Introducing Children to Rugby Union: Retaining Players and Developing Talent
Thomas, Gethin L.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The design of age-appropriate organized activities has become a key issue for National Governing Bodies when introducing children to organized competitive games during childhood. For the Rugby Football Union, the complexity, physicality and structure of adult rugby union provides unique challenges when introducing children to organized mini rugby games. Although organized competitive team games are one of the key childhood developmental activities in sport, empirical research examining the development of this type of activity is sparse. A mixed methods convergent parallel research design was used where qualitative and quantitative data was collected and analyzed separately, and merged for overall analysis. Using the Developmental Model of Sports Participation as a conceptual framework, elite rugby union coaches’ views on mini rugby participation were explored. The rules of play of under-9 mini rugby matches were modified to investigate whether the principles of practice from the Developmental Model of Sports Participation could be applied to rugby games; and coaches and players attitudes and opinions towards key components of under-9 rugby explored. In the first study, the elite coaches identified organised competition and appropriate adult involvement as beneficial to player development, with an emphasis on less-structured games and sampling a variety of sports. In the second study, under-9 games based on the principles of practice from the Developmental Model of Sports Participation had 25% more ball-in-play time; 55% more runs with the ball; more than twice as many successful passes; and nearly twice as many tries scored. In the final two studies all under-9 players felt strongly that the game should involve limited structure, no playing positions and focus on passing and tackling. In contrast, under-9 coaches favoured a hybrid version of mini rugby with high amounts of engagement, skill learning opportunities, and structure. The findings show support for an alternative pathway for childhood rugby union participation, where organized competitive matches are a key developmental activity, alongside sampling a variety of sports. The results also suggest that deliberate play principles can be applied to the rules of under-9 rugby to produce a developmentally appropriate game for children.
Economic & Social Research Council
Rugby Football Union
PhD in Sport and Health Sciences
ESRC Studentship RES-187-24-0002