My Sports Life: STELLAR Meets World Rugby Player Of The Year Nominee Sophie Spence

Sophie Spence chats to us about playing rugby at an international level, and her training season diet and exercise regime.

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Name: Sophie Spence
Age: 28
Occupation: DCU Rugby Development Officer
Degree: BSc Sports Coaching Science
MSc Sports Psychology
PGCE Life learning sector

Tell us a bit about your background

I was always involved in sports growing up, my main sport was netball until I got the rugby bug. After finishing my degree, I went traveling for a summer and then returned to University where I was about to start my Msc. A friend asked me to join a new sport with her which turned out to be rugby.

Was rugby something that you always wanted to break into?

Not at all actually.  Before attending my first rugby training session in University I’d never even watched a game! It wasn’t a sport that I’d ever crossed paths with before.

How difficult is the training?

Training is demanding, it has to be in order to compete at an international standard. We push each other to be the best that we can be, individually and as a squad.

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How often do you train?

Our training schedule varies at different stages throughout the year depending on whether it’s pre-season, club or international season. At the moment we’re leading up to an Autumn international fixture against England on the 14th November and around that we’re also playing weekly club fixtures. A typical training week at the moment would be:

Monday – rest and recovery (swimming/bike)
Tuesday – Pm Conditioning and club training
Wednesday – 6am Irish Gym session
Thursday – Pm Conditioning and club training
Friday – 6am Irish Gym session, pm Irish skills session.
Saturday – rest and match preparation
Sunday – Game day

Do you have to follow a certain diet?

Diet is very important to get the most out of each training session. I would usually have a protein shake or some source of protein post session. Protein plays a big part in my diet. I’ll have things like eggs and spinach for breakfast and low fat yogurt and fruit as a mid-morning snack.
At the moment my lunch consists of turkey salad with sweet potato or brown rice. For an afternoon snack, I’ll need some source of fuel so something like tuna and a slice of brown bread. Food is essential after any training; one of my dinner favourites would be a chicken vegetable stir-fry.

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What are the girls like on the team?

The team that we have is very special. Each individual brings their own personality to the squad and because we’re all in different provinces, when we come together it’s great to have the banter off the field and produce good work on field.

What do you do outsides of rugby?

I’m a rugby development officer for DCU, I also used to tutor in sports science when I was living in the UK. I really enjoy my current role as not only am I leading the rugby program in DCU, I also deliver recruitment talks to schools and clubs and give motivational talks to students. I also love to travel when I get the time. This summer I explored 11 European countries in 22 days. I love music too and it’s something I use to motivate myself. I’ll try to go to gigs and stuff when I have the spare time.

Are you able to maintain a healthy work/social life balance?

It can be a struggle sometimes. The level of commitment to training that’s expected from me is really high so it’s easy to get consumed in all things rugby. I do try and make a point of meeting up with friends, going out for dinner and generally having some down time to keep a healthy balance.

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What’s the best part of doing what you do?

I think the best part is seeing progress in the women’s game and the personal development in my own game. We put so much effort into becoming fitter, faster and stronger so the little victories we gain makes it all the more sweeter.

Is there anything you don’t enjoy or that you would change?

Sometimes early mornings can be difficult, especially in the dark!

Are people ever surprised when you tell them what you do?

Sometimes when I’m delivering talks in boys’ schools, a few of them might be surprised. Firstly that I play rugby and secondly, rugby at an international level. People are sometimes shocked that the game has exactly the same rules for us as it does for the men. I think we’re changing perceptions with all of our successes though. Hopefully that will lead to more support and more females playing the game.

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Any serious injuries?

I’ve had a few! I had a stress fracture in my leg but thankfully that didn’t put me out of playing for too long. The big one I suppose, even though it was only a small injury, was a snapped tendon in my finger. I had to have three hand operations! They were all over the course of twelve months which happened to be the twelve months leading up to the 2014 World Cup. Thankfully it didn’t hinder me from competing.

How did it feel getting called to play for Ireland in the 2014 World Cup?

We had a brilliant Preseason leading up to the 2014 World Cup and being selected was an absolute privilege. I’d heard so much from senior players about their previous world cup experiences and couldn’t wait to get out there and compete.

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Tell us a bit about your recent nomination?

It was a huge honour to be nominated for World Rugby Player of the year. I was so shocked at the start and it took a while to sink in. I honestly don’t think it would have been possible without the building platform from my team mates.

What are you most proud of so far?

I think my favourite moment has to be winning the Grand Slam in 2013. I was still very new to the squad but the experience of playing for one another is something I will never forget. Defeating New Zealand in the World Cup has also been a massive highlight.

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Anything that you would really like to achieve in the next couple of years?

Personally, my main target is to reach the World cup in 2017 which is going to be hosted in Ireland. Until then, I just want to develop further as a player and be a part of a team that keeps progressing and getting stronger.

Any advice for young women wanting to break into professional sports?

It’s really important that you have a passion for whatever it is that you’re doing. Enjoying what you do makes it much easier to get up early in the morning and stay training late at night. Hard work, commitment and skill development are key factors which are all going to help you progress.

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