Why Girls Select-Side Numbers Are Dropping And What We Can Do About It

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The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions, and while a mistake in rugby won't bring you damnation, we do have a problem to talk about.

And the problem lies in girls high school all-star rugby. Now, that might not be on your radar but consider the fact that we’ve got a Sevens World Cup kicking off on Friday. Consider that we should be getting the players for that USA team, and future Olympic teams, from the pathway that starts at the high school select level. Consider that everything we want in the game—better coaching, more engagement from parents, better refs, a bigger following—is helped by women’s national teams and colleges being good.

And then look at this:

  • South RCT: Zero girls teams
  • Midwest RCT: 4 girls varsity teams, 3 JV teams
  • Great NW Challenge: Six girls varsity teams, four JV teams
  • Northeast RCT: Five girls varsity teams, two JV teams
  • Rocky Mountain Challenge: Two girls varsity teams, two JV teams.

In the five major all-star tournaments sanctioned by USA Rugby as scouting opportunities for age-grade teams and colleges, only 17 varsity teams and 11 JV teams participated.

(Compare this to the boys, who had 33 JV teams were in action—three times as many.)

In addition, numbers were low. On more than a few occasions the round of games wasn’t finished, as teams lost players and didn’t have the depth to keep going. The Midwest JV tournament ended with a pickup sevens round-robin because two of the three teams didn’t have enough players to field a full side.

There are a few reasons for this, including internal politics within various states, select-side coach turnover, and lack of promotion of these types of programs among high school teams.

And One More Reason

But there’s another reason, which is the rule that limits who gets to play on the teams involved. USA Rugby’s rule essentially limits the varsity teams to juniors and seniors and the JV teams to sophomores and freshmen. There’s a little movement allowed for young juniors and old sophomores but not much.

For boys teams, this rule has worked fairly well, and in fact, has served one of its purposes—to raise the level of play among the JV teams. It’s a success.

But what is good for the goose is not good for the gander, in this case. For the girls teams, what has happened is that talented youngsters are not able to augment the varsity teams, and at the same time, the JV programs are just hard-pressed to find enough players.

Is There A Solution?

Having watched several of these teams over the years, I can tell you that the presence of a senior player can be hugely beneficial to a JV select team. Such players don’t have to be the best in the state—in fact, it’s a good thing if they’re not—but the presence of two or three smart, hard-working players who maybe aren’t blow-you-away athletes but who know the game and can be leaders is what’s needed at the girls JV level.

Sophomore and freshman girls rugby players don’t have a lot of experience. Having players who provide experience can make it easier to fill out the entire team. In addition, we all know how players can bail at the last minute. If a JV team has the flexibility to bring in a couple of more mature athletes, then the coach can build from there, knowing that a small cadre of 17- or 18-year-olds are holding it all together.

Is that the solution? I think so, although I understand that there are complications, such as how to avoid having an older player who physically dominates being the leader a coach just has to have on the JV squad. But, done right, this can be a leadership opportunity for another good rugby player and can help bring up the numbers for JV select side play, which right now are falling.

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