Navigators of Change: Lark ascending to World Cup glory?
Lark Davies swapped the classroom for a full-time career in professional rugby. So far she has won 40 caps for England and after a successful Six Nations tournament now has her sights on World Cup glory in New Zealand later this year. She spoke to Instinctif’s Jeremy Durrant about life as a professional athlete and fulfilling her dreams.
- Lark Davies built her rugby career from part-time teacher to World Cup contender in just a few years
- She attributes commonalities between the professions as communication, organisation, diligence and hard work
- With World Cup glory potentially within reach, Lark balances her position in the squad with self-assurance, being a role model for younger sportswomen, and her personal sources of motivation
Maybe it was her inner educator seeping out, but England Rugby player Lark Davies – who recently added a third Six Nations Championship to her career CV – is very definite about the advice she would give to any youngster aspiring to a career in professional sport.
“You’ve got to keep learning – it does sound very teacherly, but I truly believe if you keep learning something new every day and keep challenging yourself then you are going to keep progressing and improve. Sometimes the learning might be a mistake but that’s okay too.”
Education is an integral thread of the tapestry of the 27-year-old’s rugby career to date. Hailing from a sporting family where a ball was always being chucked around, Lark’s first introduction to playing rugby at the age of 10 was via her teacher at Orleton Primary School in Shropshire.
“I was from a family that played a lot of different sports, but rugby wasn’t on the radar until my primary school teacher Adam Shearman came in and began tag rugby. I had watched rugby on TV with my Dad, but I didn’t really know it was accessible for me to play. Our teacher loved rugby himself and he made us love rugby too with his passion – that was massive in terms of my introduction to playing the sport.”
From teaching to professional rugby – “there are a lot of similarities”
Lark herself is a qualified primary school teacher and taught for three years before swapping the classroom for a full-time professional career in 2019. By that time, she was already four years into her international journey, having made her England debut in 2015 against the USA.
Following her early introduction to rugby she describes her own sporting progress as a product of the pathway, having gone from club rugby to county, district, and England age groups. Now, 40 caps later for the Red Roses as a hooker, she is fresh from playing an integral part in a dominant England Six Nations win. Davies is now resting, having completed her club commitments and is joining Bristol Bears for next season. She is hoping to be picked for the England squad, which is seeking what would be a third ever World Cup win in New Zealand later this year.
She says her time mixing teaching with top-level sport taught her a lot and there is crossover between the professions.
“I always wanted to play for England from a young age, but for a long time I didn’t know that it could become my career and I could be a professional athlete. At times it was incredibly hard to manage both rugby and my teaching, particularly early on, but I wouldn’t change it.
“I loved when I was teaching that I could show the reception-aged children, who are four and five, that you could be whatever you wanted to be. I didn’t necessarily talk about being an international rugby player, but I’d often get asked where I had been or what I had been doing and when I told them I had been off representing my country they thought it was pretty cool.
“There are lots of similarities between the two jobs. Communication is massive in both teaching and rugby, as are organisation, diligence, and hard work. My partner is a teacher, and I am in awe of what he has had to go through in the last few years. So definitely, a lot of what I learned being a teacher has put me in really good stead to be a professional athlete.”
Leading the way for young sportswomen
With elite-level sport also comes the additional scrutiny of being a role model, which is something Lark takes very seriously.
“As professional players, we are very aware we have a job to do to make sure that we’re representing women’s rugby in the best way possible. If you can see it, you can be it, so we’re doing our best to inspire the younger generations, be that young children or women that haven’t played rugby before. It’s always really special going around after a game and seeing how many young girls there are watching.
“They can see us being professionals turning up to games where we’ve got crowds of 14,000. That’s massive, and it can show them that you can make a career out of rugby now. When I was younger, the girls I watched playing for England were incredible athletes, but they were also balancing full-time jobs at the same time. It was inspiring but now you can see that there is a pathway and a route to become professional.”
And what of the social media expectations that have become part and parcel of being a top-level athlete?
“I wouldn’t say I have embraced the full power of social media, but I do want to make sure I am present, and that people are able to message me and I’m able to communicate with fans. First and foremost, I am a rugby player and I need to keep my focus on that, but there is a balance. Tik Tok coming in as a sponsor of the Six Nations was massive and a great way to grow awareness of the sport and some of the squad are particularly good on it. I am definitely one of the quieter ones on social media, but I also do want to show people what I am about as a player and a person.”
Body positivity and confidence in your role
As a hooker, Lark is at the epicentre of a dominant England forwards pack that has been a critical factor in the team’s rise to number one status in the world rankings. They’ve achieved this with a 23-game unbeaten run, which sees them as one of the favourites to win the World Cup later this year. Her career as a professional has also seen personal development and a change in physique from when she first started.
“As part of the forward pack it’s important to nail your individual role and for me it is about making sure we are the best we can be on the pitch. Being the hooker and being involved in so much is a great place to be, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“As part of my development as a player I have got stronger, and I am also a lot bigger than I was when I started playing, but this is all towards being the best rugby player I can be. It has been difficult at times, and it sometimes still is, but when I look at who I am and the rugby player I have become that’s the really cool part about me. It is nothing to do with what I look like or how heavy I am – it’s all part of being the person I am. Too many women worry about what’s on the scales or what you look like, but that doesn’t define you or shape you as a person. It is what you do as an individual which really counts.”
Rugby World Cup hopes and sources of inspiration
As a team that has twice beaten World Cup hosts New Zealand in the past 18 months, the England squad will head Down Under this year with high hopes of lifting another global title. The final takes place at the iconic Eden Park in Auckland on November 12th.
“It would be naïve not to acknowledge those recent wins over New Zealand as a factor, but we cannot be complacent as they are ranked number two in the world and will have home advantage which is massive. We’ve got to keep getting better and ensure we are in a position to put in our best performances when we are there. That is the same for any team we face at the World Cup.
“If we did win, it would be huge, and I am just so excited to potentially be part of it and see where our journey goes. We are also aware of what it would do in terms of inspiring more people to become part of the sport – it would put things on another trajectory.”
While not looking beyond this year’s tournament, it has just been announced that England will host the 2025 World Cup, which could be a chance to perform in front of a home crowd including friends and family.
And it is family which is a source of on-going motivation for Lark: “I have two older sisters, and both are huge inspirations to me. Fern was a swimmer who spent hours and hours training and dedicated a lot of her early life to her sport. Seeing what she could do and how dedicated she was really instilled in me to put in the extra work. Then there is Holly who has an incredible career as a lawyer. They have both – along with my parents – been so supportive of me and my ambitions. They have allowed me to do what I have wanted and ensured that I am happy doing it.”
So, with belief, determination, and valuable learnings from her teaching days, Lark’s career is on track to potentially soar to global success.
How is news consumption changing? Read Jeremy’s recent interview with Kamal Ahmed of The News Movement