Special to the Record
Top coaches maintain that it takes 10,000 hours of practice and play to make a world-class, or an Olympic athlete, and in order to fit those many hours into young lives athletes must take up their chosen sports at an early age.
With this in mind, Rugby Canada has begun a pilot project in the Comox Valley to introduce boys and girls aged five to 15 to the game of rugby with a mass-participation program called Rookie Rugby.
Using game-based learning, volunteers and teachers are introducing the great game of rugby to elementary children who have never seen a rugby ball before. “So far the results have been very positive,” says B.C. Rugby Development Officer Tony La Carte, who is championing the project on Vancouver Island. “The aim is to get the kids active and to let them run around using a rugby ball. Making the game fun is key, the structure comes later.”
La Carte recently spent a couple of days in the Valley and, with the help of volunteers and the Kickers Rugby Club, introduced Rookie Rugby to over 450 children at Brooklyn, Huband Park, Queneesh and Ecole Puntledge Park Schools. “Most of those kids had never seen a rugby ball before but they took to it like ducks to water.” offers La Carte, himself an international rugby player who travelled the world playing Sevens rugby and 15s rugby for Canada.
“When I was in New Zealand, home to the New Zealand All-Blacks the world’s number one men’s and women’s teams, kids as young as four and five were running around in bare feet playing rugby. There definitely is a correlation between starting rugby early and being the world’s best.”
Recognizing this, the United States, using Rookie Rugby, has introduced six million children to rugby in recent years and Rugby Canada is now using their model and piloting it in Comox Valley and Port Coquitlam to see how it goes.
“It’s a flag sport with no tackling and it aims to let children have fun and teach them skills of catching, passing and running with the ball in hand. Once they have been introduced to the game at this level and they want to continue with the game they can take up mini rugby, play it in school or at the club level,” says La Carte. “Kids are four times more likely to continue with a sport if they play it in a P.E. class first.”
Aimee Burley, who runs the local Kickers Mini Rugby program, says that eight new children showed up at the club on Sunday looking to play mini rugby as a result of the Rookie Rugby. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Burley. “This shows that Rookie Rugby is already having a very positive impact.”
Rugby Canada has developed an array of easy-to-use teaching resources, CDs and on-line materials that makes it extremely easy for teachers and volunteers to run Rookie Rugby. “I have never seen a sport partner with schools like this before,” says School District 71’s coordinator of Elementary School Athletics, Kyle Timms. “It’s a very worthwhile program that teachers can use to interest more children in sport.”
Rookie Rugby plants the seed and even if it doesn’t look like rugby in the conventional sense, it introduces a new game to children and parents and lays the foundation for lifelong activity. And, if it helps to produce world-class athletes for Rugby Canada in the future – that can only be good too.
For more information go to: rookierugby.ca and http://comoxvalleyrugby.ca/