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Clare Daniels' Answers to Thriving Interview

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

Answers to Thriving withClare Daniels
Answers to Thriving with Clare Daniels

English international rugby union referee and the world’s most capped female Test referee.


The ‘Answers to Thriving' is an interview series that takes a look at the women who have created a life of self-success. We uncover key moments, lessons and habits that have influenced the life they lead today.


You can’t start the day without:

At least two cups of decent black tea.

One wellness ritual you do regularly:

I know it's two, but: 1. Get a good night's sleep and 2. Get out in the fresh air/countryside.

A recommended read for personal growth:

I must admit I don't read a lot of personal growth books, I'm more of a "holiday" novel reader. I know I should read more, but one book I did enjoy and which really struck a cord with me is the Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters on Mind Management. Many sports people have read it and credit it with helping them on their sporting journeys.

As a referee and someone who works within coaching and education of match officials, I am fascinated by how we make the decisions (or non-decisions) that we do. Professionals/books, etc, who provide insightful and meaningful discussion/debate around decision-making and the human behavior associated with it, I find very intriguing and interesting.

How do you go about self development?

I'm a believer in keeping things simple, having achievable goals and grabbing opportunities that take you outside your comfort zone. Surround yourself with good people and do not fear making mistakes - that's how we learn and grow. The top referees make lots of mistakes on their way up, but they reach the top because they learn from them and have a growth mindset where they take ownership of their own development and make themselves accountable. No-one learned anything by playing it safe all the time, but with good people by your side whom you trust, the right attitude and mindset, you can't help but grow.

No-one learned anything by playing it safe all the time, but with good people by your side whom you trust, the right attitude and mindset, you can't help but grow.

Which business or person inspires you right now and why?

Now this is tough - I draw inspiration from many different people depending on the situation and circumstance. I really can't put my finger on just one person, but people who have vision, drive and ambition, and remain true to themselves inspire me a lot.

Ed Morrison (former Rugby World Cup final referee) is some-one I have always admired. I am fortunate to count him and another former Test referee, Tony Spreadbury, as friends who I will often ask advice from.

I work in a very male-dominated environment, and the people I admire and respect the most are those who achieve their goals and ambitions with dignity and integrity (Ed and Tony are prime example) - there is an awful lot of politics in sport (and life in general), so those who persist with the politics card, bully or who walk over others for their own personal gain I have very little time for.

What has been the most defining moment in your career to date?

When a referee has a poor, or bad game, we refer to it in refereeing circles as a "train smash"! Most referees will have a few of these in their careers and for me, I had mine when refereeing a game between Exeter and London Irish's United teams many years ago - I was awful! But I learned more about myself in those 80 minutes (which felt a lifetime) than I have in any game since. I had some great people around me who were prepared to pick me up, put me "back on the bike" and help me learn from that experience. After that game I really began to understand what refereeing was all about, and what I needed to develop if I wanted to make it to the top. You never learn a great deal from the easy games, and as the referee you can't hide behind your team-mates when things get tough - you have to roll up your sleeves, dig deep and finish the job.

Who has helped you progress in your career the most and what did they do to support you?

My partner is a former top class referee and works within professional referee development - he's incredibly supportive and understanding of what I do, and understands what I still want to achieve within England and World Rugby. He's often the first to check and challenge me and offers a different perspective to things when I need it. I also travel a lot with my roles, and so to have someone who's been there, appreciates and supports what I do and what I'm looking to achieve is incredibly valuable.

A fear you've had to overcome to pursue your ambitions:

There are two things: 1. I wouldn't say it's a fear, but self-confidence in such a male-dominated sport at the beginning of my career was something I had to work on. Early on, there was a lot of what I call unconscious sexism towards a female referee and by that I mean comments that people don't necessarily mean any harm by, but there's an intonation that, as a female referee, you may not be as able to do the job as a male referee. "Oh, it's not a mistake then, you are a woman"... was a comment from a club when they phoned me to confirm the weekend's game - a classic example, as is "do you understand the game?". It was often comments from an older generation, but thankfully the "novelty" of female referees has worn off.

The second was a fear of not being liked by players/people - as a referee you need to learn that it's respect you want, and that comes from doing a good job.

An achievement you're most proud of:

On the pitch there is much that I am fortunate to feel proud about: First female refreee in the National Leagues and first official in the Premiership, Women's World Cup semi-final referee in 15s and rugby 7s. Off the pitch, working with Elite 7s referees on the World Series and at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 is a highlight, while my development work with referees in England is also very rewarding. I get an enormous buzz when any referee I'm working with raves about an experience or goal they've achieved. And when I meet someone who says they've been inspired to have a go at refereeing because of me or by seeing another female referee - that's gives me great satisfaction.#seeitbeit

When I meet someone who says they've been inspired to have a go at refereeing because of me or by seeing another female referee - that's gives me great satisfaction.

Life/career advice you wish you'd been given in your early 20s:

1. Stop wanting to be liked by everyone, you want people to respect you.

2. Keep good people close to you - they're few, but people with trustworthy motivations who'll support you are worth their weight in gold.

3. Create memories - worth far more than material things.

4. Don't strive for perfection - accept this (especially as a referee) and you'll be a much happier person/match official.

5. Enjoy the journey - the outcome will take care of itself

For women who want to make a positive change in their life but don't know where to start, what advice would you give them?

Clear the clutter in your mind - focus on one or two positive changes that you want to achieve and seek out those who'll support you. Of course, the context behind the type of change you want to make is very relevant, but have a clear goal/change in your mind and then put in place the building blocks to achieve that goal. They might be small changes to start with, but be realistic with them.

Don't be scared to ask for help or support - I think this sits far more comfortably with women than it does men in my experience. Some men can be very stubborn about asking for support or advice on something (and I accept that some women can too)... especially from a woman in a male-dominated and competitive environment, but you have to ask... who's loss is that?

Focus on one or two positive changes that you want to achieve and seek out those who'll support you.

What does thriving mean to you?

Happiness is not about having what you want, happiness is about being content with what you have. I would say I am pretty content right now - that doesn't mean I stand still, far from it - I have professional goals and ambitions within rugby both on and off the pitch, but I remain grounded about what makes me content - the simple pleasures of health, family and friends... if you know what truly makes you happy, embrace it and never lose sight of it.

Anything else you would like to share with the Thrivhers community?

Dreams happen when you wake up.


To learn more about the opportunities that becoming a referee gives you, visit Get Started as a Referee.


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