The Rugby Diaries

The Rugby Diaries

Over ten years in rugby give a guy a lot of time to think, to observe the world around him and notice a few things. These entries are intended to be a glimpse into the inquisitive, ambitious and more - often than not - wandering parts of my mind; and show you some of my more coherent thoughts, opinions and ideas as they pertain to my life and experiences through the lens of rugby. These are my personal opinions and ideas. Some of these are loosely backed up by facts, but for the most part they are what I've seen, what I think and what I suggest to fix whatever problems there may be.

So, without further ado, welcome to the Rugby Diaries.

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.

The Rugby Diaries: It's the Thought That Counts

Everyone wants success. However they define it or categorize it, the bottom line is that everyone wants to achieve success. For one team it could mean achieving a winning season. For another it could be stepping up to the next level and moving up a division or raising enough money to have a permanent field and clubhouse for the team. Visualizing the goal is only the first step, though. The next step is planning, thinking about how to go about achieving that success. The key to remember is that different goals require different plans and pursuit angles; and thus they require different ways of thinking about these goals. So, in this case, not only does the thought count but  the kind of thought counts just as much.

If a team's goals are competition-based, addressing issues concerning those types of goals would be different than the issues concerning surrounding goals based in a goal like increasing participation. Both goals would affect the team differently and have elements that interact in a different manner, so strategies used in association with those goals would have to be different as well.

One way goals and pursuits can differ is whether or not they are concrete or abstract in nature. Abstract concepts could require more complex plans that don't necessarily take a direct path to the end, while concrete goals might have more set and direct path to the desired end result. Look at it this way. A team that wants to see an overall increase in participation numbers elements of recruitment, advertisement and public awareness, retention efforts, practices, the number and quality of B side matches, the overall social climate of the team as well as a host of other elements. A team that has a goal of acquiring a permanent home has to set out and achieve fundraising and logistic goals. Aside from complications in the acquisition of land and property, there likely aren't too many intricacies to work around.

The importance of thought doesn't start and end with finite goals. Keeping thought present and fresh in the minds of club members can positively affect and even change the direction and image of a club. Applying business or marketing strategies can go a long way towards building a team's ranks by using unconventional means to find help from atypical places. Putting a public relations lens on general operations of a club can help rehab a team's image in the public eye, which will make people more apt to support the club in the future. Running a club that will be successful and lasting requires a thought process and an approach that goes beyond thinking one weekend at a time.

Just generally thinking out of the box can benefit a club and help them offer services to players and fans that others do not, and these extra offerings can make a club more popular in the eyes of competitors and spectators a like. An easy way to do this is to pass on or create employment opportunities for players. This would be useful for incoming college players or players new to the area, because if someone is unemployed they certainly can't play rugby. Those who are involved in fields that could be of use to players have a unique opportunity to help be of benefit to their club in a big way as well. For example, if a person involved with a club is in the field of personal training, physical therapy or something dealing with the health and rehabilitation of the body, he or she has a unique opportunity to add those services to the team's slate of offerings. Most clubs would kill to have a legitimate trainer on the sidelines, let alone someone to sooth their tired and aching bodies in the aftermath.

Clubs also think of how they can be attractive to potential players and coaches. Thinking of how to make a club of use to people who will likely never play a minutes in their lives is an approach worth exploring. For example, a club could reach out to schools in the area with journalism programs. By offering students a chance to sharpen their skills by covering matches and interviewing people, it allows an entirely new set of eyes to be placed on the club and, depending upon how established the journalism program is, give the team a whole new level of exposure. The charity angle is always good too. If done properly, there's nothing bad that can come from playing charity matches for a cause or taking donations at an event just for the sake of doing something good.

Whether a team is looking to run a better club or run their club better, it's the thought that counts; and if your way of thinking isn't working it's never a bad idea to change up your way of thinking. That new approach could lead a team down the path to greatness and take the organization to never before seen heights.

The Rugby Diaries - What I Learned Out on the Road:

With rugby being one of the most popular sports in the world and one that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds throughout the United States, it stands to reason that facing competition will require travel. Whether it's traveling across the country for a run at Nationals, across the region or just across town, travel is a part of competition. How a team travels is almost as important as how a team plays. It is not a task to be undertaken lightly, and here's some advice on what to consider when preparing to travel.

WHO are you going to travel with?

It's really easy to be friends with people when you see them during practices, matches and socials. It becomes an entirely different story when you are trapped with them in a vehicle for an extended amount of time. That's when their slightly annoying ticks become extremely irritating and few things throw a player off their game mentally quite like a driver that makes every trip to the pitch a life-and-death scenario or one that plays the same five songs on an eight-hour trip. Neither of those are good scenarios.

