Black Ferns halfback puts educated boot into coaching

One of the first Black Ferns to receive an historic player contract, outstanding halfback Kendra Cocksedge is also focused on helping to mould the next generation of women’s rugby stars. Taylor Curtis reports.

Accustomed to looking for opportunities on the rugby field, Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge is proving to be just as sharp at identifying gaps off it.

Cocksedge doesn’t want to let her position as a key Black Fern go by without having made an impact. And the World Cup winner knows better than most that it’s best to strike while the iron is hot.

So, in an endeavour to introduce the game to potential future Black Ferns, she’s created her own coaching programme called Females Coaching Females. It's aimed directly at primary school girls, and enlists female rugby players from Canterbury’s Farah Palmer Cup and sevens sides to be role models who can ignite a lifelong passion for the game in young girls.

The 29-year-old Cocksedge knew that kids were often introduced to a variety of sports at a young age, but her experience told her rugby had long failed to engage with young females. Much of that could be put down to a lack of recognition for the Black Ferns and their myriad achievements.

Success is a great marketing tool, and with a growing awareness of women’s rugby, thanks to the deeds of the Black Ferns and Black Ferns Sevens sides, Cocksedge realised she had a choice: she could sit back and be the subject of that positive new conversation, or she could actively participate in its growth.

She chose the latter. Females Coaching Females is the vehicle she’s created to allow more girls a chance to start their own rugby narrative. 

Cocksedge’s story began on the back paddock in her Taranaki home, where her dad erected goal posts so she could practise her kicking. Ever the encouraging father, he made sure they were strategically positioned on a slight incline, so the self-proclaimed chatterbox had to run uphill to retrieve the ball.

She went to rugby training from the age of four, and always knew that rugby would be her sport. Her chatter worked in her favour - she was invariably selected as a halfback – and she would tell anyone who cared to listen that she would one day represent New Zealand. Even though, at the time, she’d never heard of the Black Ferns.

Those goal posts in the paddock were her playground, and she dedicated herself to mastering the art of kicking. She has transformed that quest for perfection into a stellar career at the very highest level of the game. 

In 2015, her fifth season in Canterbury colours, she became the first female player in New Zealand history to pass 500 points in provincial championship play. In that same year, she was named world womens’ player of the year, and New Zealand women’s player of the year. She added world champion to her resume last year.

In many ways, Cocksedge kicked her way onto centrestage, where she still proudly stands. Her coaching programmes emphasise the importance of kicking, a skill she believes is often overlooked in the women’s game. When it comes to selection, a good kicking game will always be in demand. It can be the difference between winning and losing, and she doesn’t like to lose. 

Looking back at her achievements, Cocksedge points to the importance of goal setting and resilience. Things haven’t always gone to plan - for many years she was second-string halfback within the squad, and she was devastated to miss out on the 2014 Black Ferns sevens team. But she’s always been able to reassess her goals and find new strength for the next challenge.

She finally started for the Black Ferns in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. She was driven to become a great Black Fern, and the number one half-back in the world.

Now she’s bringing all that back to the next generation. Not only has Cocksedge created her coaching programme, she’s also helped organise rugby tournaments purely for young women, offering added skill sessions between games led by female rugby role models.

“Everyone wants a piece of the Black Ferns pie”.

- Kendra Cocksedge

All of this is on top of her day job, which, unsurprisingly, is also centred around rugby.  As the women’s development manager for New Zealand Rugby, covering the Crusaders region, it’s her quest to ensure there’s a pathway for other young female athletes to fulfil their potential in the code she loves.

She’s seen first-hand the pendulum swing. In her region, at least, there are more girls playing than ever before. There are now all-girls teams in some junior grades, as well as a girls-only grade.

She plays a vital role in expanding the Canterbury Rugby brand, “Let her play”, which includes an introduction to the basics of rugby for teenage girls. Cocksedge knows rugby isn’t just about the game itself – it’s also about the culture and friendships made along the way.

The demands of the job mean Cocksedge doesn’t get a lot of time coaching ‘on the grass’, but that’s where the Females Coaching Females programme is as valuable to her as it is to the kids she engages with. It’s her chance to mix it up, and pass on her knowledge in a physical and tangible way. She loves that feeling that all coaches thrive off: that she could be coaching the next big thing.

So, where to next for Cocksedge the player? Retirement is far from her thoughts; she will  continue training and working hard in the new contracted environment. She’s been witness to the change of the Black Ferns status, from amateur to semi-professional, and is excited about what that could mean for the future.

The new contracted Black Ferns players are expected to complete 12 hours of training a week while still sticking to their day jobs – something that Cocksedge, at least, won’t struggle to achieve.

While parity with the men is still a long way off, it’s more than a small win, and this is a sport that celebrates the small wins. Greater resources are covered by the new deal; coaching staff, physiotherapy, high-performance training programmes and medical support will prove invaluable, Cocksedge believes.

The Black Ferns will join the All Blacks in a double header against Australia in August and, in November, will take on the USA Eagles in a triple header which also features the Maori All Blacks.

With greater exposure coupled with the historic contract announcement, fans can expect women’s rugby to genuinely flourish. In the middle of it all, will be Cocksedge. As she says with unbridled enthusiasm: “Everyone wants a piece of the Black Ferns pie”.

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