Category Archives: Clubs

SILENT SUNDAYS–A view from inside the tent

Silent Sunday photoThe furore (too strong a word? Kerfuffle might be better) over the #SilentSundays experiment run by my local governing body Yorkshire Rugby Football Union (YRFU) over the last two weekends of Age Grade rugby was something of a surprise – and yet, knowing rugby folk as I do, completely expected as well.

I’ll lay my cards on the table from the start and say I was wholly in favour of the initiative for a number of reasons. I’ve been an age grade coach for over 10 years now; this is my second time round at Under 10s and I’m noticing a lot issues that have not improved over that time – and in many cases that have got worse. The atmosphere on the touchline is a case in point. I referee regularly and often find myself in conversation with a spectator about a particular decision they don’t agree with. It’s a short conversation usually, often ended when I proffer my whistle to the other party and suggest they have a go, at which point they realise I’m right after all and back down. True to say though, that it’s getting more frequent and less good-humoured.

That said, the majority of the noise is aimed not at me but at the players, and this is the main target of Silent Sundays.

The particular problem YRFU was looking to address was coaches and spectators shouting, especially the kind of shouting that intimidates and confuses children.

The bear-pit atmosphere that we often play in – noticeably more so at some clubs than others – is getting worse and is definitely intimidating for some kids.

Parents shouting at children to “smash ‘im” is not good to hear, for example. If it’s not that, it’s a constant volley of instructions from coaches: “SPREAD OUT! PASS!!! TACKLE HIM!!!” (as if the players don’t know that’s the idea when an opponent makes a break!). Not forgetting the additional and often contradictory instructions from parents, well intentioned no doubt but in many cases totally misguided, because the player doesn’t know whose instructions to follow – though I would add here that ‘Listen to your coach’ is the only advice a player needs on this point.

I’ve seen this conflict end with a young player leaving the field in tears, unable to choose whether to listen to his mum shouting at him to run, or me telling him to look inside and pass. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a proportion of early teens who quit the game do so because of the constant noise coming from the touchline, that ruins the game as a fun experience for them.

So it was right for someone to do something to challenge this developing culture, and taking a lead from Lancashire Junior FA’s Silent Saturday initiative last year, YRFU decided to give a similar idea a whirl. The dates of 25 January and 1 February were chosen, and an announcement made early in the New Year. This is where it got interesting for me.

Immediately the sniping started. “Ridiculous idea,” “are we not allowed to support our kids now?” “the game’s going soft,” “the players won’t know what to do” and much more in a similar vein. In short, many people decided from the outset that it was a bad idea and wouldn’t work, and grumpily went along with the scheme because they’d ‘been told to’. Even the reporting in the media (as far afield as New Zealand, where similar concerns exist over touchline noise in rugby – see Jack Cottrell’s report from April 2014 took the angle that this was a crackpot idea, to the extent of erroneously reporting that spectators were banned even from applauding.

Most of the reaction seemed to be informed by a willingness to believe the worst about YRFU’s intentions, that they were somehow trying to suck the entire atmosphere out of the junior game for ‘politically correct’ reasons. Some even assumed the initiative was a permanent one rather than an experiment requiring just two days’ co-operation across a 34-week season.

So, we’ve now done the two Silent Sundays and feedback has been a mixture of positive and negative. Some of my coaching colleagues missed being able to yell instructions to their players; one coach from another club, however, reported that he caught himself about to shout something and – realising it was Silent Sunday – stopped himself.

He then thought about what he’d been about to shout and concluded that it would have been inappropriate in any case! A parent of one of my players said to me that it was a sledgehammer/nut approach and it was a shame that because of a few numpties, everyone was being targeted. My response was, ‘So next time you have one of these numpties next to you gobbing off, have a word with them. Then Yorkshire won’t need to enforce it from the top down.’

Another parent withdrew his son from the fixture on Silent Sunday 2, as he was so angry about the initiative and saw it as an attack on parents’ rights to support their children. After a reasoned discussion he changed his mind (and was rewarded by seeing his son grab his first two tries of the season!) as I managed to convince him about the positives of the experiment.

Those positives, as I observed them, were as follows:

• The atmosphere was a lot calmer without the noise from the touchline, the whole feel of the fixture was far less adversarial than is the norm.

• From a referee-coach perspective, it was good for me that the players only had me to listen to; they could hear my explanation of decisions, which helps them learn, and I was better able to help them avoid infringing, meaning less whistle and more running around.

