Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Article originally published on July 21, 2010 (to see the original, please click the link)
I was digging through my archives this morning and found this article. Given the increased emphasis on grassroots rugby here at Rugby America, I thought this article was an excellent candidate for a reprint. As we head into the winter and have some downtime, this is the perfect time to begin planning. (Note, a couple minor changes have been made to the article to bring it up to date.)
There are lots of ways to help support the growth of rugby in America.
Those are just a few examples of many ways to help. But they all pale in comparison to the one thing that you and/or your club could do to grow the game of rugby in America.
What is it you ask?
Start a youth rugby program.
When the time comes that youth rugby is available in every community, then we will really begin to see change. Youth sports is a driving factor for growth across the board. The ripple effect of a million American kids playing rugby will be felt all the way to the top.
There are lots of things American rugby fans want that can be driven forward by the youth sector. Success at the international level, further growth for high school and college rugby, better attendance at events, more major sponsors, Olympic medals, and even professional rugby.
You can’t have professional rugby without fans to attend games, buy merchandise, and support sponsors. You certainly can’t have American rugby stars if there aren’t thousands upon thousands of little kids aspiring to be one of them.
The funny part about starting a youth program is that it really isn’t that hard or expensive. All you need is a patch of grass and a few balls.
The problem that we face is that so many rugby players are wrapped up in playing rugby that they don’t have the time to start a program, coach, or help out.
This is a byproduct of so many people taking up the game later in life and playing competitively into their thirties and forties. This is unlike a kid who takes up baseball or football at age six and then is ready to step up and coach by his mid to late twenties.
There’s nothing wrong with it of course. Everyone has a right to pull every last ounce of rugby out of their aging bodies. Unfortunately, by the time they’re done physically, they have also exhausted the energy needed to start youth programs.
Youth rugby is growing quite well in America and in the next generation we will see kids that have been playing the game for nearly twenty years and moving into the coaching side of the game at an earlier age. That is a great thing.
However, that is still a generation away.
What are we going to do right now?
We need people to bite the bullet for American rugby and take a step back from their year-round competitive schedule to get involved with youth rugby. Note that I didn’t say retire or quit playing. Far from it, but there should be a balance. Pick a season, take it off from playing, and devote it to youth rugby. You’ll get a chance to recover from injuries and feed your spirit for the game by sharing it with kids.
You’ll also be surprised by how much you can learn by taking a step back and seeing the game played by children.
Think about it… if every club in America started one youth rugby program it would spread like wildfire. Those programs would spawn other programs in neighboring communities and within ten years all of our hopes and goals for American rugby would be realized.
Hey, if you’re not in it for the greater good… be selfish about it. A youth program gets your club access to new networks, families, parents, exposure, sponsors, and ultimately money. Your youth players will also go onto play in high school, then possibly play in college, and then return to your club thus boosting your future numbers.
Think of it as an investment in your club’s future.
If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than the guys at American Flag Rugby in New Jersey. Started with twenty kids almost ten years ago, the program has spawned other programs in nearby communities and now has hundreds of kids playing rugby each year. They are a great resource for clubs looking to start youth programs. Look them up.
Northern Virginia and other areas have also seen tremendous growth in youth rugby after starting their programs with meager beginnings.
USA Rugby’s Rookie Rugby program is also a great starting place. The program is easy to learn, easy to coach, and can be implemented within minutes. They also have a ton of resources available to those looking to start programs.
The important thing is to get out there and do it. Whether you have ten kids or fifty. Also, be patient. Programs don’t explode overnight. You won’t start a program and have a hundred kids show up. It will be a slow and organic process, but once you have them… they’ll be hooked.
It’s easy to talk about it right? Action is another thing entirely.
What are you waiting for?