In the early 1990s, Roxanne Butler was a passionate rugby player determined to pursue her love for the sport. Faced with a lack of coaching commitment, she jumped in and began managing the Senior Women's rugby team, unknowingly beginning a coaching journey that has spanned nearly thirty years.
“The dedication wasn’t there. I would end up at practices with no coach, so I would jump in and run it anyway,” said Butler. “Back then I started getting my certification. I was told in order to travel you needed a certain level of certification to take teams off the Island. I got my Level 3 over ten years ago and then I started working on my Level 4, I just love it.”
Butler, also known as “Rox” by her athletes, is now the most qualified and accomplished female rugby coach in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Her success is far-reaching, from leading the first-ever U19 Junior Girls team to Nationals, earning a historic bronze medal, to serving as the volunteer Team Manager for the Canadian National Women’s Senior team for 12 years, among other notable accomplishments. A career highlight for Butler came in 2017 when she took both Senior and Junior Newfoundland women’s teams to Ireland's Women’s World Cup Fringe Tournament where both squads came home with trophies.
More recently, she was the Team Manager for the 2022 & 2023 Canadian Classics Women’s team, coaches three Provincial Junior Girls Rugby teams (U15, U19, and U17), and currently sits on the board of the Newfoundland and Labrador Rugby Union and is the Women’s Director of Swilers RFC. Butler was also tapped to coach Team Newfoundland and Labrador in the first-ever women’s rugby sevens at the 2022 Canada Games in Niagara.
The journey to Niagara was not without its challenges. The Games were postponed a year due to COVID-19, which Butler explains made it challenging to keep girls interested in rugby sevens. That is until she came up with an idea to keep them engaged.
“We got a bunch of rugby balls, and on one snowy day, I drove around and dropped the balls off at each person's house. Then we started Zoom calls and showed them how to do things, different exercises, and created monthly challenges for them.”
Once COVID slowed down they started training in person at the Swilers Rugby Club. However, the absence of competitive games posed another hurdle. Collaborating with coaches from other Atlantic provinces, Butler devised a circuit involving PEI, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, each hosting mini-tournaments. This strategy paved the way for the team's preparation for the 2022 Canada Games and remains in place today as training begins for the 2025 Canada Games.
Throughout her nearly three-decade coaching career, Butler acknowledges the profound influence of several individuals in shaping the coach and manager she has become today. Yet, it is the memory of Ric Suggitt, who coached both the men's and women's national rugby teams before his passing in 2017, that stands out as her greatest inspiration.
“The whole time I was his team manager, I was on the sidelines writing down all his plays, watching his patterns, the way he talked to players, what he did, and how he did it. I hope I’m doing a tiny bit of it. I hope I’m bringing a tiny bit of that excitement and joy to the players here. He’s my idol.”
Rugby represents more than just a sport for Butler. She says it's a source of family and belonging and hopes her athletes will take away that sense of joy and camaraderie from her coaching.
“I want them to feel the joy of the sport. Feel at home, feel like a family. That’s what it’s given me. It’s given me a place to be and a family. I want them to come to practice and feel safe. It’s an amazing sport.”