Winning is an important part of success, but for junior rugby, there are other, possibly more important, factors to consider. These factors include:
Developing Life Skills
Growing the parent base and the coach parent relationship is a key to a successful junior rugby team. It is important that the Junior Rugby Coordinator or coach include the parents in the team and in their children’s rugby as it will improve the parent/coach relationship and may also alleviate the coaches workload.
Organise an evening at the beginning of the season for the parents of players to discuss the season ahead. This could involve a presentation from the coach, or a more informal session. This will enable the coach to gather feedback and create buy-in and assistance from the parents. Make the evening as inviting as possible with finger food and drinks available. Running this type of evening throughout the season could also be advantageous.
Enjoyment is the key ingredient in retaining junior rugby players. There are a number of aspects that need consideration:
- Balanced Teams
We have all seen that if one team in a game is at a higher level the opposition, score lines can blow out. As adults we learn to accept this as a defeat and move on, but research suggests that most kids play sport for fun and getting beaten every week by large margins is not enjoyable.
Rather than having an “A Team” and a “B Team” include a mix of players with different skill levels in each team. This way both teams will be competitive and the juniors enjoy the game more.
- Game Time
To encourage juniors to keep playing rugby regardless of talent or skill, all players need to get consistent game time. As we have stated, winning is important but equally important is making sure that the junior players get time on the field.
Create a policy for your team where there is a minimum time all players must get per game. Depending on team numbers this can be set to suit your team as long as it is a reasonable period and it is at least half a game (as per the Small Black model).
- Teams at every level
Rugby is the game for all New Zealanders and it is vital that clubs have teams at every age group. This gives junior players the opportunity to play within their age grade, and in theory, will make for even competition.
Form teams at every age level. If insufficient numbers are available, look to form a team with another club within the area. Remember at this age it is not about club rivalry, but about the kids.
The other key element in a successful Junior Rugby programme is the development of skill.
- Good Coaching
With good coaching, comes development of player’s skill levels, this is especially important at junior level, as skills develop more rapidly. Coaching has been recognised as a vital ingredient to success at all levels of rugby.
Coaches at junior level need to complete the Small Blacks coaching course, but the more coaching skills they gather and develop, the more the players will develop.
Obviously the quality of coaches at this level is important and it is vital that the right person is selected to coach these teams. Among other aspects, Clubs and Junior Coordinators should consider:
- The coaches background
- Coaches keenness to further his or her own skills
- Coaches ability to relate to the Junior players
- Coaches that strive to win, but more importantly use sport to teach life lessons
- Coaches communication skills and relatability
Look to encourage the “right people” to do the job. Coaches can be scarce, but having the wrong coach for the team can be more harmful than having no coach at all. Create a list of the qualities you are looking for and then look to recruit the right person.
Developing Life Skills
Developing life skills is a key ingredient to a successful season. This can be achieved in the following way:
- Honour the Game
Teach the juniors to honour the rules, officials, teammates, opponents and themselves. This will create life long lessons for these kids on how to act in the world.
Appoint a parent as the gate keeper, making sure that the juniors adhere to the culture that has been established. As a coach, it is also important that you communicate how important it is to honour the game.