To cap off this three-part series, I would like to recognize all of the hard work done out there across the American rugby landscape, as well as encourage more of us to get involved.
The difference in American rugby now compared to just 10 or 15 years ago is pretty darn impressive, and it didn't just magically happen. It was built up through the concerted efforts of many people who volunteered their own time to see the wonderful game extend its reach around the nation.
A quick anecdote
Just speaking from my own experience, I may have never started playing this incredible sport if not for the fact that some retired rugby players from a local club (Austin Blacks) decided to take time out of their own lives to coach our high school team.
They weren't paid, and they didn't live close to the fields, but they never missed a practice and they never missed a game. They instilled a passion for the sport in myself and many of my teammates, and we are extremely lucky to have had them around.
There are thousands of other rugby players — boys, girls, men, women — who could share a similar story. The core of a strong rugby nation is the dedication of the people within the community to share their love of the game to open up opportunities for others.
So, what are some ways to get more involved in growing the game?
Register to coach
This one is two-fold. It relies on both the interest of the public to pursue coaching, but also on the powers-that-be to provide coaching clinics and registration opportunities all around the country.
As more people pick up their coaching badges, more potential arises for teams to be formed and players to get involved in the game.
There are many areas across the United States that have gone untapped in regards to rugby. I would like to believe the primary reason for this is they've yet to be introduced to the sport!
Should more rugby members in America find a way to coach, there will be an uptick in reach to areas thus far unfamiliar with the game.
Obtaining a Level 200 license in the U.S., which permits someone to coach at any level of American rugby, doesn't take very long.
It requires completion of a few online exercises and attendance to an eight-hour clinic which teaches the basics of safety, forming a practice plan, and how to pull a team together.
Whether you were a successful player or not doesn't matter; you can still be a great coach! As long as you care, you can make a profound difference in people's lives!
While it generally costs close to $200 to register for each individual, I believe it's worth it for the advancement of the game; there are even rugby clubs around the country who will subsidize the costs for their members. Maybe yours is one of them!
Coaching is one of the best ways to share the love of the game, and you can never have enough coaches growing the sport.
Register to referee
For any match to be official, and for the promotion of safety and welfare, referees are a vital requirement.
For as much flack as refs may get during the course of a season, we wouldn't even have a game at all without them. As with coaching, an uptick in refs is dependent on both public interest and on administrators working to provide certification opportunities.
Just like players and coaches, referees are always trying to improve their own skillsets and knowledge of the sport. There is a definitive correlation between top-level refs and top-level players in regards to what country they come from.
There are likely thousands more potentially great referees in America who have yet to certify and pick up the whistle. Even if it's just officiating the youth level, it goes a heck of a long way towards teaching players how to play the game right, and how to do it safely.
A strong grasp on the laws aids players tremendously, and the degree of their grasp depends largely on how well their local refs teach them.
I am among the populous the has yet to certify, but I will be doing so at the next available opportunity!
Volunteer for roles within a rugby club
By and large, almost all of the rugby clubs in the United States are run by active members within the club. It's a very cool and unique thing about the sport, the way that teams are so self-sufficient.
There can never be too many people chipping in to help out their clubs. As they say, "Many hands make light work."
Whether it's giving back to the community, taking care of the fields, serving as a club officer, cooking burgers for the social, whatever it may be, there are tons of ways to help out. Assisting the needs of the club helps a lot to make the overall rugby experience one that people want to remain a part of.
Administration is also an area that could always use extra help. The relationship between teams at all levels and their respective unions is highly important in terms of making rugby run smoothly.
Running for board positions is a great way to contribute to the overall health of a rugby union or region.
A union with a strong relationship with its own teams is likely to have a strong relationship with the upper echelons of USA Rugby. At that point, everyone will be on the same page and everyone will benefit; youth, high school, collegiate, club, professional, all the way to the national team.
Rugby has an amazing culture throughout, and that's largely attributed to all of the volunteer work that goes into it. The more people chipping in the better!
Show up on Saturday!
The final point I'd like to touch on is simply turning out on the weekends. We've all heard it before: Saturday is a rugby day!
The best part about rugby is the weekend, when we get to play the best sport on the planet and then socialize with our mates, our fans, and the other team.
The festive atmosphere is something rugby has that you hardly experience with other sports.
The best days are when fans of either side come out and support — then everyone from both sides gets together after the games end.
Despite what happened in the game, there's always that incredible feeling of unity, mutual respect, and enjoyment just to be out there which everyone shares.
Even if you're not playing, you still play a big part in creating that special atmosphere.
So, having said that, I would urge both myself and everyone else to just show up and support more when we can. It makes the day more fun and more meaningful for all parties involved.
Whether it's for age-group rugby, club rugby, MLR or international rugby, turning out and offering support in any way has a big impact.
As the rugby community, we can help to evolve USA Rugby by continuing to pour our energy, time, and passion into the game. The results on the field may not be there quite yet, but as we continue to build up a strong foundation of rugby values and culture in America, success on the pitch can and will happen!