While the pandemic was a road block for many athletes around the country, Shontelle Stowers tells Brielle Quigley about her answer to long distance coaching.
2020 has been a precarious year for so many sports, and NRLW was no exception.
With some codes bowing out and others scrambling for options, NRLW was one of several seasons with its fate on the line, and Shontelle Stowers was one of the many players who wondered if the 2020 season was going to happen.
The talented New Zealand Warriors centre has had her fair share of accolades in the rugby space including the honour of capping for Australia in both rugby sevens and rugby union. However her relationship with league was more of a slow burn that was encouraged by—of all things—a knee reconstruction. The long recovery process that took Shontelle away from her first rugby loves incidentally became the biggest motivator for her to try something new, and lean into the building popularity around women’s thirteen-a-side league.
Despite the battle with injury, continuing with contact sport was a no-brainer; her love for the hard-hitting nature of rugby runs deep after growing up in a sport loving family where playing with her brothers meant learning how to get physical.
“I definitely have a love for all types of contact sports, all sports in general actually, I can just really appreciate what kind of skill sets you need—and awareness you need—to be able to play sport at an elite level. But the contact piece I think is where I grew up with my brothers and I always had to challenge myself because they would be doing contact sports in the backyard, and because I wanted to join in I’d have to flick that switch and get my mind around the contact piece so I could get involved. And of course, when you’re a young kid you just want to play, so you do whatever you need to do to be able to play. But then I guess I found out that I had some skills in the area and then I just pursued it and I began to find some success in the sport. After that, when I made teams, I really liked the team element of it, and there was just really no looking back.”
It can’t be any clearer that Shontelle’s passion for rugby is unwavering. Through several injuries and setbacks, she has continued to recover and come back stronger, using her many years of elite level training to improve her game while it has simultaneously grown around her.
Shontelle was signed for the inaugural NRLW season in 2018 with the Sydney Roosters and played with them again the following year, signing with the Warriors in 2020 ready to do it all again. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. With the pandemic in full force only weeks after the February NRLW Nines, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding not only this year’s season but what our day-to-day lives were going to look like going forward.
But as we continue to learn, as is the case of any crisis, we can regroup and rebuild. While being physically distanced for most of 2020 has been incredibly hard, we have also seen some of the most innovative ways to facilitate connectedness in a socially distanced world come into our lives.
The introduction of player bubbles and hubs meant many elite level sports could resume a season in these most trying times. For Shontelle, this meant getting back on the field for her first year with the Warriors, clearly not one to be deterred by a—pandemic-sized—setback after everything she’s already endured. But her commitment to the game didn’t stop there. Shontelle was inspired by the pandemic to also take on a different type of role via new online coaching platform SLOCOACH.
“For me, I’ve always been passionate about growing the game and just passing on whatever knowledge I have.” Shontelle explains. “With SLOCOACH, I guess it kind of came about for me when COVID was coming about, so it’s a platform where you can reach out and connect to anyone across time zones, across countries, like there’s no boundaries around that which I think is incredible. But then again it was online, so I was like, there’s no better way of still being able to continue to reach out to people and help them when we’ve got this COVID barrier in front of us.”
SLOCOACH was founded in Australia during the height of COVID-19 restrictions and utilises the knowledge of over seventy top-tier athletes from a huge range of sports, including rugby. Using the website, you can send in a clip of yourself performing any skill and receive feedback from the best in the business, which might sound mildly terrifying to your average person (read: me), but Shontelle sees it as a way of breaking down barriers for the next generation of female rugby players who may lack the confidence to get themselves to talent identification days.
“I definitely think it’s a really good way of getting past the shyness and really putting yourself out there, because you’re not being judged by a whole lot of people on the day in person, you’re actually able to reach out to one person and have that one-to-one connection there and get that individual feedback, which I think does eliminate a lot of the shyness.
“[I like] giving people a lot of encouragement around what they’re doing and belief, because I do know from all of my years of footy that can make all the difference in your success when you know that someone has a little bit of belief in you, that really kind of grows your confidence as well.
“So that’s the important thing for me, to ensure that when I am giving someone advice or trying to share my knowledge that I actually help them spark the belief in themselves as well.”
To know that someone like Shontelle is at the other end of the line, so-to-speak, to offer that level of support and confidence to assist women through a platform born through creativity in a crisis is incredibly comforting. Not only for the athletes that might be looking for that boost in their game and self-belief, but also that it might be another way that current female athletes can also get some additional coaching and mentor experience that can help develop more women entering the professional coaching ranks. A space still in need of desperate attention when we look at the current momentum surrounding women in sport.
For Shontelle, the growth in the game—and growing visibility of female athletes—is something she’s absolutely loving seeing develop. Hopefully growth for women in coaching roles won’t be far behind, with conversations about the different perspectives and experience women can add to coaching continuously evolving and growing stronger.
“I always used to say how amazing it was when I began to hear our female athletes’ names become household names, so when you have the young children saying ‘hey, Dad, I don’t want to watch the All Blacks today, can you please turn on the telly so that I can watch the girls playing NRLW’, or the girls playing Origin, and know each of the players’ names, know the stats, know the skill sets, like to say ‘oh man, she’s got wicked defence’ or ‘she’s got really incredible attack’, so those were the kind of things that make my heart smile. It means that females in sport are really making an impression on our younger generation.
“And I know that all of these females that we have are out at the moment, using an example from Slocoach, you’ve got Evania Pelite who’s an incredible sevens player who is an Olympian along with Sharni Williams and Evania has just come across to the NRLW and she killed it, she absolutely killed it, but obviously she’s human and it took a lot of bravery for her to be vulnerable and step over into it. And those are also skills that you want the young generation to see, that you do need to have vulnerability, humility and be open to all of these new experiences if you want to be successful in them. So I think that’s a really strong message around resilience and being open to new experiences and kind of taking things on as they come.”