Carrickfergus Rugby Coach Sabrina Higgins has been named Sport NI’s SportMaker Children’s Coach of the Year.

The SportMaker Children’s Coach of the Year award recognises the outstanding contribution of a children’s coach to the development of young people’s skills, understanding, enjoyment and lifestyle through sport.

Head Coach for girls’ rugby at Carrickfergus Rugby Football Club, Sabrina Higgins grew up surrounded by rugby, watching her dad and brothers play. As a girl she didn’t have the same opportunities as her brothers and that is one of her main motivations for getting involved in coaching- to give the girls a positive female role model and the fun opportunities she didn’t have growing up.

Sport NI surprised Sabrina at a recent training session and it was clear how much this award means to both her and her team.

Sabrina said:
“I am absolutely speechless, just so emotional, really surprised and grateful to be named.”

Sabrina coaches the U14s, U16s and U18s, holding training sessions twice a week with matches on a Sunday. She also goes into local schools to run girls’ rugby after school programmes to encourage more girls to give rugby a try and it’s working, with youth girl numbers up to a record high in the club.

Sabrina explained,
“Girls rugby, in Northern Ireland especially, is growing over the years. Girls from all different backgrounds come over. It helps build confidence, they get fit, they make bonds, they’re friends for life and it gets them out of the house.”

Asked what motivates her to give up so much of her spare time to the club she said,
“These girls motivate me, they are a fantastic bunch of girls. It’s just great to see that they love the sport as much as I do. And the most important thing is the girls come off that pitch smiling, win or lose and it just makes me feel so good.”

Sabrina has had an incredible impact on girls’ rugby within her club. She keeps rugby fun, with skill-based games the children love and friendly competitions. She gives her players confidence with controlled training and grows skills based on individual needs. The girls love trying new things and have a really strong bond with each other. All this hard work has translated into success in the last two seasons with Carrick’s U14s and U16s coming runner up in their respective shield finals.

Chelsea Harwood nominated Sabrina for the award,
“She’s very organised and meticulous, but they don’t really see how much she cares and how much effort and work she puts in behind the scenes. You only need to see her spend 10 minutes with the girls to see how much of an impact that she has on them. We’ve had so many girls come through from the youth into the seniors that can absolutely attribute that to Sabrina and the work that she’s done with them.”

For many players and teammates Sabrina is more than just their coach. Grace Hamilton has been with Sabrina for seven years,
“The experience with Sabrina has been amazing. She’s like my second mum. She has that kind of personality where anyone would just connect with her and can tell her anything.”

It is children’s coaches like Sabrina who play an instrumental role in growing the game. Mollie Davies, Women and Girls’ Development Manager at Ulster Rugby added,
“It’s absolutely fantastic for a female coach to be recognised for Children’s Coach of the Year. We can’t run the game without coaches like Sabrina who give up their time to inspire and get girls playing rugby. “

Richard Archibald, Interim CEO, Sport NI congratulated Sabrina on her award,
Our SportMaker Awards celebrate the unsung sporting heroes who help make sport happen in communities across Northern Ireland.

“Sabrina gives her all to her club, both on and off the pitch, and is inspiring a new generation of girls to play rugby.

“Congratulations Sabrina – you are a SportMaker!”

The Sport NI SportMaker Awards give the sporting community the opportunity to showcase their achievements and give special thanks to coaches, officials and volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sport happen. There are 12 award categories recognising achievement at all levels of sports participation, from grassroots through to high performance.