Jen Boyd led the Gees to a national silver this fall. Photo: Courtesy of Ian MacAlpine.
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Boyd credits hard work, constant improvement as keys to her success

Jen Boyd, head coach of the University of Ottawa women’s rugby team, is Rugby Canada’s female coach of the year for 2016. Boyd was officially announced as the winner at Rugby Canada’s annual awards held in Vancouver on March 9.

Boyd said that traveling to Vancouver to receive the award was special because she got to share it with people she knew, including assistant coach Duncan McNaughton and former players Natasha Watcham-Roy and Irene Patrinos.

“It was great. I’ve been to a lot of Rugby Canada events, just as a former athlete and a national team coach. But it was nice to be with other award recipients,” she said. “So there was a lot of Ottawa U representation.”

Outside of this award, Boyd’s year was full of highlights, including her coaching of Canada’s 2016 Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) World University Rugby Sevens Championships team to a silver medal in the summer, and guiding the Gee-Gees to a U Sports silver medal this fall.

The experience of coaching for Canada at FISU was challenging for Boyd, but it did help her continue to develop as a coach. For example, since FISU rugby is played with seven players per side, instead of the 15 per side in the Gees’ regular season, this format presents its own unique set of challenges for Boyd to overcome.

“It’s very different from fifteens, just the build-up to it, and then the preparation between games. You play two games a day and the games are really short. Everything’s just so short. You’ve got to be really efficient and tactical with what you’re doing.”

When asked what makes her a successful coach, Boyd didn’t hesitate to identify hard work as the key.

“There really is no substitute. I’ve always thought that my teams work harder than everybody else in terms of number of practices, how hard we work at practice,” she said. “We do a lot of conditioning. I’m constantly looking for professional development opportunities, talking with other coaches, conferences, websites, conversations. Every day we want to be better, and every day we have been better as a university program in particular.”

Boyd identified her team’s attack as the key area she’d like to improve heading into next season. That improvement will come through a combination of recruiting, and if current players decide to step up.

“Last year we had a really good recruiting class and I’m hoping to get a really strong recruiting class this year to have a program that will be competitive for the next three to four years.”

Since she’s taken over as head coach of the Gees in 2013, Boyd has succeeded in bringing the team one step closer to a national championship every year. After finishing fourth overall in 2014, they followed up with a third-overall finish in 2015, and finally a second-overall finish in 2016.

“It’s been great to see the progress in that department, and I think the girls learn a lot of valuable lessons off-field. And I would say rugby’s just a venue that I use to give strong messages, to women in particular, about working hard and perseverance and building confidence.”

“So it’s been a great four years at Ottawa U so far.”