Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Rugby Diaries: Bottoms Up

What has ten heads and can't stay on the field? The Division IV teams from the Buckeye State. Okay, so that wasn't the best joke in the world but by looking at how the fourth division has operated this year that's what some might call this season: a joke. Between the Ohio-based teams throughout the lowest division in the land, there have been 24 matches this season and 11 forfeits conceded. For those who are bad with numbers, that's nearly half of the matches played  being forfeited. That is ridiculous and is a detriment to the development of the sport throughout the state.

*Weak clubs like these hurt the development of players in the state. Weak clubs and consistently cancelled matches don't allow new and developing players to get the in-game experience they need in order to improve their skills and form a feel for the game. More importantly, it is a detriment to their development of a love for the game. Players will go through hell two or three times a week, while making personal and professional sacrifices, if they are able to play in the mud on Saturdays and get dirty with their friends. If there is no payoff at the end of all that sweating and training, there are fewer reasons for players to stick with a club. If people want fitness they can do CrossFit or crank the Pitbull and do Zumba. If guys just want to hang out, there's fantasy football and trivia night at bars. Rugby is meant to be a unique combination of competition and camaraderie. Both need to be present in equal parts for the formula to work.

Weak rugby teams also hurt development of the sport as a whole. When all people are exposed to or hear about is their team that can't field a side for home matches, they assume all teams are like that; and no one wants to be associated with an unorganized team that can't field a side on their home turf. Potential players see that and are turned off, as are potential supporters, fans and investors. That kind of bad publicity spreads like wildfire and is not easily erased. Considering the fact that clubs go through lean times in certain years, this kind of bad publicity can mean the demise of what could be - at the very least - a halfway decent team.

Building and maintaining a team is not easy. That is a given. There are ways to ensure that a club can field the best product possible for that weekend and play assigned matches. Whether it's recruiting more players or different types of players, or combining forces with another struggling side to form a stronger circle of players, there are ways to reinforce rugby in Division IV.

*NOTE: I get it. For one reason or another numbers can be tough to come by. Some teams just don't travel well. Things happen - work comes up, there are family emergencies, guys let their fiancees schedule weddings during rugby season, etc. These are struggles that can affect any team but a weal team will let this get in the way consistently, forfeit home matches and, when these forfeits are unavoidable, do not give opponents advanced notice. That is what separates any team from a weak team.

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