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Is Grassroots Rugby Really Thriving?

FRN peeps walkingIn a recent article in the Telegraph, Steve Grainger, Rugby Football Union’s development director, stated that rugby is thriving at grassroots levels.

This article was shared on Facebook amongst a number of my friends scattered across the country and a very different picture seemed to come out of our discussions.

People were reporting that senior games were being called off due to clubs not being able to raise a team. It was reported that clubs who once fielded 3 or 4 teams were now struggling to field 2 on a regular basis.

Of course this isn’t always the case, in my CB one club has just started to field a 5th team again which is great for that club.

However, you might wonder who they are playing given other teams’ situations. You only have to look on social media at things like #RUplaying to see the scale of called off game and clubs trying to arrange replacement fixtures.

Is Grassroots Rugby really thriving?

The RFU must be getting their information from somewhere to support the claims being made at such a high level. The Game Management System (the Database used by the RFU) was overhauled in recent years and clubs have been tasked to ensure that the information within it is accurate and up to date. This is no mean feat for the volunteers at clubs as the system is not the most user friendly interface and the data which was transferred across from the previous system included numerous records of registered players who had been archived by the clubs.

Having spoken to senior RFU staff when the New Rules of Play were originally launched to see what the impact of this was on recruitment and retention, my club was told that this wasn’t being captured by the data and therefore it would seem odd now that the same data is supporting the claims that the game is thriving.

However, participation probably is up…But it is the type of participation which is up that may be a bit concerning.

The RFU have rolled out the All School Projects and these school based initiatives are counting in the numbers or so we are being told – and this is a very big number.

It is great that these children are being exposed to the game and all that is great about it but are they really “involved” in the sport at grassroots level? Does a lesson in school count as grassroots?

Surely the transfer of involvement from an all-school project to being part of a club at a weekend is what is needed to ensure the game grows. Without mini and youth rugby there are no Colts and as such nothing to feed into the senior sides who it would seem are desperately short of players.

Participation in schools is one thing but participation must also continue at rugby clubs if we are to see the game really thrive.

How do we get clubs thriving?

1. We need young people to be enthusiastic about the game.

To do that we need more coverage, more POSITIVE coverage, most rugby is not on Free to Air TV so that doesn’t make it easy for kids to watch a game and get inspired, the press in this country seem to want to knock players and coaches more than report success.

As an example, the England Women’s team scored 12 tries in a recent match against Canada, NOT a mention in the press or mainstream media, unless you look at Rugby Canada’s output you could be forgiven for thinking the game never happened.

2. We need coaches who are keen to develop players.

This might sound odd but it isn’t always the case. For a couple of reasons, one they don’t have the skills and two they don’t have the mindset.

Skills for coaches can be developed but again in recent times the structure of the coaching courses have changed, there is a lot of health and safety and safeguarding involved in the courses and less and less actual rugby knowledge being imparted.

Again, in my CB there have been more Safeguarding courses run than actual coaching course.
Now I know it’s important but there is a balance to be had.

Equally there is much being made of the game sense approach and personally I think this is the very best way to develop players, “let them play”. However, if you let them play and either cannot identify fault or do nothing about that then can you honestly lay claim to the badge of “coach”.

The second part relates to the mindset of coaches. There are those who want to win (equally true of parents) but is coaching to win a way of developing players in the game.

Thankfully in my CB there are no leagues for junior players. However you wouldn’t always believe that if you stand and watch games or read reports. Coaches at this level should be about helping their players be better this week than they were last week and having a plan to do the same again next week. It is that approach of managing the inputs (skills, attitude, approach, etc) and letting the outputs manage themselves (results).

3. We need places to play.

The RFU have recently announced a massive investment plan into artificial pitches. 100 across the country. This will enable games to take place despite the worst the weather can throw at them.

4. We need rugby to be accessible.

More games on TV which everyone can see, not just those with satellite or cable. And more opportunities to see games live.

The Rugby World Cup sold out. Stadiums were packed but ticket prices remain very high. I know the RFU will challenge that with comments about some tickets being low price but these are limited numbers and very difficult to source.

5. We need to see match reports in the media

Along with the live games we need to see match reports in the media – not just the national games or premiership ones. We need to see club sides submitting match reports for all of their sides, right down to mini rugby teams.

If the press don’t pick them up, then we need to get them up on websites, social media, whatever (feel free to share items on the FRN facebook page or twitter @findrugbynow and we will always share your posts).

Get the message out that you are playing and enjoying the game so it attracts both children and adults to the rugby clubs and then we can honestly say the game is thriving.

About spike

Level 2 coach, referee, Tigers supporter and full time rugby nut. Coached for over 15 years across squads from U6s to seniors, club sides as well as representative teams. View all posts by spike

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