Most people involved in rugby union are aware of the problems relating to decreasing numbers of players in the adult game. Many clubs are tackling the problem by ensuring there is a strong junior section so that the future of the game is assured.
But how do we deal with common areas of concern or difficulty in providing for juniors?
"We would love to have more age group sides but we can’t find a coach."
"We tried to set up a junior section but there was nowhere for them to change or have a drink."
"The pitch is in such a state, it was a terrible experience for the kids."
This section aims to give practical advice on finding solutions to these and other common problems, so that your club can provide for juniors successfully and improve the chances of strengthening membership numbers in the long term.
Your first point of contact for all matters relating to junior and youth development should be your local Rugby Development Officer (RDO).
Issues to think about before creating a new junior section:
- Reasons for a new section: Think about why the club wants to attract juniors, and how that compares to why children may want to play rugby... is there conflict? For example you may want to create a disciplined, talented side that wins; the juniors who join may simply want to have fun and be with their friends
- Organisation: Can you find a nominated individual who will be responsible for developing the junior section? Ideally this will be someone with a strong interest or experience in dealing with schools and children, and understands their needs as well as those of the club
- Coaching: How many coaches have you got who are trained in coaching children? The RFU runs a range of coaching courses which will help your existing or potential coaches
- Community involvement : How will you involve parents or other members of the community?
- Child protection : Because of the importance of protecting children, the RFU has produced guidelines to all clubs and schools in an effort to ensure safety. A checklist for clubs and guidelines for coaches is included, together with a sample certification form for mini and junior rugby coaches
- Facilities and equipment: The RFU has guidelines relating to pitch dimensions and equipment. Contact your RDO for advice
- Suitable activity: Ensure coaches are providing a variety of activities, appropriate to the age group and ability
- Equity : Girls rugby is one of the fastest growing sports; encourage girls to attend mini rugby and Contact your RDO for advice regarding girls age group sessions and sides
- Transport: Some children may not be able to travel to and from sessions; perhaps the club could organise car sharing to support those without transport
- Subscription charges: How will the section be financed? Make all fees affordable and be prepared to compromise
- Food and shelter: Remember the needs of young people are greater than the 1st XV
- Safety and first aid: It is vital to have easy access to first aid for children and young people, with a qualified person available to deal with emergencies during a session
- Rules and pitch dimensions for mini and tag rugby – Contact the RFU or your RDO for advice.
- Promotion and publicity for the sessions – How will you promote your club so that rugby is seen as enjoyable and fun?
- Links with local schools – Creating a link with just one school will vastly improve your chances of attracting players, particularly if you offer to run after school sessions on the school site
- Festivals, tournaments and matches – Young players enjoy a variety of different experiences. The same thing every week will not hold their interest.
- Fundraising : Many local businesses, sponsors or funding agencies are more likely to respond to requests for funding junior development. Check out initiatives such as the Lottery programme called Awards for All (see 2.2 Sources of Grant Aid)
- Junior club rules – A written set of rules can help to clarify what is expected of participants, coaches and parents. These rules could include issues such as fair play, respect for opponents, required kit and equipment, payment of fees, and rules regarding behaviour
There is a wealth of support material to assist you, as well as many development initiatives which it could be appropriate for your club to become involved. An example of these is TOP Play.
TOP Play is a Youth Sport Trust initiative aiming to increase sports participation in primary schools. There are a number of features:
- TOP Play provides training and equipment to primary school teachers and helps everyone who is involved in teaching core skills and fun sports to children aged 4-9 years old
- BT TOP Sport is aimed at teachers introducing sports and games to children 7-11 years old, and also provides training and equipment
- TOP Sport Rugby can now be delivered in the community – if you have a venue which is suitable and willing coaches, contact your local authority or local RDO to check whether your club can become part of the scheme. If accepted and eligible, your club could benefit from training for your coaches, new bags of equipment and potential new mini members