Pro Tip: Find someone with a huge SUV. The potential for interesting conversations are greatly increased in that scenario; and if you can't find someone to get along with in an eight-person vehicle find a ball or a pillow, get comfy and sleep the drive away. Remember, if you are riding shotgun you MAY NOT fall asleep as you are the navigator and car DJ; and if you do fall asleep you leave yourself open to being the victim of pranks and funny Snapchats.

WHAT are you traveling with?
A rugby road trip doesn't run on hopes and dreams. It requires preparation. Serious thought has to go into what gets brought on board in order to maximize utility and space. For travel that doesn't require an overnight stay, the idea is simple: Have ball. Will travel. Bring the essentials for the matches - this includes water, because someone ALWAYS forgets to bring the water. For more extended travel, it gets a little more difficult.

  • Toilet Paper - When traveling great distances, especially through back country roads or in between states, toilet paper is a must on any trip. Having to use a disgusting roadside bathroom with no other option is scary enough. The only thing scarier is facing said bathroom without the material necessary to properly clean the area or one's self once the deed is done. Nobody wants those problems.
  • Snacks - During a lengthy trip, people will get hungry and stopping for food won't seem like a very good proposition. That's where snacks come into play. The main thing to consider when packing snacks is how gas-inducing they could be. No one wants to be trapped in a gas chamber for two hundred miles. It's not a good way to live. Other than that snacks are up to the discretion of the driver or the buyer. Remember, sharing is caring.
  • Electronics - On those extended trips entertainment is often needed. Whether it's that one guy playing on his phone in the back of the car that lights up the entire vehicle at night or a jerry-rigged Playstation 2 and TV in a rented mini van, electronics are necessary on road trips. Two things to consider, though: be considerate and be prepared. If people are trying to sleep in the car, it might be time to either dim the screen on your device or put it down all together. Twitter followers can wait. Also, electronics won't run forever. Keep track of the battery left on your device, and make sure you have the cords - and have them readily available - necessary to recharge said device. No one like to have their phone die mid text, and no driver like to look into the rear view mirror only to see a butt crack staring back at them.
  • The Essentials - Everybody has that teammate with so many bags that there is barely enough room for anything else - and that's just for an overnight trip.  First off, don't be that guy. Just don't Take what's need and conserve space. Also, don't be so caught up in bringing your going out clothes that you forget what's really important - your kit.
    Pro Tip: Get your Halloween costumes early.
WHERE are you traveling?Life is about the journey, not the destination. A road trip is mostly about the destination. The destination dictates everything else - the vehicle, the traveling companions, what gets packed, etc. Also remember, especially if the destination is in the Midwest, rugby weather is unpredictable. If the weather forecast calls for 72-and-sunny, pack for a blizzard. It happens.

Pro Tip: Always keep gear for extreme cold and extreme heat on hand. It will probably come in handy more frequently than expected.

WHEN are you traveling?
Rugby time. The struggle is real. For those scheduling departure times, take into account how RT affects your squad. If they are always 30 minutes behind, move the arrival time up. For the players convening, get it together, get an alarm clock and get where you need to be. Nobody likes to wait for that one player whose "alarm clock didn't go off" or "isn't a morning person."

Pro Tip: Become a morning person or find a traveling buddy that can help you be a responsible adult human being.

WHY are you traveling?
The reason for travel is extremely important to consider prior to scheduling a trip. The travel has to be worth the destination, for one reason or another. If the trip is more for a team vacation and social time than competition, then take that into account and make that clear to everyone. If the goal for the trip is to prepare for an upcoming season or to achieve success on the field, that also needs to be considered and and made clear to fellow travelers. The reason for this is not everyone wants to travel across the majority of the country to play a match or two and have a few over-priced drinks. On the other hand, there are those in the rugby community that like to use their time off from serious competition to enjoy themselves and let their bodies heal - perhaps while destroying their respective livers. Knowing exactly why a team is traveling can benefit the group financially as well. A good but expensive tournament might not be worth the cost if there is a closer competition that offers similar benefits at a better price.

Pro Tip: Shop around a little. There's no shortage of competitions out there. One only has to look and find the one that best suits the needs of his or her team.

Essentially, travel is necessary so it is important to do it right. Not everybody is going to be happy, but considering the team's needs will ensure that the maximum benefit is gained by all. Whether traveling for fun or for glory, make sure your team stands out and makes a statement; and if all else fails have a theme, because others may think you all look silly but nothing bonds people like doing something dumb and enjoying some smiles together.

The Rugby Diaries - Rugby All-Star Events
Most popular sports in America have some kind of showcase event. Ice hockey has its skills and drills events alongside its all-star game. Basketball has the same, along with the occasional fashion show. Football has the Pro Bowl. The list goes on. If rugby is to be the next big thing like most predict and hope it will be, why hasn't there been a push to establish a showcase like this for the sport? Naturally, the differing schedules around the nation make getting the best from a national pool difficult, but having regional representative events - or even statewide events - could easily be done.