• The game was played in a good spirit between the players, none of the macho hostility we sometimes get, and in fact the only point of issue was dissent from one player which required him to leave the field. In the absence of noise, his interaction with me was clearly audible and his dad told me after the game he would have sent him off too.

• The players also played great rugby (though they often do), in that kids from both teams were prepared to have a go and take risks in a spirit of adventure that is often absent. Did the reduced noise from the touchline make them more confident? It’s hard to say for sure but it’s not improbable.

• In the absence of the usual volley of shouted instructions from coaches, the players soon began to coach and encourage each other during the game. Decision making responsibility fell on their heads, meaning they needed to be more game-aware and to help their team-mates who were less so. This is a win for any coach with his players’ long-term development at heart.

In summary, this was a well-intentioned experiment that has achieved its major goals. It has created open debate about how touchline behaviour affects young players, and discussion of what is and isn’t appropriate. It has caused parents and especially coaches to think about what they say and how they say it during games – and I have certainly thought hard about my input during games and how it needs to be adjusted.

Finally, it has perhaps made people realise that the raucous touchline atmosphere was starting to get out of hand. While no one including me wants a silent, funereal experience on a Sunday morning, equally we want to avoid the opposite extreme. As in many things, moderation is key.

Applaud both teams and all good play (and good refereeing, please); encourage and praise effort over and above ability and skill; if you must coach, do it quietly during breaks in play. In short, just stick to what the existing Codes of Conduct say, and you’ll be pretty much in the right area.

Rugby Community Must Take Advantage of Rugby World Cup

974581_10152367316122495_1060707784_nSo this is the year England host the Rugby World Cup.

That thought takes me back to a Sunday morning on the 23rd November 2003, not the day before, not the performance from an England team who had planned that game in so much detail, not the beautiful passage of play after 100 minutes of physical rugby, not THAT drop goal but the Sunday morning.

That morning saw what success in sport can do for the grassroots game. At the club I was coaching at that Sunday morning saw 30+ brand new mini players turn up wanting to play the game, wanting to emulate what they had seen the day before, wanting to practise their drop goals……

And the club, well we had hoped for a positive impact from the World Cup.

We had put a number of volunteers onto coaching courses, set up teams of volunteers for each age group and advertised that the club catered to players from age 6 upwards.

10688391_10152839258732495_3672295785007830590_oNew players came to try the game, they got the support of a club who wanted to attract and retain new members, and after 12 years some of those young players are now playing senior rugby, some at our club, some at others or at university. But they are still playing. Families who came to the club together remain within a wider rugby family now.

I’m sure this is preaching to the converted as to the experience that a rugby club can provide but the opportunity this year rests with us in the game.

It rests with the national squad, the 23 players, who will wear the shirt and the way they conduct themselves on and off the pitch and their performance in the games. It rests with clubs to provide places to watch the games, opportunities to play the game and an inclusive environment to play it in with coaches who are interested and committed to developing players before results.

If those things are in place then our game will truly benefit from the World Cup because somewhere out there on the Sunday after the World Cup final there will be the young players joining rugby clubs who will in a few short years time be the ones wearing their national shirts and inspiring another generation to play.

It is our opportunity to set this group on the pathway to that responsibility.

Respect in Rugby

Rugby is responsible for two of the proudest moments of my life, although neither moment has to do with actually playing the game.

The first was the Remembrance weekend of November 2004 when I took my U9s to Welford Road to watch the Tigers play. Before the game we went to Oval park and had a training session with the Tigers community staff before moving on to the stadium to enjoy the game. When we got to the stadium, the community staff asked if I would take the young players onto the pitch before the start of the match for the 2 minutes of silence.

In a stadium of then around 18,000 people, my little group of 8 year olds stood shoulder to shoulder (or knee) with some of their heroes in silence and respect. Although it was something they should have done, I was still so proud of that group of 8 year olds for the way they behaved. What was equally nice was a number of the crowd took the time to find our contact details and wrote to us to praise the young players. This was something that puzzled them as they could not understand what all of the fuss was for because they behaved as they should have.

Yesterday, one of those young players was refereeing our Under 16s. He is now only 17 and whilst playing in our 1st team, he is also coaching and refereeing for one of our youth sides. He spoke with both coaches before the game and organised a group of U16s who at 11AM fell silent to mark their respect for those who have paid the ultimate price. The lads did this with no prompting from the elders. Again, last night I received a handful of messages for the referee and the lads to say how much their actions were appreciated.

