Case Study: Media U13 Inaugural Season
This past year Media did a great job in starting a U13 team in the EPRU. Not only did they field a very competitive team but the club was well organized and they had great numbers; all in a start up team. Larry Elias, the Youth Program Coordinator of Media R.F.C., was asked to provide an article on how they accomplished this to enlighten the EPRU community about youth rugby programs. Perhaps some folks out there are considering a youth program and this may incent them to move forward. Elias' case study is shown below.
Youth Rugby Club Start-up: Case Study of Media Youth R.F.C. (Inaugural Season Spring 2012)
I played rugby first at the college club level, then at the men's club level for several years after college. I have been very involved in our local youth baseball program, and as my child got to the age where he showed real interest in rugby (based on my introduction of the sport to him, and exposing it to him), I started looking for local or regional youth programs. My son really got excited about the possibility of playing rugby when he and I attended the College Sevens Championships in the spring of 2011. Not only did we learn that there was youth playing rugby in the regional union (in our case the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union), attending that tournament showed my son that there were actually boys his age playing rugby!
The next thing I did was look to the local rugby club in our neighborhood, Media R.F.C. Media did not have a youth program as of 2011, but were very receptive to the idea of bringing in a youth program to their club. Although in retrospect I don’t think the existence of a parent club is essential to successfully starting a youth rugby program, affiliating with a parent club was a big key to our early successes of our program. For one, we didn’t have to start from scratch with incorporating a club, gaining insurance, and the like. Also, since our club had a long-time existing program for high school boys who also played in the spring, we had an immediate location for practicing, at least in the initial stages. So after we made the introductions with the parent club, we really just had to concentrate on marketing the program to boys and families in our greater community. The parent club also helped me get in contact with the regional union, who were also very happy to help me with anything they could to start the program. The youth rugby structure in the US is well structured, and there is great help at the local union and clubs. Really all you have to do is ask! Look for all the help and take help from anyone who offers! I have found that the adults involved and interested in rugby and interested and willing to help advance youth rugby. You are not alone!
Marketing / Recruiting Players
Our rugby union had youths playing in U13 and U15 age brackets in the tackle, union style, which is what we were looking for. My son was turning 12 in March 2012, so I focused on just putting together a U13 team. Our next step was to see if we could find a full team to compete in the spring of 2012. Toward the end of the fall youth football season, I made contact with the football programs with regard to our new rugby program. Several of those programs sent out broadcast emails and in some cases, posted our info on their web sites. The youth soccer programs in our area were less receptive because they have started to play a lot of soccer in the spring, but I recommend making contact with any youth programs in your area of draw. Using the broadest brush will get you the best exposure and result in more players. As the fall progressed I sent announcements to the school districts in the area. The districts and private schools were generally receptive in making our new program known within the age group we were targeting. Bear in mind different districts and schools may have different ways of communicating to the students and parents, so you may have to be flexible, sometimes printing many flyers, delivering them, sometimes just sending a .pdf file to the secretary. If you are drawing from only a few schools, I think the most effective way to market would be to get the athletic director allow a demonstration/clinic during gym classes. You can get plenty of help with this from USA Rugby. We also created a Facebook page which turns out to be the main point of communication with our youth program. In addition, I joined the local rugby club pages and promoted our program, asked anyone who would listen to help spread the word. Our introductory meeting was scheduled for early January. When the meeting came around we had 11 boys show up with their parents. Many of the parents wanted to help (I formed my whole coaching staff that night). Based on emails I had received I knew that night that we had the magic number of 15 boys I was hoping for. Bear in mind that the youth program rules allow lesser quantities of players for league matches, so don’t stress out too much about the numbers…they will grow as the kids start practicing & playing.
I knew that it would be very time consuming for me to handle all of the first-year administration of the club and coach. Because I had not coached rugby before, I looked for help in that department. I was fortunate to have a great head coach who was dedicated to teaching rugby the correct way, and a very enthusiastic group of assistant coaches and parents always willing to help. I still handled most of the club administration which proved to be very time consuming, but at least the coaching burden was lifted. As with all youth sports, you will want to make sure all of your coaches and administrators have official child abuse clearance documentation provided to you prior to youth interaction. This is similar to what most youth clubs require and forms can be easily found on line.
Registration / Paperwork
One thing I learned the hard way is that youth contact sports programs require significant paperwork. I always seemed to be asking my parents for a new form to be filled out every week for the first month! The best thing to do is get advice from other programs on what they use and try to have one package that gets filled out all at once. Here are forms to consider:
• USA Rugby Registration for the club, all players and coaches (can be done online at www.usarugby.org)
• Club Registration form with all contact info, dues payment, and signed Coaches Code of Conduct forms (forms online at www.epru.org)
• Waiver of liability form for your club
• Consent to treat form
• Consent for minor photos to be used by the club (so they can be posted on Facebook or web sites)
• Uniform/gear forms
Budget / Dues
With regard to setting team dues, coordinate with other clubs in your union to see what they charge, put a budget together of what you will need for start-up, and go from there. Generally I had a required item list which basically consisted of uniforms and necessary equipment like balls, and went from there. I also had my players register on their own with USA Rugby, which made my life easier and got them engaged in the process, and also served to give them a sense of the national organization effort with regard to registration and insurance. It became obvious early on that we would need sponsorship, so my plan was to ask each parent to bring in one or more sponsor. As it ended out, we got a good amount of sponsorships, but they were brought in by about 30% of the parents…probably normal. One additional source of revenue was a small, simple snack bar that was run by a couple of mothers who started a booster club. It was great to have the snack bar, plus the money generated paid for our referee fees all season.
Practices & Matches
Because of the mild winter, we started training and introducing the boys to rugby in January, a week after our first meeting. The best part about this is that as we started training and encouraging the boys to spread the word, we quickly increased our numbers. By the time our season started we had over 30 boys registered! The best part of rugby is that it is so fun, it sells itself. Simple exposure is enough to grow your numbers.
As the summer draws to a close, the most important advance we are making with our youth rugby program is changing the administration structure of the club. Instead of me being the sole administrator, we have distributed the effort. We have formed an executive committee consisting of the following officers:
• Match Secretary / Public Relations
• Booster Club Charity
We also will be expanding our program to include a U15 team next season, so we will double our recruiting efforts this season. Just about every one of our players tell me they are bringing a new friend who wants to play, so based on that we should be good!
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com with any questions and good luck with your program!