To put on an event like this wouldn't be difficult and the results would be very beneficial.

Naturally, for an event like this a venue would be required big enough to house all the competitions of the day as well as the crowd that would gather, while providing areas for shelter, swag, food, drinks and other amenities. An event like this would also require some sort of prize for the potential participants - trophies are always nice, but money works better.

The all-star attractions for other sports have different events that run throughout the day that highlight elements of the sport in an entertaining way. There's the three-point contest, the trick shot and other skills competitions like that. Having events like this for a rugby-centered all-star event wouldn't be difficult to do either.

  • There could be one-on-one challenges. Imagine, two players putting their best Quade Cooper sidesteps on an opponent in the hopes of getting the better of them and embarrassing them in front of a gathered crowd.
  • There could be a goal kicking competition in the vein of the three-point contest. Kickers would attempt kicks from differing angles and distances on the field. The positions would be set in an arc around the goal posts at differing distances depending if there are adults, collegiate or high school players competing. Each position could have a few balls set so the kickers could have a few attempts.
  • A kicking and passing skills competition could be run in a relay style with each person having to complete different tasks in a timed event. For example, kicking a ball into a garbage can could be one event, while hitting targets with passes could be a part of the competition.
  • Forwards could compete in creative lineout contests. Every team has seen their fair share of lineout arrangements and calls. This competition could be an opportunity so show off a bit and get really crazy to see whose pack does it better.
  • Should weather get nasty, or just got giggles, there could be a try line dive contest into a mud pit. There's really no higher reason behind having this event other than jumping in the mud is a bit of fun everyone can enjoy.
  • To round out the festivities there would games of touch or flag rugby just to bring it all together. There could be any number of teams made up for any number of reason - East v West, Pizza Hut v Domino's, Police v Firefighters and the list goes on and on.
The events and iterations are up for debate and discussion but the idea remains the same. Put rugby's best, brightest or at least most entertaining on stage for them to show off their skills and get some notoriety for themselves and the sport of rugby. An all-star event is one thing that rugby needs in order to ensure that is maintains popularity ones the Rio 2016 luster wears off a bit and can be a major tool to bolster participation in areas where it is popular or be a tool to get it started in areas where it has not taken hold yet.

The Rugby Diaries - Winter Soldiers
The key to Midwest rugby progressing, as a whole, lies buried in the snow. While players out West and in the South can play and train almost year round, teams in the Midwest often find themselves sitting around most winter days. Teams will train together during the frigid months, but the best way to get better is to play.

More often than not, the best case scenario is that teams train a few weeks prior to their Spring kickoff and hope it is enough. More preparation is needed to truly help a team maximize its potential and give them the best chance at having a successful Spring campaign. What is truly needed is a competitive set of matches during the colder months to allow players to keep their wits sharp as they train their bodies and perfect their strategies. This could take the form of small tournaments held indoors - though many rough-and-tumble-ruggers seem to get sensitive about a little turf burn - or maybe a condensed winter league all together. These can take different formations and iterations as space and participation dictates. There could be an indoor touch sevens or tens league; or, if teams are willing to participate, a condensed full-contact season of competition.

No matter what formation these competitions take, the benefits are clear, and they can only help the teams that participate.
  • The extra work, over time, will end up being what the Midwest rugby scene needs to rise and thrive.
  • The extra competitions will give current players the opportunity to perfect their crafts, get a leg up and boost their own brand and reputation around the region.
  • They will allow developing teams to make a step towards better competing with teams on their level or making a step up to a higher level.
  • Those players that were on developmental sides that didn't get much attention during the regular season could have their time in the spotlight during these winter sessions.
  • The extra competition allows for teams to increase their presence in their respective communities and, hopefully, allow them to generate more sponsors, players, supporters and media coverage.
  • Having additional competitions would require governing bodies and teams to become more structured an organized, something that will only benefit them in the future.
  • Additional competitions can be more opportunities for revenue streams or chances to give back to good causes and score some good karma points.
Regardless of the reason, winter competitions are a must for the Midwest, at any age and in any iteration. As long as competition is quality and events are run well, these can only benefit development of rugby in the region and increase the amount of quality players that emerge from the clubs.

The Rugby Diaries - The Leaders You Deserve
It has been said that people elect the leaders they deserve, meaning if you choose to put a certain person into a position of power you are subject to their whims and the results of their actions. What it boils down to is those who are unhappy with their leaders must either become the leaders their group needs or find those positive leaders, and if players and administrators refuse or fail to do so then they have no right to complain when those elected leaders do a bad job.

