Monday, August 18, 2014

More People Playing Better Rugby

The Texas Rugby Union (TRU) held its bi-annual election for Union President last week. Three candidates had their names in the hat: John Anderson of Alamo City RFC, Kirk Tate of the Austin Huns RFC, and Ron Watson of  Ft Worth RFC. On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the TRU announced that Kirk Tate would be the TRU President for the next two years, effective September 1, 2014.

Kirk Tate's involvement in Texas rugby spans more than a quarter of a century. Player, coach, referee, and administrator - if you can name a rugby function, Tate has probably filled it for club and for union. It makes sense that Tate made a successful bid for the TRU Presidency.

This Is Texas Rugby spoke with Tate after his election was announced to discover what's next for the Texas Rugby Union. While there is much to do in the union, Tate's motto for the TRU is five simple words: "More people playing better rugby."

Running a successful club

Tate possesses more than a decade of experience putting this motto into action at the club level. When he started coaching the Huns in 2001, it was a D2 club on the verge of relegation to D3 with difficulties gathering 12 players at practices and matches. Today, the Huns outright own two of the most beautiful pitches, boast more than 100 players registered with USAR, and fields a team in each of the Red River Conference's three divisions. We asked Tate how this club was turned around.

Kirk Tate at Bloodfest 7s 2014
"It's more about retention than recruiting," says the TRU President-Elect, "(The Texas population) is growing like mad and we do not have as many rugby players per capita as we want." When asked to expand on this, Tate listed three items:
1. Quality Practices
2. Change where and how recruiting happens
3. Be more than just a rugby club.

Tate says, "Quality practices are a must if a club wants elite athletes playing rugby. Elite athletes EXPECT challenging practices. Yes, we lost a few players to this, but we gained a lot more who really wanted to play." As far as where and how to recruit, he states, "If you recruit rugby players in bars, you get drunks on the field. When you recruit in the gym, you get dedicated and physically-fit athletes."

Finally, being more than just a rugby club means, "doing things that generate free publicity - i.e., charity work. Bloodfest 7s is paired with a blood drive and we also partner with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. From this, TV & radio stations began to spend time at Bloodfest and Bikes For Kids (during the holiday season). This helped attract the attention of people in the community who admire groups that give back to the community." Tate quoted former Huns President Al Garcia to emphasize the point of charity by rugby clubs, "If the only thing we accomplish with 30-40 guys is playing rugby on Saturday afternoon, then shame on us."

A Vision for the TRU

With this in mind, we asked Kirk how did he envision implementing these club-level lessons across the whole of the TRU. "I have to convince everyone in the TRU that the idea of a union has expanded from the traditional union that organizes competitions, provides referees and structures a discipline committee. That's the union that JUST provides clubs with the basic services needed to play games safely and fairly. An expanded union continues to provide those services, but it must ask itself in everything; Is this something that will result in more people playing better rugby?" In everything that Tate talks about, this mantra resounds. This is a motto Texas ruggers should become accustomed to using.

A key to this is Tate's insistence that the club administrators must be well prepared to run a club properly. He wants the TRU to create a club administrator training that develops admins who are prepared and able to conduct the actions necessary to obtain a quality coach(s) for the club, obtain the necessary services for the club, direct fund-raising efforts, take care of the club's funds and anything else the club needs to keep more people playing better rugby. Part of this is building a knowledge sharing forum between the union's club admins. Regarding this, Tate insists, "We spend too much time and energy protecting our administrative skills the way we protect our lineout calls. We need to get past this and start sharing what works with each other."

Training clinics have become the third rail in the US rugby community. Traditionally, individual clubs have hosted the coaching or referee clinics and USA Rugby has provided instructors. If the club could not attract enough people, then no clinic was held. Tate thinks that TRU can eliminate this risk to the club by hosting these clinics as a union. Tate feels, "Texas needs more coaches with greater technical expertise to improve its rugby. Right now, if a coach wants to gain that expertise, that individual coach pretty much must conduct the improvement process on his or her own. The TRU needs to be more proactive about changing that dynamic. This would mean the TRU appointing an officer to oversee these activities, something which it has the power to do."

Best Practices

Part of Tate's election forum extolled teaching best practices to club administrators. So we asked Tate what three best practices does he think EVERY club should be implementing without fail - Men's or Women's and Senior/College/High School/Age-Grade. This is what he said:
"1. Each club should designate a person(s) who responds to prospective players within 24-48 hours. A number of players at Huns over the years are there because club responded faster than other clubs. When a prospective club member shows up for practice (or otherwise) - have that person(s) responsible for recruiting meet them, learn and know their name, and welcome them to the team. Job one is hospitality
"2. Everybody has to play. Not necessarily a division-level match . If you have extra players, find a way to play a round of 7s or 10s after the main match. Stretch yourself to play that extra game. It may mean scheduling on Fridays or Sundays. It may mean giving your 1st XV a breather so others get a run. But make sure everybody plays every weekend.
"3. Take care of your money. Be consistent about collecting dues, obtaining sponsors, and counting every penny. Some of that is about having a strict "no pay, no play" model. Clubs and unions are heavily reliant on player dues. Ensure club members feel they are getting a Return on Investment."
A Glimpse of the Future

Kirk Tate has a definite and diverse plan for the next two years, so we wanted to know what he thought the TRU would look like in that time. He responded, "The TRU currently boasts 33 member clubs in good standing. I'd like to have 40 clubs in two years. At least 10% of the TRU's revenue stream come from something other than dues. There should be a full-scale Division 4 competition for senior men's. Every division that has a USA National Championship route should have a TRU/RRRC team in each respective quarterfinals and semifinals. Every club should have one administrator that holds a TRU Club Admin Certification. Every club should have one certified referee. Ideally, every cup match will be filmed and there will be qualified medical support at every game. Finally, the TRU should have a quality representative rugby program that generates revenue and increases our numbers through spectator awareness while provide our elite athletes with opportunity to play at the upper level."

Lest we forget, Tate wants more people playing better rugby, too.

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