North Harbour Rugby will not be sending an Under 13 Team to the Roller Mills Junior Representative Tournament.
Also removed is the current Under 14 Representative Program and the Union administered Junior Club Representative Tournament where Clubs assemble their most competitive Junior teams to play against each other at the end of the regular Junior Club Rugby season.
Harbour Rugby intends to replace these programs with Rugby Development experiences that they are developing with their Club leaders which will be available to all kids.
This year will also see the introduction of a non-contact Rippa grade targeting Boys between 8-13 years of age, and also a Girls Under 15 club and school grade.
These changes may seem dramatic but North Harbours General Manager David Gibson says it has been a 14 month process built around North Harbours Purpose and Strategy.
“Harbour Rugby’s Purpose is Improving Lives, Through Rugby, and when it comes to our community we want to maximise engagement and grow participation through quality experiences. For us this means cultivating a climate of development & fun around our Junior Rugby Programs and putting the kids at the centre of the experience.”
“In relation to Junior Representative Rugby, we have also taken our time to understand what the evidence and research is telling us, not just in Rugby but other sporting sectors- and we are not alone.”
Bill Wigglesworth, who leads Harbour Rugby’s Engagement & Participation Team, reinforced how important the evidence and research was in making these decisions.
“We had to challenge ourselves on whether this was the correct approach, but in the end the evidence was overwhelming. When you put the children at the centre of any sporting experience they want to have fun, play with their mates, learn new skills and be supported”.
“What we also know is that Rugby is a late specialisation sport and introducing Performance & Representative Programs too early can create behaviours that discourage participation in kids and have a negative impact on their overall development both physically and emotionally”.
Simon Walters (PhD), Senior Lecturer and Head of Coaching at AUT supports this message, “The evidence here in NZ and worldwide clearly shows that an overriding focus on winning at an early age has a number of costs. These include negative adult led behaviour, closing the door on late developers and late maturers; kids not developing the all-round skills they will need later if they stay with the sport- getting the biggest, strongest kid to run straight and hard, what happens when he is not the biggest and strongest?; greater rates of overuse injuries; burnout; and ultimately dropout.”
But Wigglesworth is also quick to say “This is not saying performance or representative programs are negative either, New Zealand is world leading from a Rugby perspective and many other Sports. This is about adjusting our current system and introducing a Talent Development Program at a more appropriate age and stage”.
Harbour feels that these shifts also line up with NZ Rugby’s Talent Identification philosophies being wider earlier, encouraging multi skilled athletes and a measured approach to progress.
Although there has been some “heavy lifting” over the past year by Union staff to understand and talk with people in the region and other National Sports Organisations, Gibson says they have been helped along the way by NZ Rugby and an amazing group of Junior Rugby leaders in the community.
“We cannot speak highly enough about our Junior Rugby leaders, they have been unreal and we appreciate all they are doing- especially when it comes to the changes at club land”
He does however anticipate that there may be some tension around the removal of the Representative Rugby for the kids, and although it was more of a Union led decision, the reasons why were exactly the same.
“We accept that this will not be seen by everyone as positive, and that’s ok, as we just hope people will take the time to consider the drivers behind the changes and the overall experience we want to continue to grow in our community, which includes the introduction of the new grades and the Rugby Development opportunities. We want to make Rugby an even more enjoyable experience for the kids- which is the most important part of all of this for us”
“The more kids that play, the more they have fun, the longer they will stay in the game”.
Please click on the following links for more information;
• http://newsportfuture.com/junior-sport-rep-teams/ Blog Post by Wayne Goldsmith (post on New Sport - The future of Sport)
• Sport NZ, Community Sport Northern Region Rugby (May 2018)