When a group mistrusts change then there's little that can be accomplished. Progress cannot be achieved without three things: trust, change and effort. Without all three no group can hope to reach its true potential. These three must all work in concert though. Trust requires risk in betting the success or failure of a club's on a collection of men or women whose vision are expected to not only align with one another but be a positive one for the club as a whole..This trust, combined with the inherent risk involved, should motivate everyone to work exponentially harder towards the collective goal.

Change goes along with trust. There always comes a time when tried-and-true methods become obsolete and it is time for a new angle. If a valued leader is found to be holding the group back from its ultimate goal, then it is time to put someone else in his or her position. These are just two examples of how change can be necessary, but there is one thing goes for every time change is needed and that is that tact and sensitivity are required for the change to take place and have a chance of doing any good.

Effort should go without saying to an extent. Effort implies hard-nosed diligence in pursuit of a goal, not necessarily a goal that someone backs personally but a goal that stands to benefit the group as a whole. This unselfish effort is the only kind that will get a group where it needs to go. So by filling one's ranks with people who obtain just two of these three qualities, if not all three, on can assure that his or her group has a good crop of people - and potential leaders - to take their group successfully to the next level.

Leaders are temporary fixtures in clubs for the most part but their effects have the potential to stretch well beyond their tenure with the title. Each time titles change hands, or even if they don't for a while, the decision to put people in charge the decision should be made as though the club's very existence hangs in the balance because if the wrong leaders are selected and done so continually it very well could mean the end of a club.

The Rugby Diaries - Of Rugby
Sometimes playing rugby for en extended amount of time is more of an exercise in shooting one's self in the foot as many times as possible in the same place.

I find it supremely confusing that people set goals for the club, acknowledge the issues they intend to fix and do nothing to remedy the issues they've outlined.

I mean one would imagine that if tackling and defense were issues that focusing on those areas - and going full tilt - would be a priority; and it stands to reason that if fitness is another issue that it would make sense to ensure, at least down the line, that there is something in place to handle that. It would also seem logical that, on a team that is synonymous with coming close but not quite achieving the big goals, the phrase "good enough" would be stricken from the lexicon - especially the coach's.

Would it not make sense to, considering practice has been such a key issue in defeats, that the team practice the type of tackling they hope to reproduce on the field? Given, going live against live players isn't an option all the time but that's when bringing out pads and planning around your numbers comes into play. In order improve work must always be taking place, regardless of personnel issues.

Rugby is a place anyone can go and, assuming their hearts in it, can be accepted as they get used to and thrive in a new and exciting environment. It should create such an atmosphere where a fat kid can learn to be the hero, and then turn around and grow into a play-maker. It should be a place where practicing new skills is encouraged by everyone and growth in consistently and consciously promoted. It should be a place where the best person for the job is the one who gets it without regard for who they know, what their last name is or who they love. It should be a place where victory trumps politics and prejudices are cast aside for the betterment of the team.

There should never be a time when experimentation is discouraged outright, when a player trying to expand his or her skill set is turned into something negative. Doubtless, there are some times that are better for this than others but experimentation on the field can deepen understanding and better execution.

Rugby is where the fat kid and the speedster converge on level ground, where the athlete and the hundred-pound weakling come together and rely on one another as equals. Inside the whitewash there are no classes, hoods other divisions of people. Everyone ends up the same mix of green, brown and white, with a hint of red sometimes.

The Rugby Diaries - Let's Get Technical
As days go by time marches on; and as time passes technology advances, providing apps, gadgets and tools to enhance and better our lives. With all the new tools being brought into the world to help with everything from fitness to data storage, why not put some of these tools to use in regards to rugby? Below are some bits of technology - some might just be in the concept phase and some might be fully realized - that can be used to add that little something extra to the sport of rugby.

Light Up the Darkness
When practicing rugby, one of the most essential elements of any session is that players need to be able to do is see. All too often, practices in the waning months of Fall and the early months of Spring practices are cut short due to shorter days and the sun going down before teams can get their full practice session in the books - not necessarily a bad thing if your team saves conditioning for last. Fortunately, there are a litany of sporting good items that not only glow in the dark but are illuminated by LED lights. Adapting these items to a team's training session can extend training sessions well into the darker hours of the evening.
  • Night Sports USA makes a brand of golf balls that are lit up by LED lights. According to the company's Web site, the technology is patented and adds a number of aspects to the standard golf ball. First, an LED light illuminates upon impact with the ball and remains lit for eight minutes while maintaining the official size and weight of a standard golf ball. Most importantly, the battery lasts for 40 hours in each ball.

