At the same time, USAR plans to build a groundswell for the sport among youth players, sponsoring a number of flag and rookie rugby leagues. Teaching kids how to play rugby, along with efforts to educate coaches and train referees, will play a major role in this initiative.
This will also include education aimed at demonstrating that rugby emphasizes safe tackling techniques and has a much lower concussion rate than traditional sports such as hockey and football. Ultimately, USAR envisions the day when every youth player has their own rugby ball and can participate in games as easily as many children do with the games of football, basketball and baseball.
At the high-school level, more non-traditional sports are emerging as many schools try to broaden opportunities for participation by students seeking to build their resumes for college applications.
Another source for high school rugby growth is its seasonality. Rugby is played during the US’s spring season and provides a potentially valuable off-season alternative for high school football or soccer players. High school football and soccer, in the northern US, is typically played in the fall.
In addition, in the US, rugby has established a strong base in club programs at many US colleges. In 2011, more than 900 men’s and women’s college rugby teams were active in the US, playing at a broad range of competitive levels. Another 32 colleges sponsored full varsity rugby teams – 19 men’s programs and 21 women’s programs. Ultimately, USAR aims to convince more schools to offer rugby scholarships, particularly as a women’s sport to provide greater Title IX opportunities.
At the same time, USAR is building rugby at the amateur level. USAR will also be seeking to further establish its professional league and national team Leveraging Major League Rugby’s (MLR) increasingly popularity and the success of the men’s and women’s national teams, particularly in Rugby Sevens.
Adds Mark Griffin, helping people participate in rugby as participants as well as coaches and supporters for the children will help us build our fan base. “Then it will be up to us to create initiatives that provide the stickiness that’s necessary to keep them engaged.”