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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A User's Guide to Helping Your Rugby Community

Most people know that the pandemic has (and will continue to) take a grave toll on rugby in the states. The nature of losing a season will have devastating consequences on ALL forms of rugby from grassroots programs, to clubs and even to lost revenue that MLR teams had budgeted for.

At some point in the future, it will be safe to return to the field. Right now is clearly not that time. However, we thought we'd plant the seed in the minds of the US rugby community on how they can help once we are back up and running. We don't have crystal ball, and don't know when that time will come, but there are many ways you can put you're best foot forward and help ... when the time comes.

We've brought in our wise sage Logan Collins to discuss the different ways people can do their part in helping the rugby community make a come back when it is safe to do so. We break it down for active players, recently retired players, coaches, old boys & just regular fans of the game. Let's jump in to "A User's Guide to Helping Your Rugby Community" ...

Active Players (2:00 - 17:40)

Middle Schoolers (ages 8 - 13)

Just show up! If you are involved in a local rugby club or youth program, all you have to do is continue playing the sport and most importantly have fun doing so. This is the age when critical skills such as ball handling, defensive spacing and safe tackling are formed.

High Schoolers (ages 14 - 18)

Continue to show up! At this age you'll develop friendships for life. You'll have a few teammates who you will continue to to stay in touch with through college, and perhaps your whole life. And the reason is because you played rugby together. You won, lost, cried, scored, got smashed, smashed someone, but you developed life skills that will help you manage and cope with the world beyond the small ecosystem of your high school life. 

For the Zoomer generation that is currently in high school and missing rugby due to the pandemic, social media is obviously something you can turn to. Find content creators in the rugby world, subscribe to their accounts, and learn from the wild world of the internet. Whether it's a YouTube account that publishes nasty highlight reels, or a skills specialist who posts their workouts online, there's always an online community that you can learn from only a few clicks away. Get digging.

College Players (ages 18 - 21)

This is where you can really start to spread your wings. Not just as a rugby player, but a human being. Become more dependable as you grow older. Try to take on more and more responsibility. Nothing that you can't realistically handle, but something that will ask enough of you to make you grow and adapt. This can come in the form of giving teammates a ride who don't have a car. Helping a teammate with their academics if you share similar classes and they are struggling with grades. Going the extra mile for your coach and taking small tasks off of their plate so they can be more effective as a leader. All simple in concept, but sometimes hard to visualize. Be patent and your opportunity to grow will always reveal itself ... (after a shoey or two, it surely will).

On the field, you can use this time in your career to truly become a student of the game. Go deep into the mechanics of a drill. Ask your coach questions like "How does this drill translate to open play?". Don't worry. They'll explain, and if you listen and take the coaching seriously, you can grow from a strong runner and sure tackler .... to a player who sees the entire field. Someone who backs their pass (off either hand), is confident in their carry, but most importantly understands their role in the team and does the job asked of them (whatever that may be). The buzz you feel from a good win comes mostly from the sacrifice and hard work you put into it.

Post College Players (ages 21+)

At this point, the sky is the limit. There are some players who are simply athletic specimens and are ready for the professional level at age 21 (or earlier in some rare cases). But, most of us will spill into the wild world of club rugby. Lucky for you, there's a level of rugby for just about everyone. Here in the US, we don't have nearly as much club depth as Kiwi, Aussie or European clubs, but we do have a long list of historic clubs who are always recruiting new players. If you just moved home with your folks, and your looking to make a leap into something new ... get online. Find a city you like. Research the clubs. Cold email their club president (or recruiting contact) and let them know you are looking to move there. You can truly launch an entire career in an industry you know nothing about ... simply because someone on the rugby club knew someone else and they hired you.

When you see an opportunity (or a gap), take it

Play hard, and as you get older, start to respect you body more. If you're getting injured over and over again, then hang up the cleats. Just don't walk away from the sport all together. Which leads us to our next topic...

