September 2016 will be a landmark in Age Grade rugby in England, as the Kids First Rugby initiative comes fully into effect across the country. Changes have been agreed which will see a harmonised approach to how young players are developed for the first time – whether it be in clubs, schools or girls’ rugby.
I’m aware that this issue has caused some division as well as a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Last year Rugby World magazine posted a ‘For and Against’ piece with the ‘pro’ camp represented by Walcot RFC U10 coach Dave Parsons, while the ‘anti’ stance was given by the rather bigger gun of former England centre Simon Halliday (no disrespect intended, Dave).
I’m not sure if this disparity was a deliberate attempt to influence people’s thinking, or if they simply chose Halliday because of his extremely vocal public opposition to Kids First that he expressed in his role on the committee of Esher RFC. You can view the the Rugby World article here.
The argument advanced by Halliday and others, including the Daily Mail, was that the game was going soft or in some way ‘dumbing down’ in trying to remove all competitive and physical elements from Age Grade rugby.
Even my esteemed FRN colleague and co-author Spike – though I hasten to add his views were expressed as persuasively and in as reasoned a manner as always – shared the view that this initiative was a reform too far.
So, let me first nail my colours to the mast and say that I am well and truly in favour of Kids First for a number of reasons.
At the coaching level, I like Kids First because it promotes coaching the game in the way I have already being doing it for about 6 years now – though I have to say it also goes above and beyond my approach and means I will have to raise my game a bit!
I also like it from a personal point of view, as it seeks to challenge and eliminate certain attitudes, values and behaviours that have been prevalent in the Age Grade game (this despite the prominence given to Core Values at every club in the land), which damage both the child’s enjoyment of the game along with his/her potential to develop as a player.
Thirdly, from the perspective of a fan I simply LOVE what the Kids First approach, in tandem with the New Rules of Play, is doing to the skill levels and entertainment on display in Age Grade rugby. Most games at U11 that I see are full of kids trying to keep the ball alive and take risks in a ‘Barbarianesque’ style of play that is thrilling to watch.
So to conclude this introduction to my series on Kids First, I’ll simply observe the following.
Rather than dumbing down the game, this initiative is producing players who play smarter and become better tactical decision makers – able to read the game and identify opportunities – and with the skills to exploit what they see.
Those who argue (as some do) that they want to see more youngsters boshing into each other and mauling, fail to see the irony in their accusation that the game is seeking to become less intelligent (I assume that’s what they mean by dumbing down?).
All the above notwithstanding, this is happening and is going live from September 2016. As the Cybermen might say, “Resistance is futile” – that being so, it surely behoves even the hardiest opponent of Kids First to grit his teeth and try and make the best of the many positives it offers.
Our sport has always thrived on change, and the need to evolve in Age Grade rugby has been clear for some time.
The most pernicious phrase in the English language for anyone who wants to see progress is ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’. That is the attitude, I’m afraid, that would have seen William Webb Ellis given 6 of the best and 1000 lines, and this game that we all love so much would never have come into being.