Ulster Rugby has introduced two new programmes to help young players make the transition from age-grade to adult rugby.
These are the first steps being taken to refresh and reinvigorate the domestic game by implementing the recommendations of the Ulster Rugby Adult Participation Review 2021.
The women’s game will see the introduction of a Barbarians-style programme for under-21s which will give players the opportunity to take part in training and competitive games on a monthly basis with their peers within a regional programme.
For men, there will be a locally-based Club Academy which will provide a variety of offerings throughout the season. These range from informal events and friendlies, to more structured League and Cup competitions. The informal season is already under way with events having taken place across the province, and a League and Cup programme is scheduled to commence in October.
These programmes have been specifically designed to create opportunities identified by young rugby players in the APR 2021, part of which saw Ulster conduct the club’s largest-ever survey of amateur players in the province.
891 male and female players were consulted over their involvement in the domestic game, and it was discovered they were strongly motivated by a desire to be involved with their friends, and players of a similar age.
This research also discovered players were more likely to drop out of the sport entirely if their transition from youth to adult rugby was too difficult.
By directly acknowledging and addressing the concerns of the players, it’s hoped an enjoyable and smooth journey into adult rugby will help retain greater numbers and allow the sport grow further at a domestic level.
Young Persons’ Advisory Group representative Ben Thompson said: “Young people want to play rugby with people of the same age, and with like-minded individuals. They’ve expressed a real desire that this is the way to help them progress from age-grade rugby into adult rugby.”
“It can be really challenging the first time you go into a new club, especially when making this transition into adult rugby, and we’ve found that it’s a more comfortable and safe environment with people of your own age.”
“By listening to this feedback from young players, we hope to make this transition easier, and to create some longevity within senior rugby as a result of these changes.”
Women and Girls’ Rugby Development Manager Eliza Downey said: “We’re hoping to have a Barbarians-style under-21 programme for women and girls that’s going to run across 3 regions within the province. We want to target girls aged 18 to 21 involved with clubs and give them opportunities to play with their peers – or to be exposed to the game, if it’s their first time.”
“It’s that social integration and participation that we really want to encourage within this age group for those girls who are coming out of youth rugby and into adult rugby, because we’re trying to retain them and make them part of the game.
“This is all based on the feedback we received during the consultation and the surveys we put out to people in this age group. We found that they can sometimes experience a barrier when moving into adult rugby, and we want to do all we can to remove that.”
Rugby Operations Manager Barry Willis: “In the men’s game, we’ll see the introduction of a locally-based Club Academy Programme, which prioritises the needs of young people in the game and recognises their expressed desire to play with their friends.”
“We’ve been blown away by the engagement of our clubs. More than 20 have come forward to take part in the programme, and that means they’re recognising the importance of young people in the game, but also taking direct steps to implement the structures to make sure those young people get a quality experience.”
“Within the Club Academy structure, there will be a variety of offerings, from the more relaxed, informal events and friendlies, to the more structured League and Cup programme. But regardless of the engagement, the theme remains the same: we want to create a quality environment for young people to play the game and have a good time.”