Recently Retired (17:40 - 27:45)

High School (ages 14 - 18)

It's a bit early to be calling it quits! Hang in there .... ask yourself a couple of questions. Why didn't you enjoy it? Do you want to stay involved? Have you spoken with your coach about these issues? I'm sure they will be all ears and would be happy to have a chat with you before you make a decision. If it's not for you, oh well, always welcome back (maybe you'll hit a growth spurt and excel at the next levels, who knows?)

College - (ages 18 - 21)

You had a tough injury, your out of shape, the full contact game just isn't for you. Whatever lead to your retirement doesn't have to decide your future path. College clubs (aside from a small list of varsity programs) are usually run, organized and sometimes often coached by the players themselves. Stay involved with the team culture by slotting in as a team manager. Submitting gameday rosters, capturing match day reports, sculling beers in a boatie after the match .... all these things are relatively easy to deliver on. Your teammates will love the fact that you're choosing to stick around and get up for the team.

Post College - (ages 21+)

Become a coach. Plain and simple. Anyone who has ever coached a rugby team, high school, college, or club, could have always used more help. Just having another brain or personality to bounce ideas off of is a huge advantage to a coach who has been coaching a whole team solo. A head coach has so much on their plate, more likely than not, they'd actually be willing to mentor you and bring you into their coaching brain and mentality. Simply because you volunteered to help as an assistant coach. 

If you don't want to coach, then help create team-based content. There are some clubs out there that own their pitch and can generate small amounts of revenue from matchday ticket and booze sales. The more people who come to the game and spend money, the better the club does. What's a better way to get people out and pack the stands (again, when it is safe to do so) than connecting them to the team through their screens. Cut short videos, take pictures, do sideline interviews, write matchday reports, help build out the team website. Retiring from the game doesn't mean you can't still play a massive role in the success of your team.

You don't have to be capped for you country to have PASSION for the game!

Coaches (27:45 - 35:30)

High school players should be coaching middle school programs. College players should be actively involved in their local high school rugby team. Clubs should be coached by a mix of respected old boys, recently retired players, and anyone who can add value to a club environment. It truly takes a village.

The demands of coaching are incredible. A good head coach must know his team inside and out. Names, faces, strengths, weaknesses, egos, insecurities, and a list of other factors that makes a player who they are. The coach has to put a game plan together. It can be a simple, or more layered concept, but it must be based around the team and it must be delivered to the team through effective teaching.

And that's where the job becomes harder. Teaching involves not only having the material you're trying to teach mastered top to bottom, but it involves a passion level of empathy that most office jobs don't require. A coach must truly sell what he or she is trying to teach. The easiest way to do this is through sheer passion. But most of us who love rugby already have that. The empathy is the hard part. You must allow yourself to be truly vulnerable before they will return the favor back to you. You'll be the one to make the tough decisions, whether it be player discipline or selecting a 23 man lineup from a pool of 40 worthy players. It gets easier with experience, but it's never easy. The trials and tribulations of being the head coach of a rugby team on any level will develop skills and practices you would have never assumed you we're capable of. 

Coaches almost always end up becoming mentors

Old Boys and Fans (35:30 - Fin)

If you're feeling cooped up from the pandemic, when it is safe to return, come out to the games on Saturday. If you live in a city with an MLR team, bring your friends or families to the games. Spend money of food and beer. Buy a tee shirt or a jersey. If you just love your local club, reconnect with your old boy network and see what the club needs help with.

A good front-office for any rugby club usually comes from a backbone of old boys who put their heart and soul into taking care of the things the players shouldn't have to worry about. Booking the training fields, scheduling the matches, arranging for travel. These all seem mundane, but they can stack up and become a hassle to someone who's never dealt with them before. Using your experience from your playing career, experience in the business world, and overall knowledge of your particular rugby club's community helps the players do what they do best. Just play.

Of course, you can always find your way back to the pitch every now and then....

How about a wee little hit-up?

If you enjoyed reading this and feel compelled to follow up with any other ideas  ... email rugbypickem@gmail.com ... or (better yet) call 720-259-9925 and leave a voicemail.

Special thanks to Logan for sharing his knowledge ... PICKEM!

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