If support from NZ Rugby, a senior sports lecturer at AUT, and a couple of ex-All Blacks is anything to go by, the recent decision by North Harbour Rugby Union to scrap its junior representative programme is gaining traction.
However, some Hibiscus Coast locals are less impressed, taking to social media to comment that North Harbour has taken away much needed competition from young players.
The February 22 decision sees an end to U13 teams sent to the Roller Mills Junior Representative Tournament and the removal of the U14 rep programme and the end- of-season Junior Club Rep Tournament. These will be replaced with “rugby development experiences”, including the introduction of a non-contact Rippa grade for boys from 8-13 years of age and also a girls’ U15 club and school grade.
North Harbour says its decision is based on research that shows that children participating in any sport primarily want enjoyment and that introducing rep programmes at too young an age can create behaviour that discourages participation.
NZ Rugby’s head of participation and development, Steve Lancaster, says that his organisation is in close contact with other unions, as they assess their own junior programmes.
“Our evidence shows that kids selected for rep programmes early on don’t always come out on top, and often suffer burn out,” Steve sasy. “This decision, and perhaps others that may follow, is not about having no rep rugby but rather about developing programmes that reach a greater number of children and keep them in the game longer.”
Silverdale United Rugby and Sports Club chair Chris Carter says the club, which opposed the North Harbour proposal primarily due to the success of its own junior programme, is already planning the implementation of the decision.
“Although the club has not been immune to the much-discussed decline in young men playing rugby, through hard work from many volunteers and staff, our junior numbers continue to grow, with over 600 players every weekend in winter,” Chris says.
Teacher in charge of rugby at Orewa College, Edith Miller, says the school has noticed a decline in the number of boys playing rugby over the last few years.
“We have been pretty steady with the number of teams we offer in rugby, but the squad numbers in each team have dropped over the last couple of years,” she says. “The decision will divide many people, but something needed to be done to try and address the problem.”
A local community group social media post relating to the North Harbour announcement drew a mixed reaction. While some were of the opinion that “kids that excel in sport should have a goal to aim for”, and “this is purely commercial and nothing to do with developing rugby”, others described it as “the best decision ever”, and commented that “too many parents are pushing their kids to fulfill their own sporting dream rather than doing what’s best for the kids”.
AUT School of Sport and Recreation senior lecturer, Dr Simon Walters, also supports the move. His specific area of interest is children’s experiences of sport and coach and parent influences on children’s enjoyment of sport.
Dr Walters says research shows large numbers of teenagers dropping out of the sport and that even strong players are not moving into club rugby when they leave school. “If you want them to develop a lifelong love of the game, don’t pressure them. Nurture that love for the game and back off,” Dr. Walters says.