Olympic Rugby Sevens athlete Portia Woodman reckons all the other sports she played when she was young have helped make her the rugby star she is today. 

In fact, Portia didn’t start specialising in rugby until she was 20, but was always keen to play any sport going when she was young. She says athletics from the age of 7 gave her the foundations to warm up, train correctly, and be a technically proficient sprinter. Netball and touch from the age of 11 developed her agility and sense of space. Sport was always a big part of the Woodman whānau. Portia’s parents and her brothers all played various sports when she was young, and her parents would consistently encourage her to play. They always said, “Why don’t you give this a go,” or “Why don’t you have a crack at this?” When Portia moved from Kaikohe to Glenfield at the age of 7 her parents suggested she try athletics. Portia says she had “wasted” the boys in a race at the marae at Kaikohe and her parents thought she would be good at athletics and told her to go out and have some fun. They took her to the Takapuna Athletics Club and Portia found she was good at running and really enjoyed it.

Portia says her parents were always encouraging about her playing sport, but were never pushy. Portia can’t recall her parents ever putting pressure on her to play particular sports, but does remember them suggesting she try sports such as athletics and touch because they thought she would be good at them. “They always had so much faith in me,” Portia remembers, and”were always supportive of whatever choices I made with sport. My mum would have liked me to do swimming but didn’t pressure me when I didn’t want to.”

Portia’s parents did use sport to teach her and her brother about good values. Portia remembers her parents setting the expectation that once she started playing a sport, she had to commit fully for a whole season. “They instilled in me that I was never to give up, and that if I was going to play I had to get out there and try.”

When Portia did decide to give up touch, her parents were supportive of her decision. The same for athletics, “although they did ask me several times if I was really sure.” Overall, Portia’s childhood memories of sport are that is was great fun, and she particularly loved travelling with her mum and dad to athletics events. It was only once she got to high school age that things started becoming much more competitive and serious Portia remembers.

Portia’s big piece of advice for parents is not to start talking about any mistakes made in the game straight after the game finishes. She says her parents never criticised her for making mistakes but sometimes they wanted to talk about things she could have done differently too soon after the game. “I would get annoyed if they started saying why did you do this or do that as it was too close to the game and when I might be feeling down”. That sort of talk straight after the game stopped it being fun.

Now Portia has won a silver medal at her first Olympic Games. Once Rugby Sevens became an Olympic sport that was the big draw card for her to swap from netball to rugby Portia says “I’ve always wanted to be the female Jonah Lomu since I was 7” she laughs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images