Reflections on the State of USA Rugby
By Doug Coil
Feb 24, 2014
The USA Rugby National Summit, February 21-23, 2014 provided an opportunity to gain a clearer picture of the “State of USA Rugby” with some comparisons to other countries.
Rugby has the second largest number of participants in the world after soccer. The sport has experienced a tremendous amount of growth recently as it will return as an Olympic sport at the Rio 2016 Summer Games. Both the USA Men’s and Women’s National Sevens Teams, as well as other National teams, are preparing for that qualification process through training and international competitions.
The growth of USA Rugby is increasing rapidly at the youth and high school/U20 levels for both boys and girls. This translates into both Colleges and Clubs having more experienced players, as well as cross over athletes. There is attrition in this process, as at each level players leave the sport. As players retire from playing there is hope that many will return as coaches, referees and as administrators.
One of the presentations I attended at the Summit was “Player Development Model Review: A New Zealand and Canadian Perspective by Mike Chu, Rugby Canada Director of Rugby. New Zealand operates as an integrated program where players are tracked through their playing days. The All Blacks and Super Rugby rival coaches meet together a few times a year to discuss players’ development and to transfer individual performance plans. There is a New Zealand way of teaching rugby skills at all levels. This combined with the enculturation of a rugby culture, including the pressure to win, has made New Zealand into a world rugby power.
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Canada and the USA cannot just adopt this model, as they are faced with other challenges. As rugby players progress through various levels of development, they do not have as many high performance opportunities as many Tier 1 nations. Their length of seasons often do not provide enough high level competitive matches. When compared with National level players from other Tier 1 countries, players have half as many caps, and have less professional playing opportunities.
Currently a North American professional league does not exist. This being said, more players are signing contracts in professional leagues in other countries, however, the number of players experiencing this level of play differs significantly with other countries. A rugby culture also needs to be developed focusing on the goal of being a World power, rather than on focusing on Provincial Success. Extensive travel demands and the limited funding available still remain as issues.
USA Rugby also has similarities in comparison to Canada. An increase in both the quality and amount of high level completion is essential. The USA might need to return to having Territorial Select Side Competition similar to the Canadian Rugby Championship. Travel and funding continue to be issues.
The size of both Canada and USA also presents a logistical nightmare of travel, funding, and adequate competition. High performance facilities for both countries now exist at West Coast locations, where the climate provides year round training support. While both countries have Olympic Training facilities at higher altitudes, these facilities could offer future player training benefits periodically if additional funding existed. That is not practical at this time financially.