Episode 36 in an interview with one of the UK’s most high profile Sportswomen, rugby star Katy Daley-Mclean MBE.
We talk about the effect of winning a world cup, the transition to full-time rugby, changing attitudes towards her as a female athlete and what she thinks about the long term future of the game.
Katy Mclean MBE has developed an imitable reputation as both a player and a leader. Born in South Shields in December 1985, she has amassed both an enviable career record and a high profile within the sport. Following in the footsteps of Dad David and uncle Harold, Katy began taking part in the game at the age of 5 and was involved in mixed rugby from the ages of 6 to 12 years of age.
Although forced to pursue other sports including hockey, netball and football until the age of 16 as there were no girls’ teams in the region, Katy soon returned to her first passion and excelled, representing England for U18, U19, Academy and England A sides. At the age of 31 Katy is now the highest England point scorer of all time with 401 in 90 matches. Katy also held the England captaincy for over four years and led her nation to a famous IRB World Cup victory at the Jean Bouin stadium, Paris in 2014.
Having achieved the ultimate honour in the 15 a side version of the game Katy was one of only 20 players in 2014 to be offered a full-time 7’s contract by the RFU. She went on to represent the British Women’s Sevens squad in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, contributing 17 points from a try and six conversions during the global event.
In 2017 Katy was offered a full-time contract again, this time in the 15 a side verison of the game, where she earned her place back as England’s first choice fly half. She went on to play a key role in securing Englands place in the 2017 Womens Rugby World Cup Final against New Zealand in Ireland.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 28.1.19 – Ep 36. Katy Daley-Mclean
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
T: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Today, I’m with one of the UK’s most high-profile sports women, rugby star Katy Daley Mclean. We talk about the effect of winning a World Cup, the transition to full-time rugby, changing attitudes towards her as a female athlete, and what she thinks about the long-term future of the game.
I asked her first to reflect on her career and to tell me the thing that stands out most to her.
KDM: Like you say, I’ve had the opportunities to play in some amazing tournaments. I think, obviously, the World Cup in 2014 and captaining that side and, obviously, coming away with a World Cup win will be something that I’m forever proud of. Especially, as a team performance and not just the players, but the staff, that group building into the World Cup, it was just a phenomenal experience, actually being able to sit and reflect on what we did. It was pretty special. Then, from a personal point, going to Rio and representing Team GB at the Olympics that, for me, took a tremendous amount of hard work and there were a lot of ups and downs in that journey but to, obviously, just qualify for GB and then, for us to get there and finally run out in a GB shirt was just something that I never dreamed would be possible.
TP: What’s it like being part of the team?
KDM: I think that’s definitely, for me, why I play rugby because of the team element. I think, you have so many different characters in it that bring so much to it. Things that, for me, I would not be very good at. So, if you look at Sarah Hunter and she’s very calm, she’s very composed, she gets the job done and you want to follow her just by the way she conducts herself. I’m very different in terms of that. I want to be involved in everything. I’m quite loud. I’m quite outspoken. You’ve got the likes of Emily Scarratt in there as well, who’s very logical, very controlled, likes to know all the details. I think working in teams with people like that, who are very great individuals, but actually have the ability to slot into a team and make the team better, it’s brilliant to be part of.
TP: Your kicking skill far exceeds most other players. Why do you think that is?
KDM: Oh, I think that’s a massive improvement in the women’s game to start off with. I think, kicking now is becoming something that a lot of girls do. I think, when I first started, it wasn’t a big thing in the women’s game. But, for me, I’ve always done it. I used to drag my dad to the park at the top of our road and just spend hours kicking the ball to him, past him, nowhere near him [laughs], when I was younger. I think, all those hours massively paid off. I think, now I’ve really found my feet with my kicking game. I know what I want to do with it, whether the ball actually goes there is a different thing, but I have a much better understanding of how impactful a very good kicking game can be for a team.
TP: You’re an ex captain, you’re a senior player, you’ve got a hundred plus caps. What do you see your role as being in relation to the younger members coming onto the team?
KDM: Yeah, I think it changes. I think it changes with time. I think experience is a brilliant thing, and I can always remember somebody saying you can’t rush experience. As a young kid, you want it now and you want it immediately. It’s actually something you’ve just got to work through and the older you get the more you get of it. I think, for me, and probably for us as senior players, it’s about giving the younger girls as much of that experience as possible to try and speed up their learning so actually, when we leave, they’re ready to go and the shirts in a better place. You know, we’ve got some really talented kids that are much further along at the age they are now, than when I started. For me, it’s just kind of speeding that up and helping them to be even better.
TP: You went from teaching and playing rugby to becoming full-time in rugby. What was that transition like?
