Five Alive: Clubs get creative to keep their kids in rugby

Wed, Apr 26, 2023, 11:05 PM
Gerard McLenaghan
by Gerard McLenaghan
Players from the new composite team
Players from the new composite team

With junior participation numbers still feeling the effect of cancelled COVID seasons, a handful of clubs have banded together to ensure a generation of players aren’t lost to the game.

This season, players from five clubs – Eltham, Box Hill, Maroondah, Northern and Shepparton, will be forming composite teams in an effort to ensure our next wave of junior rugby stars aren’t lost to other codes.

The composite teams will be created for the u12s, u13s and u14s age groups and is the brainchild of Eltham Co-Coordinator of Pathways & Juniors, Tor Hansen.

“Player recruitment and retention has long been a big challenge for Junior Rugby in Victoria, especially in the wake of COVID lockdowns,” explains Hansen.

“Many clubs in our region, Eltham included, were approaching the start of Season 2023 with too few players to field viable teams, across several age levels.

“When Eltham made it clear that we are open to welcoming parents and families from other clubs into composite teams – and ready to do the legwork to make it happen – we received approaches from multiple clubs in our region.”

The Team

The decision does not come without its challenges though. Corralling players and parents from five distinct clubs and a wide geographical base is nothing short of a logistical nightmare.

“Of course, there is a load of admin in forming teams, and communicating with families and stakeholders – which takes on some additional complexity with multiple clubs, training grounds, coaching teams and so forth,” says Hansen.

“But all club Junior Coordinators have taken the challenge in stride, and we have received strong support from Rugby Victoria in this initiative.

“There has been a huge amount of positivity and goodwill in action. Rather than challenges, we see outstanding opportunities – to make use of a wealth of coaching talent, to harness pooled resources such as training grounds, and most importantly to enable our young players to stay in the game.”

So far, the initiative has been well received by the teams. With less than a week to coordinate the first combined training session, families and players from Shepparton drove over 2½ hours to convene at Box Hill and ensure there was some familiarity between players.

“The most enjoyable aspect for me is that there’s more people on the team than we had last year, meaning I won't have to worry if we have enough players to play a game of rugby,” says Shepparton junior Billy Schrader.

“I think everyone has been very welcoming and nice to each other and it has been surprisingly easy integrating into one team.”

Hansen explains the process of forging a composite team also requires plenty of ‘out-of-the-box thinking.

“We are making extensive use of technology to bring clubs and players together, from instant messaging apps for centralising communications, to video conferencing and file sharing platforms so that coaches can share and align their training sessions,” states Hansen.

“We are also constantly mindful to respect each club’s proud identity and vision for the future. All players remain registered with their own clubs, and will retain their own socks and shorts on match day. We run training on several different footings to meet clubs’ needs – ranging from combined sessions, to shared planning used in separate locations.”

It’s a selfless initiative from clubs with their own proud traditions, but amidst the compromises is an underlying desire to put the children and the code of rugby first.

“One of the most incredible features of this initiative has been the outpouring of support and generosity which we have seen from clubs and families,” states Hansen.

“Sponsors have almost immediately stepped up to assist with transport costs, clubs have begun to make plans for fundraising to meet other expenses, and Junior Coordinators are sharing their time and valued experience every day.

“Rugby in Victoria – here in the heart of AFL country – is driven by passion, dedication and a deep commitment to community building.

“Our army of volunteers comes from all over the world. Looking ahead to Australia’s Golden Decade of Rugby, we are pitching in to keep our future stars engaged in the game we all love.”

Hear, hear.


Latest News