Harbour looks to evolve youth rugby to help player retention

26 Feb 2021

North Harbour Rugby will be providing a platform for Club Rugby teams to play alongside schools in the newly developed Youth Rugby system in 2021.

The new approach will also see the delaying of open weight Rugby in favour of weight restricted grades for boys and Rip Rugby (non-contact) options at Secondary Schools.

David Gibson, Harbour Rugby’s Chief Executive says there has been a strong case for change for some years now.

“We have seen across the country and in our region, particular with youth males between the ages of 12-15 years of age, a steady decline in participants and teams. We need to look at better ways to meet this generations needs. The changes we are making will hopefully be a shift in a good direction.”

“We are in the process of communicating the changes to Clubs and Schools in preparation for the start of the Rugby season in May” said Gibson.

In 2019 the Union initiated changes in Junior Rugby to increase engagement and improve the Rugby experience for kids. Late in 2020, the Union introduced a new evidence-based model- “The People in Rugby model- Nga Tangata i te Whutuporo”. Which moves away from the traditional participation to performance pyramid and focuses on the needs and motivations of people to engage and stay connected to Rugby.

Bill Wigglesworth who leads Harbour Rugby’s Engagement and Participation Team, reinforced how important the model was in developing a set of tactics to guide their work in the youth space.

“What we found was that youth need to value the experience otherwise they will do other things. The experience needs to be safe and there needs to more to choose from- both in what Rugby offers and how it is delivered. The new approach sees better weight restricted offerings; and more tackle and Rip Rugby options for secondary school aged boys and girls,” said Wigglesworth.

Research also shows another critical contributor to the success of any sport involving youth is that Provincial Unions, Clubs and Schools must collaborate and cooperate better.

Nick Mulvaney, who leads the Unions Community Operations team, and is at the coal face when it comes to dealing with club and school officials, says he believes Harbour has the community who can collaborate positively and change where change is needed.

“We have great people working in the youth space however the system and regulations at times do not promote collaboration between Clubs and Schools. We believe the system needs to evolve to promote more collaboration. If this is supported with good processes that keep the best interests of youth front of mind, we have a belief we can increase engagement and grow participation across the rugby sector,” said Mulvaney.

Sir Graham Henry, All Black coaching great and NZ Rugby life member has been a longstanding advocate for Club and School collaboration, weight restricted Rugby and innovating in order to provide better experiences for youth.

Henry believes provincial unions, schools and clubs must work together better for the next generation of players, coaches, managers, referees, and volunteers.

“The top end professional side of the game, COVID aside, is in good shape. The community game needs more emphasis. We need to listen to what youth want and do not want, innovate, and be prepared to change.

We need to make Rugby more appealing for the vast majority of youth who won’t go on and may not want to go on to be elite athletes. Weight restricted offerings, collaboration between clubs and schools, and different Rugby options are all positive shifts in my view”.

Gibson says he’s had several conversations with “Ted”, his former coach, on topics such as youth rugby and he is willing to lend his support.

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Harbour looks to evolve youth rugby to help player retention
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