So where are we as a sport, how far have we come and where are we going? Not as a club, not as a single player, but as an entire Rugby Football Union. Much like the Bear’s find themselves in a year of rebuilding, with out a coach, and continually ALMOST making it to the Super Bowl, rugby in the USA is also at that almost there stage. One thing that is on my mind as I am trying to get more youth involvement in, is who is our target audience and what kind of players are our clubs made up of? I spoke with Julie McCoy from USA rugby to answer some of my questions, which turned into a great conversation about how many levels of the sport are trying to be improved, and how many people are giving of themselves, to push forward a sport they love.
In September, during Hispanic Heritage Month, I was wondering what exactly USA Rugby is doing to reach out to minority players and get them into thins quickly expanding sport. Julie McCoy said, USA Rugby recently did a census of their CIPPed members.
“[USA RUGBY] Just completed a diversity audit to see how they are doing. The fact is that we are not very diverse. Of all the players, 26% of the organization is women. 5% is African American. It was shocking how can that be, as it seems that the women’s side of the sport is growing rapidly. Our numbers are even less for Hispanic and Asian.”
One of the things that USA Rugby is going through right now is “growing pains” according to McCoy. The sport is expanding, and with that comes a lot of resistance from older players, needs from parents, young players, and on state and national levels. One way that USA Rugby is addressing the need for more exposure on a younger level is through the Rookie Rugby Program that was launched.
“USA Rugby developed a program called Rookie Rugby which is meant to put “rugby in a box”. You get all the info and what you need to get high school players and youth players involved in the game.”
McCoy added that they sport right now is growing exponentially and especially in the urban areas and on the coasts in particular. Southern California, New York City and some pockets in Florida have old boy and girls and clubs are helping the spread of the game. Much like what we are seeing here in Chicago, people who had the time of their lives traveling around and playing for Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, ISU and other schools want to not only spread the love of the sport but give back to it. As players “retire” and have families they want their kids to learn the sport and be able to play now instead of having to wait until college. McCoy explains how this is happening
“It’s very much still at the grass roots level and rugby people expanding the Rookie Rugby game and culture. It started in the 1960s and 1970 and started as having some fun and doing something new, similar to ultimate Frisbee. People weren’t giving back to the sport but now people who are hanging their boots up and having kids themselves, wanting to expand the game. Where do we go for it? Usually to teams or groups sponsored by clubs.”
The International Rugby Board, just gave an award to USA Rugby for the growth and expansion of the game. Lots of organizations are changing state based. There is a creation of youth and high school competitions for kids just in that state. In Chicago we have the Noble Network Schools, with an amazing concentration of players, strong programs for young men and women, but it is kept within itself. McCoy added that right now, USA Rugby in general, is trying to adapt to
the model of American. Having these “growing pains” everyone understands what we’re trying to get to just not there yet. Over the past two years, they (USA RUGBY) have tried to merge into a conference style of sport instead of union/club style that works well in Europe and other countries. Trying to make that change has been painful and a lot of local rugby clubs aren’t liking it. These changes however, are necessary to allow the growth youth clubs to have a place to go after high school and to try to get into the American mainstream eye. Instead of being that one game we don’t play here in the United States.
It’s been a very slow process and it’s a very large organization acknowledges McCoy. In Southern California Rookie Rugby events will have not just the 200 kids that the Wapiti here in Chicago have seen, but a huge turnout of kids and have hundreds of thousands of kids that want to play rugby. Youth rugby is very much a work in progress and that the sport here in the USA needs to become more organized that allows for the growth and interest of rugby. McCoy added that, USA Rugby is almost at the level where the interest in the sport is more than the people they have to provide them with the resources.
“ 110-thousand players that play their dues, there has to be more out there that aren’t. They [USA RUGBY] are trying to get younger people to be coaches and sirs. Trying to get people to participate and expand the sport. You can say, ‘Hey I’m the coach and have no specific training.’ The growth of the sport is important so, you don’t NOT play the game. If you can’t find coach or a sir you grab someone to do the job. The organization is excited about the growth of the sport, but we also need it to be played correctly and safely, so recruiting people to step into those coaching a sir positions has been a tough one.”
At USA Rugby, as a national level organization, hardly anyone is paid (including McCoy), it’s a lot of volunteers right now and it’s a hard process to professionalize it. Some people want to grow with the organization and others are saying that “I’m for or against it.” When gas is $4 a gallon think about that that does for growth, when the majority of college teams pay for everything out of pockets. Parents have to drive far sometimes for their kids teams to have someone to play against. We see it in out D1, D2, D3 etc Men and Women’s Clubs, having a job and paying club dues, travel, hotel etc adds up. However it is an exciting time to be involved in rugby since it’s moving so fast.
As for the future eagles, on the men’s side there has been six academies where knowledgeable 7s coaches have been placed. They will be in charged of recruiting and training. As far as funneling players into the game, trying to find high performance players for the centers across the country is part to find those who are able to play including people from other sports. USA Rugby is making an attempt to close the talent gap on the women’s side. There are going to be regional (women) centers but fewer, three since only 26% of the CIPPed players are women. They will be empowered to look at people ages 18-25 who already play rugby but also on a very aggressive outreach recruiting effort getting athletic directors and reaching out to get names of graduating seniors who are really good athletes and may want to try a new sport. Men are more trying more sports out than girls are. Many women are not getting online saying, ‘Hey I want to be on the USA 7s rugby team’, so USA rugby is reaching out to them.
Julie McCoy ended our in depth over and hour great conversation but adding, that right now, USA Rugby is one small organization trying to do a valiant effort. They have done a good job of assigning duties and getting a lot people paid. There are two new people in charged for the youth game, college game, hired coaches and players at the USA Olympic Centers. They are trying to have one or two people in charge in each area if the country to get these centers going and the sport to continue to grow. Colin Isles was a successful recruit is a cross over athlete. For USA Rugby McCoy explained,
“Being in the hot seat is a great problem to have. We are really thin and looking for every one they [USA Rugby] can to help give back and volunteer. You can play, referee, coach, etc. to grow and give back. It was great to me and I want to give back and make it great for others. It’s a kinship and to do something hard and for it to be so rewarding because you always remember what was hard to and it bonds you.”
So for 2013 we can all make resolutions, but I know for me it’s to try and help promote the sport of this sport that I love so much. I am going to continue to offer my rugby program at Marquette Park, despite having low numbers until I can get a solid group of kids to take to the game. I am working on my coaching certifications and hoping to go to the clinic this spring. I also want to get my ref certification. I resolve to support rugby by continuing to blog, go out to
games, fundraisers for multiple clubs, and being involved with my Alumni group. I hope whatever you, your team, your club resolve or goal you have for 2013 are achieved and that we all can give a little something back to the great game of
HAPPY NEW YEAR