The value of youth representative programmes is currently under the spotlight from many sporting organisations across the country and indeed globe. One thing is for certain, rep programmes that cross-over with club and school sport are tricky to navigate for both players and coaches. The following case-study comparing the life of Ben (U13 representative rugby player) and Sam (an All Black) may highlight some challenges.
Ben played for a club team, local rep team, provincial rep team and AIMS Games 7s team. His 15 aside rugby commitment involved 2 club trainings, 2 rep trainings, 1 club game and 1 rep game per week. AIMS Games added an extra 2 further training sessions at school, 2 warm-up tournaments and the week at AIMS Games. So over the season lasting 22 weeks (term 2 and 3 - not including pre-season in term 1), Ben had 6 days of rugby per week, played somewhere between 30 and 35 fifteen aside matches and approximately 15-25 games of 7s.
Now Sam the All Black played approximately 12-14 Super Rugby matches (All Blacks have rest protocols) and 10-12 test matches, so 22-25 matches in total (no 7s rugby). He had 2 days off per week (Wednesday and Sunday) and his season was spread over 40 weeks.
Table of Comparison
This just sounds crazy, that paid full-time athletes at the top of their sport do less rugby than 13 year old's. And this is not a rugby only issue. This is across many sports. It appears youth sport has mirrored the time demands of professional sport, without us even being aware. Could this high load be a factor in the drop-off in participation when kids enter the teenage years? They are probably emotionally and physically burnt out (the rise in ACC claims in youth sport is staggering. In Netball alone it has doubled in the past 10 years. And knee reconstructions in youth sport have gone through the roof).
This is a major challenge for coaches. When there are competing programmes operating at the same time (sometimes 3 or 4), every coach seems to want their time. Each coach runs their programme, quite often 2 trainings and 1 match per week, and may not have considered what time other programmes are demanding from their players.
Ultimately we want our kids to love their sport and stay involved, but the current system is throwing some challenges. There are certainly headaches for sporting organisations, and a fair amount of work is happening in developing sporting systems that meet the needs of young people. But in the meantime, what can coaches do to lessen the burden for young people?
Stock Take of Weekly Load: Find out how much activity each player is doing. What does their weekly schedule look like? You may find they are doing multiple activities and involved in different programmes.
Practice Amount: Do you need 2 practices per week? Can you achieve what you need in 1? If not, why not? Or could 1 practice be optional?
Talk To The Other Coaches: Have conversations with other coaches in parallel programmes to highlight the reality. Work towards a solution that puts the interests of the kids first.
Let’s work together to keep the Ben’s of our world engaged in sport and hungry for more next year.