    Imagine this technology applied to a rugby ball. With the constant motion of and impact on a rugby ball there wouldn't be any issue keeping it illuminated throughout whatever night time or early morning training session that might be taking place, and the 40-hour battery life would mean that teams could get multiple training sessions out of a single battery.
  • So the issue of seeing the ball with limited light has been taken care of, but it doesn't help when you can't see where the ball is going. Items like the Tracer360 Visibility Vest could be the solution. According to Amazon, the Tracer360 is an all-weather vest that easily goes over most articles of clothing and is lined with  LED lights that are designed to allow drivers to easily see runners that are out at night. The vest comes in different colors, so buying two sets could easily extend the game-scenario practice sessions past the time limitations of daylight.
  • Naturally, there are glow-in-the-dark cones and paint that could be used to line fields and make boundaries visible in the darker hours of the day.
Change Your View
With rugby - as with many elements of life - if one switches up how they look at a situation a lot more can be gained from the experience than if the view remained the same; and where is an expansive view more beneficial than on the field? Fortunately, there are cameras and apps for that as far as the eye can see. Granted, they are not the cheapest items in the world; but their potential benefits are well worth the money. Changing up the point of view for on-field action can help with teaching plays and fixing strategy come game day.

  • Drones are all the rage these days. From military incursions to kids trying to spy on their neighbors, drones with cameras are everywhere. Drone-mounted cameras allow people to get a bird's eye view of what's going on below, getting a lot of action in one shot from a unique angle.

    Using a drone-mounted camera can get a unique angle on a rugby match and provide valuable information for coaches and players to manipulate and analyze during film sessions. Imagine seeing your game footage like the overhead view of a video game. See where your defense is strong or where is lacking, or where that prop disappears to when the ball gets swung to the other side of the field. Some teams have already taken advantage of this technology. A good example of how this could look is when Bowling Green State University played Ball State. The camera generally keeps the entire field in focus, even though sometimes the players can look like ants at times. As drones become more widely used the quality of the footage taken will improve as well.

    On Amazon, drones with cameras range from around $50 to over $1,000, with quality and capabilities ranging along with the price. Drone cameras are perfect for recording rugby matches. They allow the camera operator to get a lot of the play in the frame and all that really needs to be done is keeping the drone in the air and away from flying balls. Since it, seemingly, takes little effort to keep the drone in the air and the camera focused, it would be the perfect tool to give a lazy spectator and have them record the match.
  • So, not all teams have drone money in their bank accounts. Many clubs looking to record practice sessions and games are using other more prevalent forms of technology, like cameras on cell phones, tablets and other handheld devices. For those trying to make the most of these devices there is no shortage of hardware and software available to help in that situation. One piece of hardware that helps maximize the performance of these cameras is the Olloclip - and other things like it.

    Add-on devices like this one are versatile and offer a multitude of options to enhance the act of shooting video and capturing photos. Like the drone-mounted cameras, these camera enhancements allow the person holding the camera to capture the action. From a wide angle to a detailed zoom, these devices can make amateurish camera work look like work worthy of the pros - or at least let it stand out from the usual family vacation videos. While using one of these while playing won't make a team play better, it will at least make those knock-ons look crisp in all their frustrating, detailed glory.

The Rugby Diaries - Feeding the Fire
In any sport, especially with rugby, there are pockets of people that play the sport just because of the camaraderie or because they like the great outdoors and short shorts. There are those, within those groups and from outside them, that want to win too. The hunger to win is always there and, depending upon who it is, it is always going to rival the social aspect. But without competitions, there is no way to quench that hunger - to decide who is best. And without these competitions there is no way to bring in and improve already-existent talent in the player pool in a given area.

While large scale tournaments are plentiful, regional competitions of quality are rare occurrences. What's needed, especially in Ohio and its areas that are heavy with rugby, is a tournament everyone can compete in, be competitive in and enjoy.  Something like an Ohio Cup Tournament could be one way to answer this problem and fill a large void that is present in the upper levels of Ohio rugby.

The competition could be open to all comers either in college or senior levels - with divisions to accommodate teams with differing skill levels as well as having one for men and one for women - and there would be smaller regional tournaments built in to the OCT - i.e. the Cleveland Cup for the Cleveland area or the Southern Ohio Challenge for Dayton and Cincinnati teams. It could run much like the Six Nations, with its Grand Slams and Wooden Spoons being awarded throughout the progression of the tournament. A competition of this style would give an opportunity for more meaningful playing time in a format that would give less experienced players a chance to get precious on-field experience needed to excel. Each year there would be teams relegated and teams promoted to mix up the tables and, theoretically, have even playing fields set up.

The OCT would likely be played in the Spring season, allowing teams that didn’t make playoffs and B sides of qualifiers to participate, with the competitions going on in between with relegation and promotion processes as well. The competition would require teams to travel and host teams in alternating years to ensure that no team is incurring more financial burden than any other.

Having the OCT is not the end all be all response to the lack of regional competition in the state. It is merely an idea. The idea is what’s most important. It is malleable and can be applied to a region as big as the state or to a group as small as a cluster of Catholic schools. People love to play for fun, but offering participants more than a good time always helps boost enrollment on teams. It helps people feel included, helps smaller teams get exposure and enables them to get better but, most of all, everyone loves to play for large shiny objects they can have their names on and brag to other people about.

