Today’s piece was supposed to be just Cody’s but after a brilliant discussion with MumSrum, the Rugby Mom, management decided their discussion was a great article itself.
LONDON, ENGLAND –
Rugby Ref: Rugby in the US has grown massively in the past ten years. It’s now one of the fastest growing sports in America! With this growth the question of where do we go as a sport comes up next.
Growing rugby is always going to be a challenge. Personally, I see that growing the youth game is the way forward. Here I mean to say that we need to get younger kids involved. While being in the UK, I’ve had the pleasure to referee everything from the age of under 11s all the way up to semi-professional teams. What I see is that we need to get children involved as early as we can, developing a rugby mentality.
Rugby Mom: Cody, you are right on the money! I like to think of it as “normalizing” rugby here in the States (see my post “Random Acts of Rugby PR” on Mumscrum.com); we’re different than most of Europe because our kids haven’t been exposed to rugby since tots. As you stated, early exposure will boost their rugby IQ.
To get children involved we ought to start promoting Rookie Rugby to the masses. Rookie Rugby is the program of flag rugby for children. Each club can easily get a program going and develop kids internally, something great when looking at the travel distance associated with some areas.
Rugby Ref: I see the distance as a main point that could be looked into, especially with fans and facilities. Growing the youth game will bring more players and more fans, but in general how do we grow the top end of the game, being division 1 and 2? Here I propose that we start playing at better facilities- places where there are stands, where we can charge a small fee at the gate. Also, places where players and families can have a day out. We need to have more of a festival atmosphere- bring the family and bring the kids on down!
Rugby Mom: Love your point about rugby being a day out with the family. I talked to a rugby mom in Florida who brings board games for the kids to play during down time. This has led me to think that maybe at our high school matches, we need to be bringing inexpensive rugby balls to pass out to the kids to play with, and maybe even take home.
Rugby Ref: I think it’s a great way to get them involved, being young will get them in the game at a family event. I think that city teams should look to play at high schools or middle schools that have stands and changing facilities. The cost of fans should offset when compared to the cost of facilities. We’d be building a much better image of a team and also showing that the sport is a great spectacle.
Rugby Mom: Facilities are a challenge here; it’s my understanding that many fields don’t conform to the measurement requirements of a rugby field. I’d love to play at our high school football stadium! Perhaps we need to maybe get looser with this so we can play in those places. Getting high school administrators/varsity sport coaches on our side as proponents of the sport instead of looking at it as a liability and competition to the other sports would also help. I think we’ve had difficulty scheduling events at college venues due to insurance issues. (I’m not sure where the umbrella of insurance provided by USA Rugby would fall with this?) If we can get the facilities, I am 150% behind that. I think it’s a great idea.
Rugby Ref: How else do you think we should or can go about growing the game?
Rugby Mom:I would love to hear ideas from the rugby community about this! What has worked for them? Removing the mindset of “Rugby – that’s a really rough sport!” and “Isn’t that football without pads?” would go a long way towards increasing numbers.
Growing youth game = more older players = more elite players, more coaches, more referees. And at the same time, a winning elite team (i.e., for us, the Eagles) = more exposure, which would get us more youth players. So a little bit of a circle there, but I think much more emphasis on growing the youth. Not everyone will be an Eagle (in the US), but everyone can play. The Olympics will help, if we get there.
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