The March 6 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a story that should cause every rugby fan to shake their head. The article mentioned that there is now a professional Ultimate Frisbee league and that”5 million people currently play it nationwide, as compared with lacrosse, which is 1.9 million”. USA Rugby’s website indicates it has 90,000 members nationwide. Think about those numbers as we briefly glance back in time.
USA Rugby was officially formed in 1975. During the past 37 years sports such as soccer, lacrosse and ultimate frisbee have exploded in popularity. Can any rugby enthusiast possibly be happy with the limited amount of growth that we’ve had?
Below are some thoughts on what may be restricting the spread of rugby in this country. The comments are empirical in nature; think of them as one man’s opinion.
- Ego. Rugby players tend to think that what they do is unique and that they are special. The reality is that rugby is just another option in how we choose to spend our time. It may serve us well to realize that in many parts of the world a rugby match is simply something you fit in between other weekend activities. Regarding any testosterone-laced bravado that may accompany our ego, we’d do well to remember that men and women of all ages and skill levels play rugby. A participant needn’t be a high caliber athlete to enjoy this game.
- Monopolistic structure. USA Rugby requires every member to partially fund our collection of national teams. To my knowledge, no other sport imposes this burden on all members. Think of the last time you played a round of golf or participated in recreation league basketball. Did you simply pay your own way, or fund some national endeavor?
- Not enough casual rugby. In any given park or playground you’ll see people playing with soccer balls, basketballs, Frisbees, etc. Our true measure of success is when rugby balls are as common as any other piece of sporting equipment. Another measure is when a rugby match can be scheduled as casually as a softball game. Imagine on St. Patrick’s Day if every AOH Chapter (Ancient Order of the Hibernians) formed a rugby team from its members to play another chapter across town. Or when CYO rugby 7’s tournaments were as common as 5k fun runs. Rugby needs to shed its stigma of being a confusing, violent sport.
- Misguided focus. The most common occurrences in any rugby match are running, passing and tackling. Americans are raised using these skills, yet for new ruggers these basics are often downplayed for an intense focus on scrums, rucks, etc. Admittedly all aspects of rugby are important, but why not encourage new players and teams to express themselves with what they already do well (running, passing, and tackling)? The goal should be to get as many people playing at whatever commitment or skill level they have. Rugby can’t grow without players.
My intent isn’t to impugn USA Rugby or its current structure. There is a void that exists in our rugby landscape that needs to be filled before we can realize our full potential. Developing elite competition isn’t wrong, it’s just not enough. Organizations like Rookie Rugby and the US Rugby Football Foundation are doing a tremendous job of promoting our sport, but more needs to be done. It’s a victory every time players are on a field chasing a rugby ball, regardless of their skill level.
What ideas or comments do you have? Reply to this blog, or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.