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Introducing children to rugby: Shaping the game,
retaining players and developing talent
Gethin Thomas
Introducing children to rugby: Shaping the game,
retaining players and developing talent
Gethin Thomas
Research Partner
• Rugby Football Union (RFU)
• Gary Townsend, Player
Development Manager
• AIM: To increase
involvement of all players
during games and the
number of children playing
rugby.
Aims of the presentation
• Research Overview
- Background & Aims
• U7 & U9 Match Analysis
- Methods
- Results
- Discussion
• Year 2 & Year 3
Research Overview
• Focus
– RFU Shaping the Game: 3-year pilot project focusing on
the mini rugby game from U7 through to U11 in England.
– Its impact on the development and retention of players.
• Aims
– Evaluate and compare on-pitch performance of the current
games played (continuum) with the games played under
the proposed new rules (pilot).
– Examine the attitudes of key ‘users’.
• Mixed Methods: Quantitative and qualitative methods.
U9
•Tackle
•Scrum
•Lineout
•Ruck
•Maul
•9v9
Continuum (AGR)
Pilot
• Learning environment to allow players of all abilities to develop at their own
pace. (zone of proximal development (ZPD) Vygotsky, 1978.)
• ‘Scaffolding’: skills and tactical elements introduced at an appropriate stage
(Wood et al., 1976).
Data Collection Year 1: U7 and U9
• Behavioural Analyses (6 Counties)
3 Pilot: Durham, Hampshire, Warwickshire.
3 Continuum: Cheshire, Devon, Gloucestershire.
• Observations: Match Analysis
U7
26 pilot matches and 15 continuum matches.
U9
33 pilot matches and 21 continuum matches.
U7 – Key Rule Changes
Pitch Size
Number of players
“Knock-On” by a player
Continuum
Pilot
60m x 30m
20m x 12m
7v7
4v4
Offence – opposition
ball.
No offence – play on.
• INSERT U7 CLIP – 45S
U7 Results
AGR
Pilot
45
40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
Tries
Runs
Passes
Tags
Numbers in a standardised 10 minutes
• Both games are characterised
by lots of running, with little
passing.
• Basic results show little
difference between both games.
- The pilot had 58% more tries
(p < .001).
- Continuum (AGR) had 24%
more tags (p = .030).
• Following Individual players.
- Preliminary analysis suggests
that involvements are spread
out more evenly in the Pilot,
where there are fewer players
on the pitch.
U9 – Key Rule Changes
Continuum
Pilot
9v9
7v7
Scrums and Lineouts
Yes
None
Rucks and Mauls
Yes
None
Tackling
Yes
Yes
1 defender only.
Grasp allowed.
Number of players
• INSERT U9 CLIP – 1M 15S
Number of Passes every 10
minutes
• Many significant differences with
the pilot game having:
- 85% more tries
- Twice as many passes.
- Ball in play for 22% longer.
• Increased opportunities to
develop fundamental movement
skills.
• More touches of the ball leads to
more individual decision making.
• Longer ball in play should lead to
positive fitness benefits for
players (Hill-Haas, 2008;
Rampinini et al., 2007).
What’s next?
• Year 2: U8 and U10
– Match analysis.
Team and individual.
– Player feedback.
– Questionnaires
– Interviews of elite coaches
• Year 3: U11
– Should allow for a (brief) longitudinal
comparison
Thank you – any questions?
• Research presented here was conducted during an ESRC
Studentship under its Capacity Building Clusters Award
(RES-187-24-0002) in partnership with the
Rugby Football Union.
• For more information about this project and the work of the
Centre for Sport, Leisure and Tourism research, see
• http://www.exeter.ac.uk/slt/ourresearch/rugby/
• Or
• http://www.rfu.com/ManagingRugby/ShapingTheGame.aspx
• Gethin Thomas, [email protected], 07866 140723.

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