LETTER TO THE EDITOR: We’re at a crossroads, so let’s change our mindset

PARTICIPATION IS KEY: Forbes' Jonah Little takes a hit-up at Emus' Wallas gala day earlier this winter. Increasing participation should be a huge focus on any change. Photo: JUDE KEOGH
PARTICIPATION IS KEY: Forbes' Jonah Little takes a hit-up at Emus' Wallas gala day earlier this winter. Increasing participation should be a huge focus on any change. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

Rugby in the Central West competition is currently at a crossroads, our competitions at all levels are shrinking with decreasing player numbers leading to decreasing standards across the competitions.

There can be no denying that there is a greater disparity in the standard of teams now than there has ever been in this region.

While this proposal to split the competition is a solid one based on the correct ideals of promoting competitive football for all, it is a proposal that without long-term planning is destined to increase the disparity between the big towns and little towns.

Our competition is at a crossroads, we have a long time administrator, who has been a great servant to the game and the region deservedly being awarded an OAM, not far from retiring.

But knowing that rugby is a changing code we need to seize the opportunity to change our mindsets around participation and become more aggressive in growing our game regionally, with the Central West competitions taking control of their own destiny.

There are a number of proposals that I believe need to be considered before moving ahead with the competition split.

Junior age groups be realigned to under 12s, 14s and 16s and an under 18s competition needs for formed that plays under junior rules, but travels with the senior competitions. Maintain colts as under 20s.

Colts would be compulsory but under 18s would be optional.

If we go head to head with rugby league in the under 18s we will win more players and draw the players who want to play both codes, and if we maintain colts at under 20s we will keep those kids from under 18s long term.

It also creates an extra team for clubs to get sponsorship for as well.

It wouldn’t be popular but all clubs in Central West should be paying a development levy each year, base it on player numbers so smaller clubs aren’t unfairly targeted but all money raised is used to fund a local development officer solely focused on improving player numbers and coaching standards in the region.

That person should be tasked with a number of responsibilities such as:

  • Delivery of school programs
  • Deliver coaching training programs (If clubs are funding the cost of the development officer then courses currently costing $95 should be delivered free)
  • Provide support to referees association aimed at helping them with their work raising standards
  • Coordinate all Central West competitions
  • Coordinate funding applications across all towns making sure clubs are maximising potential funds.
  • Work with NSW Rugby development officers to prioritise their time in the region.
  • Work with clubs on processes and procedures at the clubs so all clubs are being run using best practice.
  • Coordinate Central West representative teams

This person would have a set of KPI’s to meet:

  • Participation growth faster than the region’s population growth (if we aren’t growing that quickly we are shrinking)
  • Total number of schools visited each year
  • Total number of people completing coaching courses increases
  • Increase in referee numbers
  • Financial KPI would be included so the financial health of the zone was maintained.

Yes this proposal sounds expensive but can we afford to continue in a state of apathy?

Our code is being out-funded at a grass roots level significantly and if we wait to have the ARU or NSW rugby ride in as a knight in shining armour we will be dead and buried as a code regionally.

Keep in mind there are 20 plus clubs in this area who would benefit from this investment.

They’re not quick fixes but the reason we are going backwards is there’s no medium to long-term plan to shore up player numbers.

The change in age groups would have a very quick impact on player numbers and the creation of a full-time development officer is our long term play to improve numbers.

The initiatives address the most common comments we get about player numbers.

The first is that we lose kids to rugby league at under 18s because they don’t want to have the jump from 17s to 19s (now 20s) and maintaining the colts competition at 20ss should keep those players who would otherwise leave both codes cause they don’t want to/aren’t ready to jump to senior grades.

The second comment is that we need to be in the schools to get kids interested, I agree with the statement but no one has ever been able to show me a structured plan for clubs getting into the schools.

The creation of a development officer responsible solely for our zone would give our clubs a resource to be in the school regularly.

Yes it would mean the big clubs are paying a larger amount and the focus of the development officer would need to be on the smaller towns to grow the game there but it would help the overall strength of the competition, isn’t that the real goal of any change?