KDM: For me it was really hard. I think, I remember coming into the programme and obviously, it was a dream come true and I was extremely lucky to be part of that squad, to have the opportunity to go full-time. But I think, when you’re actually… the reality of it is, you have a lot more spare time. Like you said, I was teaching, so I was working a full working week, and then training on top of that, which meant there was very little time in my day to do other things, really. So, actually, coming into a full-time programme, where you get the opportunity to train in your day, and then rest, for me, it was a really difficult thing to learn.
Probably the first three months I hated it, because we’d relocated from the North East down into Guildford. I was not used to having this much time and actually not very good at just sitting still and doing nothing. It took a long time for me to, kind of, just adjust and accept that was okay. That’s part of recovery, getting your feet up, eating well, sleeping well, and not having to be doing everything at a million miles an hour. So, once I got used to that, it was great and a lifestyle that I thoroughly enjoy and have been very lucky to be able to do.
TP: We’ll talk a little bit about leadership because, obviously, you’ve been captain. What makes a good leader in your eyes?
KDM: It’s a great question. When you’re younger, or when I was younger, I was like, you need to be everything to everybody. You need to be able to show that you can access everything and be all things to all people and actually, what I learned was that is totally not true and it’s impossible. I think the biggest thing I learned was about surrounding yourself with good people and surrounding yourself with people who are your weaknesses. I talked about Sarah at the beginning, but she was so, so important to me as my vice-captain in 2014, because she was very good at all the stuff I wasn’t, and vice versa, so we worked really well together.
I think, for me, I knew I was doing a good job when I could almost put my feet up, because the girls were self-managing. As a squad we got to a point where everybody knew their role, everybody knew what they needed to do. Yes, there were bits and pieces that, as a captain, you had to pick up on, but actually everybody was very, very good at just being like, right this is what I’m going to do, and kind of letting me be and letting me do it.
TP: What was it like when the captaincy moved away from you?
KDM: Yeah, it was a different one. I mean, I obviously had the opportunity to go away and play sevens and coming back and Sarah was doing a fantastic job. I think, for me, it was hard because I didn’t want to step on her toes. Like I say, we’re very different. I’m probably a lot louder in the group than Sarah is. So, I was really careful. But actually, we’re good friends, so it was much easier to be like, “Look, what can I do to help? What do you want from me? Actually, do you just want me to kind of let you lead?” She was very good in just being like, “Oh no, your support and your help is much appreciated.” Then you, kind of, just find your feet. I think now, the group of senior players we have in here, everybody kind of takes a lead and shares a bit of a load but, actually, Sarah’s our captain and she will be the one that delivers the big speeches before we play and actually, that’s brilliant because for me, I get to drop in and do little bits but, actually, the pressure isn’t on me. I can help her out, but it’s a nice place to be.
TP: I wanted to talk to you about the changes you’ve seen in women’s rugby. How did you get into rugby in the first place?
KDM: It was a big family sport. So, my dad played, and it was something that I had always been around. My grandad used to take me down to watch my dad and my uncle play. So, as soon as I could, I wanted to play. So, I played mixed rugby from 5 to 12, and then there was no provision for girls, which is crazy to think now. Because now, actually, there’s under 13s girl sides, there’s 15s, there’s 18s and then you go to senior rugby. So, there’s a lovely pathway now for girls, but back then it just didn’t exist.
I think, for me, that’s one of the best changes in the women’s game is how much easier it is for young girls to get involved and, actually, for women who might have played at university and want to return and go to play social rugby. If you look at the Inner Warrior initiatives, the different, the [s.l. ex 08:01] sevens, the touch, the tag, so many different variations of this game, that people can play to suit whatever they want. I think that, for me, is a brilliant part of how the game has changed. Then you look at the media coverage and the venues that we’re playing at and the way the game’s being covered now. About 10 years ago, I would have probably laughed at you if you had said, “You’ll be playing at Twickenham against Scotland and 12 and a half people will stay and watch that.” It’s just phenomenal.
TP: Have you experienced people’s attitudes towards you changing?
KDM: Yeah, I think so. It think, the thing that’s changed is people are now aware of it. So, I think you would have gone, and you would have spoken to people, and said, “I play rugby”, and they’ll go, “That’s nice.” And you’d say, “I play rugby for England” and they’ll go, “Oh, England women have a side now?”
Actually, when you speak to people now, it’s amazing how knowledgable they are about our game. They know about the Tyrrells Premiership, they know about World Cups, they know about upcoming games at Twickenham. I think that’s a massive opinion shift because actually people know the Red Roses exist. Whereas again, like I say, it wasn’t really a thing, you actually had to go into detail and explain.
I think, the other thing is that people are pleasantly surprised with the standard of the game. For me, I think that will only just keep getting better and better. Obviously, we’ve gone professional now and that will make a big difference, but the standard of the league set up is much better, which will just keep driving it, at the club level but also at the international level.
