First published on Running Rugby.
It's certainly great to see the interest in the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) and the impressive gates for the matches so far (I hear that rugby league filled the back page of a Scottish newspaper, moving Celtic and Rangers inside!). There's no doubt that the BBC's extensive coverage is having an impact. Of course, the hope is that this interest is converted into more players and volunteers being attracted to our community clubs.
It's also great to see that the RFL is producing support material and resources for its community clubs and is running workshops to inspire them. Let me declare an interest here: in connection with RLWC I have been commissioned by the RFL to produce a guide to Growing Your Club and a guide to Running a Successful Open Day and I am currently running a series of Grow Your Club workshops for their community clubs.
The RFU have also just announced a major programme to develop a legacy from the World Cup in 2015, which is great.
--- Back in 2003, the Sunday morning after Jonny Wilkinson's drop kick won the rugby union world cup for England I was standing in the club house at Bedford Athletic RUFC where I was a committee member.
The place was buzzing with excitement after the world cup win as the minis and juniors were arriving for their training sessions or matches. In walked a boy with his dad, spotted one of the junior coaches who was pumping up rugby balls and went over to him: "My son would like to join the club, how do we do that?", asked the dad. "How old is he?" asked the coach. "He's 10," was the answer. "I'm the coach for the under 14s and the under 11s are away, so I suggest you go onto our website."
Having overheard the conversation I walked over, introduced myself and made sure the boy and his dad were made to feel really welcome. I certainly saw the boy in the club over the next three years.---
If we want to see a real increase in the number of people coming to our community rugby clubs, whether as players or volunteers, they have to become more welcoming and more visible and play a much stronger role in their local communities. That change has to come from the bottom. The people at the top can inspire and support but the clubs, their committees and members have to develop a culture which embraces change, encourages innovation, provides great experiences and treats everybody who comes to their club as a welcome guest.
Here are some possible steps rugby clubs should consider:
1. 50 per cent of the population is female! If you want to bring back lapsed male players, then the attitude of your club towards their female partners is very important indeed and the cleanliness and general state of facilities plays a very important part.
2. Coaches must understand that players are actually customers who want to enjoy a great experience (fitness and fun are key reasons why young people play sport).
3. Embrace newcomers - walk over, shake their hand, smile and say ‘welcome’ - they will really appreciate it.
4. Engage local schools, colleges, sports academies, housing associations, health boards, community groups, etc and develop shared values where they work with the club to help strengthen each other. Remember: players, volunteers and, ultimately, income is going to come from your community, so don't ignore it. If you have an attitude that you are 'just a rugby club' then you will only attract people interested in rugby (regardless of code). If you are a real community hub then you will see your club attracting people from all walks of life.
E.g. In 2004 Tynemouth Cricket Club was one of those community clubs run by a few overstretched volunteers playing at an old deteriorating facility. A couple of people at the club decided to move it forward. They got an increasing number of parents to volunteer, in specific roles, and slowly but surely the club moved forward. Volunteering was made fun and rewarding! It got funding to deliver cricket coaching in local schools and the club's community reach expanded, bit by bit. It is now much more than 'just a cricket club' working with a wide range of community partners and the number of volunteers and members has exploded. Playing numbers rose from 96 to 238.
5. Whether you have your own facility or not, run sporting and community events to raise your profile and generate income. Ideas? Try Lymm RFC's panto, York Acorn ARLFC's bonfire night, Scarborough RFC's vet festival, Ashford RFC's vet and beer festival, Chorley Panthers ARLFC's masked ball, Melrose's sevens tournament. The list goes on...
Yes, the governing bodies should run initiatives to grow the profile of rugby, but it's down to the people in our many community rugby clubs to innovate, change and make that real difference for their own communities and then see their club grow. Over to you!
Svend Elkjaer is the Founder/Director of the Sports Marketing Network, which trains and supports providers of community sport and physical activity to become more vibrant, visible and viable. SMN's website is www.smnuk.com and Svend can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.