Of course, the referee and the players behaved as they should have, but for those 4 brief minutes the core value of RESPECT was embodied in the actions of our young players.

In my opinion these episodes demonstrate that rugby is so much more than what happens on a pitch for 80 minutes.

Colts Rugby: Where Have All the Players Gone?

colts-300x225Having done a few years of coaching at my rugby club I have decided to take a bit of a break this year and focus on the role of Chairman, which has included watching quite a lot of rugby matches on Saturdays and Sundays.

Ok, I have a bit of a vested interest as both my sons are now playing senior rugby and one remains eligible to play in our Colts, so I’m getting to see quite a few games. I have had an especially good view of the Colts games, which I have been asked to referee each time we host one.

Colts rugby in our region seems to be in a bit of trouble. The CB insists that there are more clubs with Colts teams than ever before, but on the pitch these teams do not seem to materialise. It is interesting to see the difference between what happens on the ground and the data supplied by clubs.

Now there are very many things which can take up the attention of a 16 / 17 year old away from rugby, including college, jobs, social lives, etc., but you still have to question – where have all of the players gone?

Teams which have fielded vast numbers of players at mini level now struggle to amass 10 Colts players. Maybe these players are running out for their clubs on a Saturday (having hit 17 years of age and been suitably signed off and assessed) but the fact that in our region massive numbers of 2nd and 3rd team games have been cancelled as clubs struggle to field teams makes that unlikely.

So what is the problem? Where have all of these young players gone?

My view is that clubs are adopting the wrong approach and picking sides that focus on winning matches from age 10 upwards.

I struggle with the concept of the New Rules of Play restricting numbers of players on pitches as I think this will have a bad outcome. Coaches need to see that by playing players weekly as they develop instills the love of the game, the idea of one team working for each other and actually growing the player base for years to come.

The win everything approach at youth level (where we don’t even play in leagues) is meaningless and, in my opinion, now impacting the game massively.

Getting Colts into the senior sides has to be the ultimate goal but giving them the opportunity to play in a Colts team, to work on stuff, play at a quicker pace and working on their own leadership skills can only be a good thing for all of our clubs – and that alone assists their transition to the senior level.

At least at our club the Colts coach is the 2nd XV captain and we regularly see senior players assisting him with training or coming to support the Colts on a Sunday morning.

Mini and Youth coaches have to ask themselves what the purpose of them coaching really is. Is it to win a game at Under 13s on a cold Sunday morning or is it to develop players who will go on to play adult rugby?

I suppose with the few years I have been coaching some of my proudest moments are watching guys who I coached at 5 and 6 years old run out with our 1st XV or that of another club and play a game they absolutely love.

Maidstone Rugby Fundraising Idea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am sure that many parents of youth rugby players will have shared the trials and tribulations of rugby fundraising efforts on behalf of their blissfully unaffected offspring!

So, it is not without some pride (& huge relief) that we managed to get the Maidstone Rugby U14s squad Race Night & Raffle completed successfully on Saturday 22nd February.

We’re lucky that one of the squad parents is the Deputy Head of a local Academy School and provided us with a great venue for our modest endeavour.

A race track marked out in squares on the floor with blue insulating tape; large red & yellow foam dice; and “horses” made of broom handles with cardboard cut out heads – no frills but plenty of thrills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe auctioned the “horses” to determine the owners, and then took bets on the Tote (two club ladies with heads for numbers). Six horses per race – throw both dice – number on red is the horse to move – number on yellow is the number of squares to move – first to the finish is the winner.

The house keeps 30% of the owners pool and 30% of the Tote takings and the rest goes to the winning owner and holders of winning bets.

We also introduced a raffle to bring in additional profit. All prizes were donated so the cost to the club was £2 for two books of raffle tickets.

We sold 1200 tickets to around 130 attendees and took over £500 on the raffle alone. We raised an additional £1,00 on the races – bringing our total to over £1,500 – enough to cover the bulk of the costs of a planned trip for the boys to Gloucester in April to see the local derby match with Bath and get some coaching in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were aware of FRN’s fantastic efforts to promote rugby, and especially local rugby clubs, and so we were in touch with FRN early in our planning.

To our delight they were interested in our efforts and very supportive, even providing some donated raffle prizes – witness the snapshot of our flame haired winner sporting a rather fetching FRN top!

It’s great to be recognised and so we all at Maidstone Rugby thank FRN for helping us make a success of our fundraising night, and for all their efforts in promoting rugby at all levels. Keep up the good work FRN – we’ll be watching!