TP: The more known you get the more visibility rugby gets, the greater the platform you have. Do you know what you want to do with that platform?
KDM: Yeah, for me, the biggest thing is about inspiring the next generation of young girls. We talk about health and fitness and all those things and for me, the team sports are really on the rise. I grew up in an era where girls didn’t really play team sports and, if they did, they played net ball and hockey and you didn’t really know that much about it. For me, I think the platform is about inspiring that next generation and saying, “Actually, anything is possible. Go, play sport, be healthy be active and you can do it in any way shape or form you want.” I think that’s extremely important, and the flip side of that is about empowering women to be in industries that are male-dominated and actually things coming to a point where it’s really balanced, because ultimately you’re picking the best person for the job.
TP: What does the future hold, do you think, for women’s rugby and also for you personally?
KDM: Oh, I think women’s rugby is just in a great place. It just needs to keep taking those steps. You’re doing a really, really, good job if you’re looking at the long-term future of the game, so that these contracts, they’re here to stay. If you’re investing in the league system because, ultimately, that’s where you’re going to get more access to more girls and women playing the game.
I think, for me, like I said to Simon Middleton, I’d love to keep playing. I’m really enjoying playing. I still feel I’ve got something to offer and then, I suppose, once that happens and when that happens, then looking at trying to give something back to the game in other ways. I don’t necessarily know what that looks like yet. But, yeah, I definitely would love to stay involved in elite sport.
TP: Would you go back to teaching at all?
KDM: Yeah, I think so. That, obviously, is a massive passion, working with children. Maybe I’ll have my own mini-rugby team, for under-fives, start them young. But, yeah, I think, teaching will always be there and the opportunity to have that, for me, is a massive…
TP: This podcast is a lot about success, about performance, what success and performance mean to different people. What does success mean to you?
KDM: That’s a tough one, isn’t it? I think, when you’re looking at it from an individual basis, for me, I want to succeed and I want to be a winner. So, that’s like a massive competitive thing, I want to be number one in my position. I want to make sure the team goes well, that we’re winning major tournaments. But I also think that, probably the older you get, you get a bit more balance on that view as well. It’s about, actually, how are you shaping the game and influencing bigger decisions that are going to actually stay with this squad and the team going forward in the long-term, learning the lessons that you’ve learned and making sure that experience isn’t lost in me, and actually being shared out, so we don’t make the same mistakes. If I can do that, then I think that’s a massive tick in the box.
TP: Did what you see as success change once you won the World Cup?
KDM: Massively. I think winning that World Cup just took such a weight off everybody’s shoulders, probably because of the history, as well. So, losing three consecutive finals to New Zealand, you start to wonder whether England will ever win one and, actually, just to put that to bed, to take that pressure off, was massive. I think, it just allowed me to sleep better at night. I’m sure it did for Nicky Ponsford as well, our head of performance.
TP: But the fire is still within you to win more?
KDM: Yeah, totally, but I think, like you say, it is different. I wonder, not that I lost any of my edge in that World Cup, but I definitely changed. Just because I think you, especially after losing one, there was just a definite difference. The fire’s still there, but just in a very different way.
TP: Well, talking about fire… Sort of the flip side of success, what extinguishes that drive in you, what demotivates you?
KDM: I hate when it’s cold and wet [laughs], and I hate slow-paced things. So, for me, doing something that there isn’t like, if you’re not seeing an end-goal or something that takes a really long time to get there…. I’m quite a fast-paced person. I’m not great with details. So, I want to do something and I want to get it done. So, anything where there’s, kind of, a bit of dithering, I start to lose interest and probably my attention starts to drift.
TP: Well, to the quick-fire questions, then.
KDM: Yes [laughs]. That’s crazy. I’ve backed myself…
TP: Yes. What did you eat for breakfast?
KDM: [Laughs.] Eggs, beans on toast.
TP: That sounds brilliant.
Favourite piece of kit?
KDM: My boots. I’m very particular about what boots I wear.
TP: Sporting hero?
KDM: Sally Gunnell.
KDM: Because she was the first female, that I can remember, excelling in her sport.
TP: Most useless piece of advice you’ve either given to someone else, or someone’s given to you?
KDM: It’s about experience. Basically, just saying, “Don’t worry. It will come.” [Laughs.] Totally helpful, isn’t it.
TP: Yeah. Greatest passion outside of sport.
KDM: I like working with young children and just inspiring them to go and be active.
TP: And the last one, best performance enhancer?
KDM: A good cup of coffee.
TP: [Laughs] It’s amazing how many people say that.
KDM: Yeah [Laughs].
TP: Thanks. That’s fantastic, Katie. I really appreciate you talking with me today.
KDM: No worries. Lovely to speak to you Tammy.
[Music 15:08- 15:12]
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also, don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com .
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