Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Youth rugby didn’t exist when I was a kid and odds are it didn’t exist when any of my American based readers were young either. It’s just how it was, but it’s not how it is always going to be. The movement is already afoot and progress is beginning to show signs of traction.
Having taken up the game at a later stage in life (like many Americans), one of the first things I set out to do was to ensure that future generations of kids in my area had the opportunity to share in the great sport of rugby. The only way to do it was to get out there and start a youth program.
Coaching youth rugby has been just as rewarding as playing the sport and in many ways enhanced and improved my play on the field. I highly recommend it to anyone that has ever given thought to getting involved at any level with youth rugby. You will not regret it and the first time you see a 12 year old show a dummy and hit a gap you’ll beam with pride.
What’s the big secret about starting a youth rugby program?
It’s really not that hard to get off the ground. Building it into a powerful machine is another thing entirely. But, you have to walk before you can run.
To that end, here are some easy tips to starting a youth rugby program from someone that has been through it.
1. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. If you do, it’ll never happen. In that same vein, don’t pay heed to lip service unless it’s followed by action. Everyone “wants” to start a youth rugby program, but how many actually do it? If someone says they want to start one, pin them down and see how serious they are. If they aren’t, go ahead and move onto your own thing.
2. Do your research. USA Rugby is an excellent resource as is American Flag Rugby. They both have plenty of literature on the subject. Talk to other people that have started programs. The internet has made the world much smaller. Don’t be afraid to reach out to another program (or two or three) for advice. They are people, just like you, that have started programs. Their advice is beyond valuable and most of them are happy to share their knowledge.
3. Get some help. Going at it alone is a recipe for burnout. There are plenty of people out there interested in helping; they just don’t want to be the one in charge. They still have plenty to offer to the cause.
4. Start small. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself planning for 2-3 years down the road. Getting the program off the ground and getting kids playing is an immediate goal. It’s fine to set goals for 3-5 years down the road, but they’ll mean zilch if you don’t give proper attention to the here and now.
5. Find a place to play. Don’t spend time or money chasing really great venues. All you need is a patch of grass in a park to get kids playing. Kids are just happy to play. Parents are the ones that will eventually drive the need for legitimate playing fields. If you have easy access to youth soccer fields, great… try that angle first. If not, get what you can. As long as it is in a safe area the kids will be fine with it.
6. Get some gear. You don’t need a whole lot of it to get rolling. A few youth size rugby balls and some cheap-o cones are really all you need to start. You can get a bunch of both for under $100. Flag belts are great to have, but aren’t a neccessity. The USRFF provides ball grants to many programs each year and it won’t cost you a dime.
7. Cover your butt. It’s sad, but true. Even with something as simple as a short clinic, you need to cover your buns. Have liability waivers at everything you do and make sure every parent signs them.
8. Break the ice with clinics. Having a few 1-2 hour clinics is a great way to start kids playing rugby without the pressure of running a 6-week program. It’s also a great introduction to the sport and parents are more likely to give a 2 hour clinic a try before committing to something longer. If you can get some backing, offer them for free.
9. Don’t let the numbers scare you. Playing numbers may be slim for a while. Don’t be discouraged and don’t let it affect the way you coach the kids that are at the clinics or practices. It’s going to take time for the word to spread. Look at it this way… if you get 10-15 kids playing rugby, that’s 10-15 more kids playing than were a year ago. I call that progress. When the snowball starts rolling downhill, your numbers will grow.
10. Have fun. That’s why we’re all here. If you’re not having fun with it, then the kids and parents will pick up on your mood. Keep your sessions moving, have a plan going into each practice, and be energetic. Show how much you care for the sport and it will rub off on others.
This isn’t everything, but it is a pretty good start. Everyone will have different wrinkles or obstacles they face in starting a program. Don’t let any of them stand in your way. If you are serious about starting a youth rugby program, no one can tell you “no”.
When I first started, I tried to go through all of the “proper” channels… recreation departments, YMCA, etc. They all put up road blocks one after another until I decided that I didn’t need any of their approval.
If you have any of them in your corner, then awesome! If not, don’t let it stop you.
Get out there and join the greatest cause the sport of rugby has in America. Youth rugby wants you to start a program and share the fun of the greatest sport in the world.