Grow the game? Let’s also Retain the Game. Rugby for Life! 4

In business, just as we discuss with Rugby in America – a primary objective is ‘growth’. In rugby we talk about ‘grow the game’.  Growth is not only about adding numbers, but also retention, and in the case of rugby, retaining players.

At the recent RBEA, there was discussion that there is arguably a 50% loss of participants year on year in various sectors of rugby in America. This is a staggering nuimber.  Yet, we are still growing.  Good news.

The American rugby community has done a phenomenal job, ‘growing the game’.  Here are some possibilities if we were able to reduce the 50% loss rate, to 30%.

USA Rugby has grown a total of 1.8% over the past 5 years.

Based on numbers derived from various USAR documents on display at NDS and other meetings, USA Rugby has grown a total of 1.8% over the past 5 years.  There were 119,812 members in 2015–16, and 115,000 in 2012 per the #WorkForIt graphics posted by USAR.

The graph below looks at Membership numbers for USAR, taking into consideration improved retention rates (from 50% to 30%).

USAR Membership w/ Improved Retention (Participants)

USAR can achieve it’s growth goals, but must have significantly improved retention of players

The graph below looks at the financial impact of improving retention rates

USA Rugby Member Revenue

Over $2.5 Million/year added within 5 years to USA Rugby Budget thru increased retention. Note, these figures do not represent any proposed dues increases for 2017/18

We are losing participants because someone’s expectations are not being met.  It could be the parents, or it could be the player (youth).  Regardless, a thorough examination, with concise action plans to significantly improve member retention would go a long way to achieving some of the participant and financial goals stated in Dan Payne’s Strategy 2020

  1. Grow the Game
  2. Keep participants in the Game (Retain)
  3. Rugby for Life

Other Articles I have written/published on USA Rugby:


  1. I have read this and reviewed the USA 2020 Strategy, thankfully they have one. But, at the end of the day the 1000lb gorilla in the room is either ignored on purpose or not being seen.

    USA Rugby can grow by leaps and bounds if they aggressively pursue pushing rugby as a varsity sport at both the high school and college levels. Until that happens we’ll continue to have the same conversation over and over and over again. Imagine 300 High school full up round varsity programs and 100 colleges offering scholarships to play; the US would be in the Top 10 in 4-6 years and Top 5 in a generation. If you like rugby and play football or lacrosse guess what you are going to do in college — go where you can play on scholarship.

    But no one obviously sees it. We are ignoring an athletic process that produces the world’s best baseball, football and basketball players and trading it for an obsession with national teams, high performance xy and z, and pathways to xy and z.

    No where in the 2020 strategy is it stated to pursue varsity status. No conference on the game or other forum ever has it on their agenda. Time to stop ignoring the gorilla and see the forest through the trees. And, if you continue to increase the fees the schools will eventually do it themselves (Massachusetts) and USA will lose out.

  2. When I coached, I came to believe fundamentals were key. Passing, catching, taking the ball on the burst, tackling and, more importantly, the elements of those skills than were needed in order to achieve an end product-of-beauty, in which the player and team could take pride. So why am I writing this in the context of the grand challenges facing the American game?

    People repeat behaviors for which they are reinforced. If an experience is positive they will find an opportunity to have it again. In rugby, assessed at a sufficiently granular level, a COACH must make the practice experience enjoyable, worthwhile, something participants will prioritize. The coach is absolutely key, and there must be more of them, good ones, before the substance of the game in America can improve.

    It then becomes a bit of a chicken-egg question. We need high school, and even age group programs, those programs need coaches, but the coaches will not come from those programs, the participants are too young. Some fine coaching is imported. The long term source of coaches will come from college age kids, some of which will have the aptitude and inclination to coach.

    If there are limited resources, it is the college age demographic that should be the focus. USAR should be:
    *Not just certifying, but carefully enhancing coaching skills
    *Setting up lots of regional player clinics, where a combination of guest coaches and local team coaches can share/demo how they teach certain aspects, while giving a bunch of newish players some pearls. The players pay a bit for the experience, to cover minimal costs.
    *Strongly encouraging opportunities for observing preparation of rep programs. Who wouldn’t learn a lot by watching some of the camps and rep tours being coached.
    *Helping alumni programs learn of other programs experiences interfacing with their administrations.
    *Whether and how to become a charitable organization (5c3 or other option).
    *How to build lists of alums and communicate with them
    *How can alumni groups become affinity groups cherished by their colleges
    *What are the pros and cons – of changing the status of a program at a school – -Varsity, Club, Club reporting to AD, implications of chapter 9 — all stuff that should not need to be learned by each program trying to research and figure it out on their own — USAR should be doing that, and making the learnings available.

    This piece is already too long. Bottom line: USAR should be in position to gather information and share it, and to create opportunities for coaches to improve and feel supported. The goal is creating graduates that can coach, administer, and generally support American Rugby. We must have that before an elite game in America will be seen. Players are important, coaches must be cherished.

  3. Tony,
    Growing the number of participant is key for the sustainability of USA Rugby but we need to look at retention numbers carefully.

    How many u14 never play HS and why? Is there no program for that player and if the answer is yes then target the areas where the drop off is are significant.

    How many players drop off after HS? Some may do it by choice with fraternity life more appealing than constant weekend travel. Some players may play D1-D3 athletics but they all may come back one day. Others may see college rugby as a letdown if they left a top HS program and they too may come back one day. Coaches training is key.

    Why can’t college players play club rugby as well as college? Are they any less a student if they play club and college? Is a Trinity University or UCD student any less a student if they play for their old club as well at their university side? I am not sure if that is still allowed in Ireland but I believe Paul O’Connell still played for Young Munster and University of Limerick.

    How many players drop off after college? Careers, families, and education are all competing for rugby’s time. Eliminating national championships at the club level below D1 should happen tomorrow. How many clubs break their back financially to get to a final four or regional playoffs? Make it easier not harder to play and play at the level you wish to play. A good player that wishes to play at a lower level should be able to do so. Many are honorable men and women that will walk away rather than disappoint teammates by not traveling.

    By the way I understand one poster’s comment that varsity status is important but Title IX makes that difficult at college level outside of women but was rugby at Army any less a sport before it was in the athletic department? At the HS level you also have to be careful because in some states you must be an employee of the school district to coach a sport that is recognized as varsity.

    Quite a mouthful, but waiting on a flight.

  4. Pingback: USA Rugby Congress Votes w/ Strong Majority to Maintain Status Quo « Tony Ridnell

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