The Rugby Diaries - It's Academic
There is an obvious gap between US rugby and global rugby, and there are even gaps between regions of the nation. One region for this is the availability and presence of programs to introduce youths to rugby and then keep them involved with the sport. Such is the case especially here in the Buckeye state. Sure there is Tiger in Columbus but they target older players and seem to have their focus on specific talent, some foreign born. What's missing is a way to take the Tiger approach to young Americans and prepare them for the high levels of play. What is missing is a true rugby academy.

With the sport gaining more notoriety and popularity, especially with younger kids, now would be the perfect time to plant the seeds that would lead to the development of a rugby academy. How would that happen? Simple. A model similar to how charter schools have gotten established would apply itself to the development of a rugby academy.

First, find an institution or community that can accommodate the starter program and needs what it can offer. These could include a very sports-minded or health-conscious society, or a Gridiron Gang-type facility where we can hopefully bring around some troubled youths, a rec center or a school. When I say starter program I mean just clinics and lessons provided to a segment of the residents who find themselves in need of and interested in what rugby has to offer. Offer a number of clinics focusing on different elements of the game throughout a given time span - maybe a year. Then offer pricing options, with the "Academy" option including all the sessions but at a discounted price. This introduces the idea and language of the rugby academy early.

Once a crop of dedicated youths and parents are established - and this could take a few years, add a more cohesive curriculum that focuses on preparation for competition and improvement of gameplay as well as implementation of strategy. When adding in competitions, start out making them more social and make them optional. As time progresses and the players improve increase the level of competition they face. These could take the form of scrimmages against one another, leading to friendlies in the Fall and Spring that ultimately culminate in a tournament or tournaments in the Summer. The key in the beginning stages is to focus on the experience, so tournaments and venues must be thoroughly investigated ahead of time. But it's not enough to just throw a ball at some kids and expect success, though. Just like with schools, how the potential players learn best must be taken into account. Like the academy we intend to be, we must make our approaches to rugby varied and interactive - whiteboards, videos, playbooks, instructional sessions, etc.

And as with any project of this magnitude, backing will be required. The backing needed will be the kind that is flush with cash or influence, but ideally have both. This could be a politician, sports icon or a large progressive school district. It is imperative that the backers have a background in the rugby or at least sporting realms in order to ensure a strong foundation and direction are established. It is equally important that the backers are also progressive and well-rounded in order to ensure that all efforts take advantage of the most resources possible in the most effective ways.

In order to truly keep the rugby in this endeavor there must be a strong social communal element. This element must be present from the start, taking the form of team dinners, end-of-session addresses, players' nights, parents' nights, etc. The communal and social aspects of this endeavor are of the utmost importance and vital to the academy's success as well as the people - players, parents and backers alike - buying in fully. The competition, professionalism and opportunities available in the future will bring them in but the camaraderie will keep them coming back.

The social element of the academy should not and would not stop at the players and their immediate families. Doing that is how to get the sporting community to buy in and stay, but the academy as I see it should be embraced by the entire community. So what does that mean? It means not only finding places for not-so-athletic but, if necessary, creating places for them. For example, if a prospective player grasps rugby conceptually but is unable to execute and the would-be player wants to give up on his or her on-field aspirations then create a position to accommodate them among the coaching staff or administration looking at game film and play or doing research in an effort improve the players on the field. I want my academy to take in anyone willing to contribute for the betterment of themselves and the world around them through the academy. I want my academy to be built upon the sweat of the "weak" and the "unathletic" the same as the star athletes and phenoms. Give me the weak and outcast and my academy will make them stars.

A rugby academy, built upon this model, can not only bridge the gap in Ohio rugby and the rest of the US but ultimately better the lives of countless other non-player members of the rugby family.

Getting Past the DII Impasse
In rugby as with any competitive sport, there are divisions and rankings to separate the skilled from the unskilled, the large clubs from the start-ups and struggling. There are many benefits to this division of rugby labor. The elite teams don't have to worry about risking injury or wasting time playing against vastly inferior teams, and smaller clubs can dip their toes into the competitive pool with teams at their level rather than being immediately tossed into the deep end and being expected to swim with the big boys. Possibly the best part about this system is the fact that teams can move up through promotion and be moved down via relegation. As you can probably imagine, the former is harder to do than the latter. Moving up in the rankings generally requires more resources - more players, time, travel, money and beer. While all promotions carry some sort of increased cost with them, it is the move from DII to DI that has the greatest leap; and, depending upon a team's status, they may not be ready or able to make that jump up. That's where we find the DII Impasse.

