Most rugby clubs across the UK will be half way through their season now and will be gearing themselves up for the return fixtures against their league opponents. It’s the traditional point in the season where players overindulge both in feasting and drinking. I know some clubs play traditional games on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day but for most, it’s time for feet up!
I have been thinking about what the New Year might bring and it’s exciting to see what we might be able to do with Everything4Rugby in the coming months. I have also sat down and thought about what I would love to see happen from January onwards within the grassroots game and how these changes may improve the current game.
Here are my five wishes for Christmas 2015...
World Cup Legacy – Make Sure it’s Long-Lasting
We are only a few months on from the Rugby World Cup.
Clearly there were some fundamental failings within the home nations sides, highlighted by none of them reaching the semi finals of a competition on our doorstep.
This could have done a huge amount for grassroots rugby. We heard so much about the ‘Legacy’ prior to the tournament and how there was going to be a huge focus on it - in fact it was one of the main goals of the tournament for the home unions. It’s no secret that one of the easiest ways to grow the game’s prowess, is by hanging onto the coat tails of one of World Rugby’s headline tournaments.
For me, we’ve totally missed the chance of a lifetime. There is no way the effect on the game (from the point of view of attracting minis and juniors) has been anywhere near good enough and frankly, the unions haven’t done enough.
My wish for 2016 is for the grassroots game to do what it can to salvage the opportunity and make what they can from the World Cup, enticing kids to come and try our game and become part of the rugby family. We all need to take some ownership in this and do what we can individually to spread the word. The game is losing too many players; We need to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.
Increased Local Involvement
My next wish would be for more local sponsors and businesses to get involved in supporting their local clubs so that the clubs can develop on and off field. I’m not suggesting that all Clubs should be transformed into endless promotion machines, - far from it - however the relationships that can be developed between the local business communities and the rugby clubs can be very prosperous!
I think this is vitally important and clearly would love to see support be given in Rugby’s direction rather than other sports. Rugby clubs have a huge role to play and need the support of the businesses around them; it’s a great way to help a huge number of people.
There are so many clubs with not only thriving senior sections but also junior sections, which regularly see hundreds of kids turn out on a Sunday morning. Support is key.
Player Attraction and Retention
I hope clubs do more to try and attract new players and entice the players that have been away from the club for a while to come back. Samsung's use of Jack Whitehall to encourage people to get into rugby (giving off the impression that anyone can play) was a creative piece of marketing!
I see it happening in some clubs including my own grassroots club, Sevenoaks RFC. It’s fantastic to see lads coming back from university in the holidays and turning out for their club side. It shows a massive affiliation to the club and can pave the way for them to come back and play when they have finished various courses.
It’s really important for those involved from a young age, perhaps from juniors, to stay with the club and retain the desire to play.
However, that’s not just down to the players. The clubs have to find ways to make it desirable for them to come back and play. I’m not suggesting that this means dishing out some envelopes at the end of the game with a wad of cash. Try and be creative and pull on the heart strings a bit, it’s well worth it.
Rugby Clubs Seen as More than Hobbies
It’s crucial that people involved with their club realise that local grassroots rugby clubs aren’t just hobbies, they are viable small businesses that have a massive role to play in the community.
They need to be treated as such and given enough attention to ensure that they continue to fulfil their roles.
I completely understand that people give up their own free time and volunteer a huge amount to help run the clubs but this needs to be looked at very carefully.
If some club members aren’t doing enough to ensure that the ‘business’ runs as smooth as possible then they are letting a huge number of players, supporters and club members down. The majority of those volunteering do a phenomenal job, however, I do hear of some terrible stories where some clearly don’t do anywhere near enough for the job at hand.
Most grassroots club committees have been in place for years and years. They have served their clubs well and made some big decisions over time allowing them to get to where they are today.
Yet, they are very much dated in my opinion and the decision making process takes far too long. E.g. when many seemingly simple decisions that can be made by individuals tasked with a specific role, are taken to the committee.
Similar to my point before, clubs need to be run efficiently and effectively and the time taken by some committees to make decisions isn’t practical and doesn’t lend itself to a club running well.
There will be people involved capable and willing enough to shoulder responsibility and I would love to see this change within grassroots rugby. Club committees have been fantastic for years in establishing many of the clubs around the country but they now need to move aside and let changes take place, which can take clubs forward into the future.