Connacht Rugby are confident that their Connacht le Chéile scheme will see increased player retention numbers among youth players in the province.
The pilot, which has been 18 months in the making, will be rolled out for boys U13’s leagues and girls U14’s leagues in Connacht for the 2020/2021 season, which will begin after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
Up to 75% of young sportspeople in Ireland, male and female, stop playing their sport of choice between the ages of 10 and 18, according to statistics from the Economic and Social Research Institute, the ESRI.
The purpose of the Connacht le Chéile programme -- which means “together” in Irish and reflects the importance and prevalence of the language in the region -- is to both increase and retain participation numbers in youth Rugby but to also foster a lifelong love of the sport in young players.
There are currently over 6’000 underage Rugby players -- boys and girls in both minis and youths -- registered in Connacht and these youngsters -- whether as players, coaches, referees or volunteers -- remaining involved in the game is crucial for the future of the sport.
Research conducted by the IRFU and Connacht Rugby has shown that young rugby players regularly rank team-work and enjoyment of the game ahead of the result of a match, and that players who get quality game-time are more likely to be retained in the sport and this initiative aims to increase playing time for all players. Across the board, this model of increased match participation hasn’t impacted results and games -- on average -- have had closer final score lines.
Luke Murphy, the Connacht Rugby Spirit of Rugby officer, says that the system -- which guarantees every player in a matchday squad at least a half of Rugby in a 60-minute youth game -- will increase the enjoyment of the young players, which, in turn, will increase the chances of them continuing their involvement in the sport.
“In naming this initiative we wanted to draw on the bond between the West of Ireland and the Irish language as well as highlighting that we’re all working together to create the best opportunities for young people to enjoy sport,” Murphy said.
“Matchday squads will still be capped at 23 players and this initiative means that everyone involved will get at least 30 minutes of rugby each week, helping to develop their skills, cement the bonds of friendship through teamwork and continue to provide a child-centred environment for our youngest players to enjoy the sport.”
The half-game initiative run in England by the RFU -- which follows the same principles as Connacht le Chéile -- has received much acclaim, with 80% of players, 93% of parents and 94% of coaches agreeing that game-time is a vitally important component to retaining youth participation in Rugby. The scheme is run up until under 20’s level in England.
Connacht aren’t the only sports organisation in the country to partake in programmes like Connacht le Chéile, with Basketball Ireland running a system where every player in a matchday roster will play two quarters each and no one will play three quarters in a row.
There has been a huge growth in female Rugby in the province in recent years, with the number of youth participants enjoying girls Rugby numbering at over 1’000 -- across both mini and youth categories -- in 21 of the province's 26 affiliated clubs and two mini’s clubs.
Murphy’s hope is that Connacht le Chéile -- which has received praise and positive feedback among coaches, parents and parents from clubs across the region -- will eventually be rolled out in all underage games.
“The plan is that after what we hope will be a successful trial we will have a body of advocates for the project in clubs throughout the province. Once we can show the benefits that this approach can have on young athletes enjoyment of the game and the retention of players we believe it will be the logical step to roll out Connacht le Chéile at all age-grade levels throughout the province, and after that maybe nationally”, the Donegal native said.