Treat Your Children Well
Opening with congratulations to the National Women’s side for their runners-up medals at the recent World Cup. And belated congratulations to the Men’s 7’s program which finished an unprecedented 6th in last year’s IRB 7’s series. The men’s team also showed well at the recent Commonwealth games and only a red hot home side from Scotland kept Canada from advancing to the final eight and a chance to play for medals and meaningful hardware.
On the other side of the ledger is the performance of Canada’s Senior men’s side who have lost recent tests to Georgia, Japan and the arch-rival US. The manner of defeat somewhat troubling has not only are those sides ranked or were ranked below us but large leads were squandered in a couple of those matches.
All this being said and many talking points that could emerge from any one of these topics, I think I will head in a different direction and say that Rugby Canada is wasting it’s precious resources putting money into any one of these programs and indeed any program in Canada that does not focus on developmental rugby for children.
The long term athlete development model that is currently used across all Olympic sports in Canada, designed to deal with the realities and challenges of athlete development from ages 4 and up.
During the phase of 8-12 year olds, called “the Golden Age of Learning” it is stated that deficiencies in technique can never be completely overcome, if not taught properly and reinforced during this crucial time frame.
In Canada most of our players do not begin playing rugby until their early to mid-teens, exceptions being British Columbia and to some extent Ontario. What this means for our national team development is that our athletes are going to hit a ceiling in terms of their technical ability that leaves them unable to perform at the highest level.
For years with the senior men’s program our team has been defined by fitness, toughness, and defence but not usually attacking flair. The reason may be that our athletes simply can’t do the things that players from countries where they start younger can do.
So how do we take rugby from an after thought sport for teenagers to a first choice sport for children? We all know the problems of geography, weather, lack of a knowledgeable public, and many more. Hockey and soccer are now both year round sports even for young children, basketball and volleyball are becoming that way.
Resources need to be focused on developing programs and by that I mean leagues. Kids want to play games and be a part of a real teams, this idea of having a weekend jamboree where at the end the kids in the red shirts play the kids in the blue shirts is not going to make life long rugby players of our young athletes.
Pouring money into our men’s 15 programs makes little sense. At the senior level we can strive to be a 10th ranked country and occasionally beat the likes of Scotland or Italy but never come close to the top tier nations, like South Africa, England, France, Australia, or New Zealand.
At the age grade levels a late start by most of the athletes from outside BC and Ontario, means that many players are not ready for any sort of international competition and the teams are national in name only. On the women’s side while the sport's success generated some publicity on TSN. However this does not translate into increased numbers or long term success.
Remember that in 1996 Canada was the top sprinting nation in the world on the men’s side, holding both the 100 men’s gold and the 4X100 relay gold. There was no corresponding explosion in Canadian track and field.
The reality is that the Canadian women have finished in the top 4 at four of the last five RWC and more money will not correspond to much of an improvement because there really isn’t very much more room for improvement.
So the money needs to go to the kids!