Say hello to our newest sporting hero.
Seventeen-year-old Sophie Shams first started out taking on the boys at her local sports pitch.
Now, the Emirati is all set to make her debut at next month’s Dubai Rugby Sevens.
We got a one-to-one with the teen ahead of the international competition, where she talked about being the only girl in the game and how she’s breaking down barriers.
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When did you first get into rugby?
I started playing tag rugby when I was four years old at Dubai Exiles. My mum used to play and I grew up watching her from the sidelines.
Were you the only girl playing rugby at the start?
There have always been a few girls dotted about the boys’ teams in most of the clubs throughout the UAE, but on most days I was the only girl on the pitch.
Some people think it is a disadvantage being a girl but I think it has helped make me more determined. I would have pretty successful seasons, and on occasions I would be awarded player of the season for my club. But come next season, there would always be the question of whether I would be able to cope as a girl – never from me, my coaches or my family – but from others who often thought they knew better.
I couldn’t afford for my game to drop or show any weakness because I was having an “off-day” – people would assume it was always because I was a girl. Luckily, I had great coaches in those early years.
Now, the younger girls have the opportunity of female-only and touch teams if the prospect of a boys’ team does not appeal to them.
What do you love most about playing rugby?
I love rugby for a multitude of reasons. It’s such a brilliant team game combined with a tactical aspect. Rugby is forever changing and today you cannot just power through a tackle to become a successful player. It is one of the few sports which really tests how quickly you can react to what’s in front of you.
What do you do to psyche yourself up before a big game?
I try to visualise how I am going to play the game, who I’m up against, and which players I have got to look out for. I get quite nervous before big matches.
How does it feel to be taking part in such a huge competition?
I think the Dubai Rugby Sevens is the highlight of Dubai’s sporting calendar. The atmosphere is phenomenal with strangers cheering for you, against you and with you throughout all of the matches.
Women’s rugby never draws big crowds, but at the Sevens we get to play in front of thousands of people.
My favourite part is the pre-tournament sessions. These are where the local teams benefit from interacting with top talent in the world of rugby. I have previously had the opportunity to train with the All Blacks Ladies team including my favourite players Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong.
Now that rugby sevens is an Olympic sport, could you see yourself representing the UAE one day?
You never know what the future holds, and with women’s rugby developing worldwide, fingers crossed I can be a part of it.
What would you say to other women who’d like to get into the sport?
It isn’t all about the physicality of the game – there is so much skill and thought involved. For anyone that even thinks they might want to play, my advice is to give it a go, you will love it!
Words: Laura Coughlin