Finally, a big thank you to all of our various other prize donors, to our organisers and to our guests, without whom the boys’ Gloucester trip could not become a reality.

By: Roger Berry

A Wake Up Call to Coaches: RFU Losing £8M of Funding

sport englandLast January, Sport England, the body which presides over the allocation of public money to sports development in England, announced its plans to invest £493m in grassroots sport over the next four years with the aim of keeping alive the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In accordance with this aim, the funding allocations were redistributed in favour of those sports with a solid, workable plan or a good track record for increasing participation, while those sports which are under-performing in this respect saw their funding cut.

For both codes of rugby, as well as cricket, there was an expected reduction in funding. The failure of all these sports to provide adequate evidence of actual or projected growth in numbers participating made this inevitable.

Despite all three sports being commercially successful at the elite levels, clearly the attraction and retention of players further down the chain is more problematic and my own experience as an age grade coach in rugby bears this out. This tells me one thing – we need to get our act together and start delivering on the RFU’s objectives for player recruitment and retention, before we lose even more funding.

This isn’t going to be easy, especially when the chief competition to both codes of rugby in their core market (little boys who like chasing a ball around and being part of a team) is football, a sport whose funding was increased by 582%. That’s five hundred and eighty-two percent, in case you think it’s a typo.

legacyIt was a stat that threw me into a fury of outrage at the time. “How the hell” I thought, “can they justify that kind of increase in funding to a sport that is already swimming in cash? Why can’t grassroots football development be funded by donations from every Premier League player – God knows most of them wouldn’t miss £5000 a week.” And so on in a similar vein until the initial surge of anger had dissipated.

But that’s irrelevant to rugby. So is the fact that football is the first point of call for most parents wanting a sporting activity for their boys; ditto the fact that in the majority of primary schools, football is the only formally organised sport available to boys.

Football clearly has a massive advantage over rugby in terms of initial recruitment of players, but the fact remains that football’s performance in growing the game justifies its increase in funding, while rugby is being told to pull its socks up.

As the guardians of the game’s future, we have to strive now to justify the same kind of largesse from Sport England in turn. Here at the start of a new season, it’s a time when we should be focusing our minds on this very issue.

So just what can we do to encourage more youngsters to take up rugby first of all, and to ensure those we have stay with us?

The latter are in some ways the easier group in that we get plenty of chance to influence their decisions directly. Here a few basic suggestions for keeping players:

  • Focus on FUN and skills development rather than winning. A winning-is-everything mentality will, over time, drive more players away than it attracts. If you focus on the players learning and enjoying themselves, the results will follow.
  • Treat every player as of equal importance. Whether they are the strongest player or the least talented in your squad. Don’t treat ‘star’ players as special cases. Fairness and consistency are key ways of showing respect to your players; conversely, nothing alienates parents quicker than their child being dealt with unfairly.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have enough players for 2 or 3 teams, consider making these mixed-ability rather than A, B & C etc. Having a really strong team that wins games easily will not teach them anything; by contrast, players in a weak C team who get battered every week will soon lose the will to keep turning out – yet these players could be the stars of your Academy side if you keep them. You also avoid the dilemma about ‘dropping’ players who are out of form if all your teams are playing at the same standard.
  • Foster team spirit. This should be done both on and off the field by getting the players to do social activities together as a whole squad a few times each season: bowling, laserquest, obstacle courses or a simple barbecue are all great ways to do this. Taking them away on tour or a camping trip provides a great bonding experience from which even the youngest players will benefit hugely.
  • Get engaged. Engage with the players’ parents and enlist their support for non-rugby activities like first aid, fundraising, organising tours and festivals.
  • Make sure everything you do satisfies the core values of the game: Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship.

The good news is that the new rules of play now being used across England are tailor-made to assist coaches with player retention. Player involvement is promoted by having smaller teams; fewer and simpler rules mean fewer reasons for refs to blow the whistle so the game keeps flowing.

Tag rugby games at U7 and U8 are literally non-stop action with loads of tries and all players fully involved. From U9 upwards, the complex rules and technical skills are brought in by stages so that the learning curve remains manageable and gives kids real opportunities to develop at a pace that suits them.

We have everything in place to make rugby an attractive option for youngsters and their parents.

Smart, child-centred coaching will deliver the right outcomes. The only ones that should matter in age grade rugby are player recruitment, fun and enjoyment, skills progression and player recruitment. Let’s get it done.