Getting past the DII Impasse is the point where good clubs see the gap ahead of them and make the leap to become great, or they play it safe and decide to stay where they are, resigning themselves to trivial tasks like hoping for another chance and wondering what might have been. It's where a great amount of change is required for advancement into higher levels and greener pastures.

It takes a special team with special leadership to make such a leap happen, thought. Not every team can make it. It is an immense job but a doable one. The job is mainly one that requires asking taxed players and administrators to give more - and in some cases asking those who do nothing to at least do something. It is a job that requires people to press pass their comfort levels and make themselves vulnerable in an attempt to achieve a height never before reached. It's a job that requires foresight, the kind of foresight that reminds a player that his or her work is not just for the good of the XV taking the field now, but that it is for the XV that future generations will play. This foresight is usually found in the unselfish player that is willing to work hard now to make life easier for people in the future.

The job of getting past the DII Impasse is a job of will combined with manpower. It is a job of inspiring hearts and minds, of getting people to buy into and commit to a new way of operating in the pursuit of something greater - greater possibilities, greater competition, greater glory. It is a job that requires people to look past trivial social norms and issues and focus on the betterment of the team. It is a job that requires people to slow down sometimes so that their proteges might catch up and learn from them without being overwhelmed and feel as though they are getting in the way.

A lot goes into getting past the DII Impasse, or any impasse a team might find themselves at, but surpassing the obstacle is very doable. Success on the field is achieved the same way it is off the field - a team effort, with everyone following the same plan, on the same page, working in harmony.

Throughout the rugby world there seems to be two kinds of shots that permeate most clubs and go a long way to decide the club's fate. These are not traditional shots as in tequila or schnapps, but rather a different kind of shot all together. These shots are the Shot in the Dark or the Shot in the Foot. The Shot in the Dark refers to an action taken on the outside chance it will work. The Shot in the foot is an action, usually done without thinking that severely damages a club and the reputation of rugby in general. Unfortunately, you tend to see more of the latter than the former.

Many amateur clubs look up at professional teams - or at least teams more professional than they are - and wish they could be that successful. What most fail to realize is that such success, notoriety and organization doesn't usually happen over night. What they also don't realize is that sometimes any action in a positive direction, even if it is in unconventional direction, is the direction that a club needs to go in. They only see the well-worn paths that others have taken and ignore the multitude of other options available. The big companies haven't always been the giants they are today. People invested in them, believed in them when they were starting up. Now, the companies that could be the next up-and-coming company is being ignored because their name isn't as widely known. Investing early can be key to starting something big or at least helping someone else while you help yourself. People also shy away from the SID when it comes to raising money. Everyone is chasing the White Whales of their region. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is courting the usual suspects in search of big bucks. Why not go small and make your fortune one small amount at a time? Not only is it mutually beneficial for two small entities to help one another but it just makes more sense - less competition and, theoretically, more opportunity for success. Why not take an unconventional stab at raising money? Worst case scenario is it doesn't work. Best case scenario is it goes off like gangbusters and your club is launched to another new level. It’s easy to take that SID for a club and, given what the results could be, I think the risk is definitely worth the reward.

Unfortunately, more clubs take the Shot in the Foot and sink themselves, often before they can truly get off the ground. More often than not, this is seen with college clubs that come up against unsupervised kids who can’t handle their good times, people with loose lips and someone taking the fun just a little too far. All too often, when people come to rugby teams the social aspect is what they catch on to first; and that’s as far as some get. It’s a matter of throwing someone new into an unfamiliar situation and expecting them to survive, often – in the past – without anyone making sure they are alright. This often leads to people and clubs getting into trouble when authorities get involved or the well-being of individuals is put into jeopardy. The unsupervised fun can also get people and clubs into trouble when the rugby label is put onto an event that comes under fire or spins out of control. Often, this is from an outside source that was at a “rugby party” that got out of hand and turned into hordes of people running the streets and causing havoc. Once again, it boils down to people making sure the fun doesn't get out of hand. These kinds of things can be a death knell for a club. They spell the demise and denigration of a club, damage that sometimes cannot be undone. It’s easy to take a SIF for a club, but it’s just as easy to prevent.

The Field of Play: A Matter of Safety, A Matter of Pride
It's probably very safe to assume that very few rugby players in the Midwest, especially in the lower divisions, have played on a regulation rugby pitch. This is to be expected because there are very few rugby complexes in the US or sports complexes equipped to hold a rugby pitch to begin with.

There is, though, a big difference between a field that is a little too short or a tad too thin or a field that is not the most level or well manicured patches of earth in existence and fields that have no business being played on in the first place. The allowances for these minor land issues have their limits, though.

Land is not cheap, especially in this climate of worthless 40IKs and $5.00 gallons of gas (All rights to that saying reserved for Roger Mazzarella), but if teams are going to invest the money they have in a location they should at least find themselves a decent piece of land. Neglecting to do so is a detriment to the game in a number of facets and irresponsible.

