors and then prove them wrong on the pitch.
What do you feel is your most important job as a Rugby coach?
As a coach of young girls, my key objectives are to encourage and guide them so that their personalities develop more steel and confidence. I wish for them to be respectful to the game, to their team and to the opposition. I am extremely keen to pass on my life lessons and experiences in the hope that these girls develop into strong players and more importantly, strong women.