RWU friend and Eastern European Rugby Rain Man, Vlad Rugbychek, has taken us up on an offer to guest author. He was at the USA Rugby National Development Summit two Sunday’s ago & wanted to share his thoughts.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Before starting, I should make it clear that these are my thoughts and my impressions… So come to me with your complaints! 😉
Anyway… The event was very well organized, 370 participants from all over the country, coaches, refs, administrators, etc. It was an awesome and very enjoyable atmosphere to be in one place with so many like-minded people, who are as passionate about rugby as we are. If you can afford to go to any future summits I would highly recommend it. The organizers divided presentations into “tracks” for the aforementioned three groups. I attended the admin track for the most part.
Several presentations focused on youth development – best practices for fundraising, team management, etc. Kurt Weaver gave good talks on this topic. One of the themes was that we need more participation numbers at younger levels, the foundation of the pyramid as it is known. Rugby can, and should compete with other, more mainstream sports, for youth participation, but in order to attract young players we must “manage the parents“. This means we must run our youth teams in the same manner as other sports, such as soccer and lacrosse – attractive websites, good communications, etc. One aspect he used as an example was that we (club admins) should not be afraid to charge more money in fees from parents for participation in youth rugby. At the moment most youth rugby teams charge maybe $50 per season, while soccer and lacrosse charge double that. We should not see ourselves as less valuable, it is okay to come closer to other sports in terms of pricing. In that sense, youth rugby can be very profitable. In some well-organized clubs, such as Glendale, youth rugby serves as a revenue stream to subsidize the senior teams, but senior players “volunteer” to coach these youth teams. Also about managing the parents – many parents still have a negative image of rugby from their own college days when they saw rugby players just party hard. It is a challenge to clean up this image. I also liked the presentation by a guy who runs youth rugby in New Mexico, Thomas Goslau, I believe his name was. His presentation was essentially a blueprint for anyone who wants to build a youth team, check out his slides attached.
Also presenting was the General Manager of Rugby Operations and High Performance at Rugby Canada,Mike Chu. His presentation was interesting, as he gave his “compare and contrast” thoughts on rugby in New Zealand and Canada. In his presentation, one of the first slides shows his son playing flag rugby in NZ. The next slide is his son in Canada wearing hockey gear, because he wanted to play hockey like all his friends. That is one of the main challenges in Canada (and the US) – rugby is just not part of the mainstream culture, like it is in the NZ. It will take a while to become mainstream, and he is also hoping that a North American professional competition will start at some point, but he had no concrete info. In the absence of pro rugby, the Canadian strategy includes putting domestic players into high-performance environment, and sending best players overseas. I asked a question about seasonality and whether he thinks the idea of designating British Columbia as a hotbed of rugby works for them. He said they tried to solve the seasonality issue by making rugby a winter sport in the west and summer sport in the east. The path of attracting best players to British Columbia works for them, as does the provincial championship, but they have a strict rule of not allowing more than 3 national team players on each local team to ensure good competition.
One interesting observation, I made from Mike Chu’s presentation is that Canada is not measuring itself against other Tier 2 teams, they are comparing themselves to Tier 1 nations, including NZ.
One sour note from the summit. I was very disappointed by the presentation from Rich Cortez, USA Rugby Collegiate Director. I have nothing against the guy personally, he seems nice, but I find it hard to believe that he was the best candidate available for this job. He gave an absolutely incoherent presentation, rambling on about the conference structure, GU, TU, and other boring stuff. One noticeable conclusion that was easy to make was that he hates the Varsity Cup. He mentioned it dismissively several times, basically saying it is just an invitational tournament and not a real championship. When asked a question at the end about what progress USA Rugby made toward gaining acceptance by NCAA, and Cortez again gave an incoherent answer, about how NCAA’s requirements keep changing and getting stricter, and how only small schools may be able to become varsity in order to boost attendance. My impression was that he does not see it as his goal to increase the number of varsity teams or gain NCAA membership for rugby.
Thank you very much for your time, I appreciate very much. I hope to write to write another article again, if RWU will have me.
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