First, if a field is not level to an extreme degree it is hazardous to the well-being of players who are going to be competing on it. Take, for instance, the line-out. If one team is on a higher patch of land than the other they are at a clear advantage; but more than that, if the jumper comes down funny on the unlevel turf at the very least that's a hurt ankle. At worst, the downed player could get trampled. Also, if a player is running the ball and does not see a sudden drop in elevation he or she could bring their weight down wrong and severely injure their foot.*

Second, finding a field that is somewhat out in the open is important to have as well. If the only field that is available is in a fenced-in area then that is fine. There is a big difference between setting a field inside a park and shoving it onto a plot of land sized for use by children. The issue comes into play here when the fence interferes with play. There's a field in Pennsylvania where the fence surrounding the pitch juts out into one of the try zones. Not only does this make for an awkward try zone considering the field's boundaries extend past the point of the fence, but it is a serious health hazard to the players competing on the field. hay bales in front of a metal post can only do so much.

Also, shoving a field into a park surrounded by busy city streets creates a dangerous atmosphere. Not only is there the possibility of debris on the field, but when every kick goes into the street it puts players in danger of getting hit by cars. Nobody wants to lose a rookie that way.

Once a team finds a field, outfitting it with the proper amenities is a must. This doesn't mean a team needs to shell out thousands of dollars for the finest of IRB USA Rugby regulation goal posts, flags, cones and pads, but it also doesn't mean to half-ass your field set-up. Times are tough and wallets are notoriously light but there are cheap and effective alternatives available at most stores.

Need flags to mark the lines? Dicks Sporting Goods has sets for sale online. Need cones? They've got that too. Field paint can be found at just about any paint shop.

Cones, flags and paint are cheap and easy fixes, though. Goal posts are bigger more complicated issues. There is virtually no way to purchase a cheap set, so teams often turn to creating their own. Everything from PVC pipe to metal pipes have been used to construct uprights and crossbars on rugby fields. Those, if done right and with care, will more than do the trick. The key is that is should be done right. This means care should be taken to ensure that:

  • the pipes are straight
  • the pipes are the proper height
  • the crossbars should be level with one another
  • the goal posts are proper dimensions
  • the crossbars are straight
  • the goal posts are sturdy

The goal posts are the most important part of a club having a legitimate field and, on the same token, a legitimate team. This is because these elements of the pitch play a pivotal and direct role in scoring points during a game. Plus, if the posts are not as strong as they would be they could fall down and seriously hurt the players and referee on the pitch.

Having, essentially, a half-assed rugby pitch is a detriment to everybody involved with the sport. It sends the message to outsiders that a crap field with goal posts that have caution tape for crossbars is passable by our standards. It shows incoming rookies that are new to the sport that they have just gotten involved with a program and a sport that has low standards and expectations from its players. It shows people who the ruggers at that pitch doesn't take themselves, their club or their sport seriously.

Perhaps it would help to have people inspect fields clubs play on. Perhaps referees could do note it as they officiate a match. It would add more responsibilities to the already big job that comes with being an official, but it would only be a benefit to the sport of rugby as a whole. Standards help people have an idea of what level they need to reach. Setting standards higher, even at the lower divisions, will raise the bar for everybody and give the sport, its clubs and its players a newer, better look.

*I know that rugby is a rough sport and that every player that signs up for it does so knowing the inherent risks involved, but why take any chances and create more opportunities for injuries to happen?

Rugby Round Table
The big thing that is keeping rugby from being a huge hit in the US is the fact that no one is talking about it. We can make all the strides we want within the community and write as many articles as we want  to, but without increased support from the sporting world at large any evolution or progress we could make is greatly diminished. The answer to this problem is more TV coverage, not just putting games up on the channels out in the hinterlands of some random cable package. It should be a show - or at least a segment - on a station or program like SportsCenter - though it wouldn't have to necessarily be a nationwide show - where rugby is the focus.

The formula would be quite simple: one host and four rotating guests - maybe a ref, a coach an admin and a player. They would discuss issues facing the community, general topics and how the mechanics of play. They could analyze game film from big matches that occurred over the weekend and preview other upcoming matches. They would do stories on rugby on the international and national level but also on the lower levels of rugby - i.e. elite high school, men's club and women's club teams. They would do a combination of serious stories, shop talk and entertaining pieces to make sure they maximize the entertainment and variety in the show.

Through this formula Americans at large will gain a deeper understanding of and respect for the sport, and the people who are already playing will get a voice and an audience they might not have gotten otherwise. This type of show would have a huge audience waiting for it and it would build in size quickly. Everyone would win. A TV station would get a huge show and more viewers, and the rugby community would get a great deal of exposure.


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