Inverness rugby coach Lindsey Smith hopes first ever Glasgow Warriors women's team can inspire the next generation of Scotland stars
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
An Inverness rugby coach is hoping that the first ever women's teams affiliated to professional clubs in Scotland will help inspire the next generation.
Lindsey Smith, who grew up in the Highland capital and attended Beauly Primary School and Charleston Academy, has been announced as one of the coaches for the Glasgow Warriors side.
A former Scottish international, she will assist head coach Chris Laidlaw alongside Megan Kennedy, Stuart Lewis and current Glasgow men's team player Fraser Brown.
The Warriors' women will be going up against Scottish rivals Edinburgh, as well as two teams each from Ireland and Wales in the Celtic Challenge, with the team running out at Scotstoun Stadium in what will be a landmark moment for all involved.
"It's definitely something I've wanted to see happen for a while, and it's a massive step for the women's game in Scotland," Smith said.
"We are at a stage now where we have to go for it. There will be things we don't get right, but there will be things we do get right – you lean on that Warriors 'whatever it takes' mantra and we will do whatever we can to make it happen.
"Being under the umbrella of Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh Rugby puts the women's game in a bit of a spotlight for those girls to play at a higher level. Hopefully it will bridge that gap between club rugby and international rugby, or at least start to.
"Scotland's women have played at Scotstoun before, but for some of the girls this will be the biggest stadium and pitch they have ever played on. That will be a massive experience for them, some of the girls will have been in the stands watching the men's team play and never have thought it would be them.
"It's a huge opportunity. Playing at the home of a pro team could be at the top of their list of achievements in their rugby career.
"From my perspective it's just really good to see the game developing. We have two teams from Scotland going in under the pro team families, which gives little girls out there the chance to see that and say they want to be involved in that in a few years' time.
"They will be inspired by the girls who go out and play under the Warriors badge. It's the first time this has ever been done, so these players that are selected to play will be part of history.
"It is a big thing. I just hope that it does inspire the next generation of players to say they want to play for their club, and then Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh, and then Scotland.
"That's how I see it – it will help promote the women's game in Scotland, and also give players the chance to play against teams and players from other countries before playing for their country."
When Smith started out in rugby, and in coaching, the landscape was very different.
Picking up the sport because of PE teacher Aileen Thomson at Charleston Academy, Smith was involved in creating the first women's team at Highland Rugby Club – which has been an off and on set-up over the years before returning in force to win their first league title this year.
It was also Thomson that was responsible for getting Smith into coaching, making a bit of history that she was not fully conscious of at the time.
Sports coaching remains a male-dominated environment, but that is not something that has bothered the Invernessian, or that particularly serves as motivation.
"Aileen Thomson came to me one day at school and told me about a modern apprenticeship in coaching at Highland Rugby Club, and asked if I would be interested in doing it," Smith recalled.
"To be honest, at the time I had no idea if I would be good at it or if I even wanted to do it. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. University was an option, but I wanted to do something in sport and at the time I thought the only option was to be a PE teacher.
"I was brought on to this modern apprenticeship, and I worked with the likes of Colin Baillie and Hugh Mackintosh at Highland Rugby Club as an apprentice coach, going out and delivering lots of sessions within primary and secondary schools.
"I moved to Glasgow to play rugby and during that whole time I always coached on the side. I still wanted to play rugby to a high level, but I realised that I wanted to work in rugby as well.
"Being able to do that as a rugby development officer allowed me to pursue my on-field stuff, because I had flexibility with my time. When I finished playing I decided I wanted to do that more, but I still didn't see any opportunities in coaching full-time. Over the last three or four years more has popped up and it has been really good.
"People have said to me that it's quite a male-dominated area, and ask if I just coach girls – no, I just coach rugby. It doesn't have to be females. That's the area of the game I'm most experienced in, but I would still like to have opportunities to coach within the male game as well.
"At the end of the day I just want to work with players who want to get better and get to the highest level they can, and it all started with doing that modern apprenticeship.
"I didn't realise it at the time, but I was the first girl to do that. I was also the first female rugby development officer, so there were quite a few milestones but I never thought about them – to me it was just a job I wanted to do.
"Seeing players develop and get better, coming out the other side as better people, better rugby players and with more confidence in their own ability, that's a massive tick in the box for me. That's what drives me to keep getting better as a coach."
As a coach, then, the 42-time Scotland cap is also keen to push herself to the next level as a coach with Glasgow Warriors in the Celtic Challenge, as well as helping players fulfil their potential.
Smith can reflect on the amount of progress there has been for women's rugby, but when all is said and done she simply wants to be proud of the effort put in over the next few months.
"There are many more opportunities for girls around 15, 16 and 17 years old," Smith added.
"The reality is that it could be a career choice for them now to be a professional rugby player, which is brilliant. That's the kind of thing I wish was around when I was younger – even just a little bit younger – but I'm really excited to see the opportunities that girls are getting now.
"I remember playing some senior club rugby, and we were trying to round up players to fill gaps in the teamsheet. Now there are more players in the game, and from a Scotland point of view there are more players coming through with experience, which means there is far more competition for selection, which is a good thing because it drives everyone on.
"The Celtic Challenge is a hugely exciting opportunity. We probably need to be careful not to get caught up in it – we're still there to do a job, we've still got to perform – and we want those players to be in a position where they feel comfortable going out and doing that.
"My goal is that we work really well as a coaching team and compliment each other. We have been together for a couple of sessions over the last couple of weeks, and we can see things starting to take shape.
"My personal goal is that the girls go out and put in performances that they are proud of, and that we improve week-on-week and game-on-game.
"I want those players to leave at the end of the programme feeling like they have improved, and that they have had the opportunity to go out and perform or try things that they wouldn't normally do at club level, or that they've had the opportunity to play with more experienced players around them.
"For me it's about improving and putting in performances that we're proud of."