THE SRU’s Rugby Development department has announced seven initiatives it will undertake in the coming months as part of its plan to provide more support to clubs. It has also drafted a strategic plan for the domestic game, titled The Way Ahead 2019-23, which is designed to address key issues such as player recruitment and retention.
Sheila Begbie, the head of Rugby Development, has already presided over a restructuring of the department since it changed its name from Domestic Rugby last September.
Outlining the initiatives at a Murrayfield press conference on Wednesday, she praised the work that is currently being done at club level by volunteers, and insisted that the changes would help improve relations between clubs and the governing body’s headquarters.
“For us it’s about really trying to change the culture in the game,” Begbie said. “The work is fantastic that our clubs are doing. The work and the time commitment that some of our volunteers put into our clubs is huge.
“So we want to change the culture. We want to work very closely with our clubs to take the game forward, so we’re looking at moving the agenda from ‘us and them’ – because the first time I was going out to meetings it was all about ‘that lot at BT Murrayfield’ – to ‘we and together’. We want to work about how together we can make a difference.”
The initiatives are –
1 Summer roadshow to the Highlands and Islands. Thirty people will be part of the roadshow, visiting 22 clubs in the region from 5-8 June and running activities such as master classes, coach development and Tartan Touch tournaments. SRU President Dee Bradbury will be among the officials taking part.
“We want to do a summer roadshow on an annual basis,” Begbie said. “This is about us going to some of our more rural areas, saying ‘thank you’ to the clubs, and recognising the work that our clubs are doing.”
2 Iceland development visit. Next month 13 people will visit the country – population under 350,000 – in order to analyse its success in getting its women’s and men’s football teams into the finals of major tournaments. As a nation that punches above its weight, albeit in a different sport, Iceland could be a significant example for Scotland to emulate.
“Iceland does have a lot of indoor halls, but the clubs that we’re going to don’t have them. They have outdoor pitches and function throughout the season.”
3 Review of the structure of the male season, with the aim of implementing any change for 2021-22. Eight meetings with clubs planned for May and June, the aim being to see if there is a consensus for a different calendar.
“We have absolutely no agenda for what it is. We’re going out in listening mode and asking what it is that the clubs want.
“I think there will be some tough love in the room. It will be the clubs’ decision as to what they want, but we have to try and make things better. We want to involve players and coaches in the discussion as well.”
4 Girls’ youth age-banding change. Instead of playing in under-12, -15 and -18 age groups, girls will henceforth play under-12, -14, -16 and -18. The aim is to have fewer mismatches within games.
5 Tartan Touch. An indoor winter series will be trialled in the Caledonia and Midlands region to see if there is a demand for the format outwith its usual summer slot.
6 Pathway reviews. Analysis of how players continue in the game or drop out, with the aim of improving retention numbers.
7 Schools Conference roadshow, which will ask schools and clubs how they think conferences are going at present. A review of the Conference structure to follow next year, and Begbie is hopeful that there is scope for greater co-operation between schools and clubs to ensure that the best teams are playing against each other more often.
The Way Ahead plan, Begbie explained, attempts to answer a question that is critical for the health of the sport: “How do we deliver a game that’s for life? How do we keep our players playing longer? That’s a bit of a challenge for us, so it’s about working with clubs to look at how we do that. It’s about individuals in rugby communities feeling valued.”
Key aspects of the plan include:
- A transition programme for 18-to-20-year-olds, where the drop-out rate is particularly high. Focus on liaison between clubs and universities when young players move on from one to the other.
- Walking rugby and other formats designed to keep people playing the game for longer.
- Focus on volunteers and how best to support them. “If we’ve not got a good volunteer base at a club, that impacts on everything we’re doing within the club”.
- Consultation on minimum standards. “Do we say, in the next couple of years, that to coach in the game you must have a qualification?”
- A ‘leadership academy’ that plans to support younger club volunteers.
- National marketing strategy. “How do we make the grassroots game much more visible than it is?”
- Student interns at clubs and support for colleges and universities.
While the restructuring of the game and the summer initiatives are all related to the SRU’s Agenda 3 programme, Begbie made it clear that her department would on the whole leave Super 6 to the High Performance department. “I want Super 6 to be successful. I want the attention of my department to focus on what we are going to do for the rest of the game. How are we going to make it successful and vibrant?
“We [the Rugby Development department] will be involved in providing match officials for Super 6 games, registering players, and some of the regulations. But Super 6 will be delivered through High Performance. I really want to focus on the bigger part of the game.”