Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teams Wins on the Field, Clubs Win in the Community

DARC supporting Youth rugby at their indoor practice facility.
By Gordon Hanlon, President at DARC

Narcis de Carreras was elected president of Futbol Club Barcelona on January 17th 1968. During his acceptance speech he stated, “Barcelona is something more than a club”.

That simple quote grew to something more powerful than De Carreras could have ever imagined. It became the ideology that Barcelona is more than a club - the symbol of Catalan Culture. It represents the idea of freedom; freedom to choose what the members want, democracy instead of Franco´s rule. FC Barcelona is owned and run by its supporters. The members are members because it has less to with the game and more about being part of the club´s collective identity.

How does this relate to rugby in the USA? The number of people playing rugby here is at an all-time high. New teams are created on a monthly basis. However, others disband just as quickly. Why does this occur?

Teams are failing for a number of reasons: turnover of players, players aging, the club is unable to find younger replacements, or established players leave due to the importation of foreign players - who are here for 6 months and then return home. When teams lose, the desire, drive, and passion of the individuals involved evaporates.

As the title states, a team must win on the pitch in order to be successful. A club must win the hearts and minds of a community to do the same.

What is a rugby club though? It is a sustainable, collective idea, fully entrenched in and supported by a community. It is every club member buying into something more, something bigger than just fifteen athletes playing rugby on a Saturday.

DARC's 2014 Representative
Rugby Players
Growing up in Ireland, Malahide Rugby Football Club was a solid example of Irish Rugby club culture. Reformed in 1978 after disbanding in WW2, they bought their first field in 1989, moved to a new facility in 2006, and built their state-of-the-art clubhouse in 2010. Malahide club members with help from the community funded every improvement. The local Malahide population of 15,000 rallied behind the rugby club. Why? Because Malahide did not set out to be a winning team, they set out to be the best club for their community.

Malahide has worked with the local schools, put on events such as Santa Claus visiting the kids, hosted mini rugby sessions, and constantly fund-raising for the community. They established a Cleat Exchange program so young ruggers may trade in their cleats as they outgrow those. Malahide, in turn, donates the cleats to a younger kid who needs them. The club is a positive force for people to rally behind.

This is what happens when a club becomes successful in the right way – the neighbourly way. As the community rallies behind this success, the club acquires new players, new sponsors, shows exponential growth, the opportunity to develop fields, and a clubhouse presents itself. A club´s success will not happen overnight, though. Such success takes a lot of time.

Malahide started with just a mens team. Now they cater Under-5’s all the way up to their Senior 1st XV.

In 1979, FC Barcelona converted the La Masia dormitories into a youth facility. Ten years later, Josep Guardiola was the first major player developed from the academy. He later returned to coach Barcelona to become one of the most successful teams in the history of soccer. Leveraging short term success for sustainability is the key and Rugby needs to improve on sustainability.

There are some great things going in American rugby at the moment. “Try on Rugby” is a phenomenal program that promotes girls rugby and encourages women to get involved. It introduces sustainable rugby programs into schools. Try on rugby provides starter rugby kits for young girls and supports pathways for women into coaching, refereeing and administrating. The program offers grants for community organisations starting rugby programs and also rewards existing programs for voluntary work. This example of doing things the right way grows the game in a positive manner.

DARC's 2014/2015 Player Manual
“Play Rugby USA” performs in a similar manner. What began as an idea of using rugby to teach positive life skills grew into something truly spectacular. In New York, PRUSA caters to 4500 kids. The organization runs two sports leadership academies, one talent development academy, three community clubs, the Play Rugby USA academy, and over 100 partner sites through its “Rugby for Good Program”.

Rugby has a tough image here in the USA. Changing that should be a focus of everyone involved in the sport. Holding ourselves to higher standards should be the norm, not the exception.

On a more local level, “The Dallas Cup” has been hugely successful in its first season. It offered local clubs the chance to play social rugby with an emphasis on development. It gave first year teams and social clubs the opportunity to play games which otherwise would not be scheduled. It gave newly qualified referees experience at the men’s club level and new players the chance to play in a pressure free environment. The finals are March 21st and the hope is to grow the Dallas Cup to 10 teams next season.

All of these programs set out to grow the game and that is what we as rugby players need to do. When we focus on giving back to the community through Rugby and not just starting teams, then the wide-spread growth of clubs will occur, both at a local and national level. When what we stand for is an idea that rallies the entire community together, then results on the field becomes a by-product of our overall success. Clubs take root within the community, teams do not. Teams have to win be successful, clubs do not.
Dallas Athletic Rugby Club over the years...

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