Player Retention and Volunteer Recruitment Research Program

01 March 2021

Player Retention and Volunteer Recruitment Research Program

Lend your voice to enhance player retention in Connacht

What is this research project about?

The Connacht Rugby vision and strategy plan aims to enhance the immediate sporting environment and retain players of both genders from the ground up. From this, the Connacht Rugby Age Grade Committee approached the University of Limerick through the “UL Beo” initiative (Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences) to examine ways that the branch could support the underage player pathway to better facilitate the playing experience, reduce drop out and ultimately see more players playing at all ages and continuing to adulthood as participants in rugby at all levels. These goals would be in line with the IRFU and Sport Ireland commitments to the Lifelong Involvement in Sport and Physical Activity Models and to help build the base of the performance pyramid.

This project is supported by the Lifes2Good Foundation. One of its aims is to support community initiatives in the West of Ireland and the foundation recognises the critical importance that local community sport plays in the wellbeing of people and the physical and social health of communities.


What has been done to date?

The project involves two work-packages, the first aimed at volunteer recruitment and support, the second work-package centred on player retention in the 16 to 20-year old age bracket.

Enhancing the volunteer experience: The initial drive, spearheaded by Dr. Gary Ryan, sought to investigate perspectives of current, former and potential volunteers to provide actionable points to Connacht Rugby in the short term. The final report documented the findings of two separate consultations: one with a group representing those currently active within Connacht Clubs and another called the “Seldom Heard Voices” which heard the voices of those thought to be on the fringes of the sport in the region. The report contains thirty recommendations for Connacht Rugby and for clubs in Connacht to implement. The recommendations are in areas such as Marketing, Club organisation, and Human Relations Management, and are currently under review.

Enhancing player retention: The second part of the initiative, steered by Dr. Phil Kearney and Patrick McEvoy, aims to enhance the immediate sporting environment to retain players of both genders, to encourage more young people to participate in rugby, especially from non-traditional cohorts and areas and to provide a sustainable framework to increase participation in Connacht Rugby in the medium to long term.

The first phase of this work-package was an exploration of the Connacht Player Database. In all over 33,000 entries were processed, focusing on whether factors such as number of appearances, playing for both club and school or at multiple age grades in a single season, and a player’s relative age influenced retention (fig. 1)


The database executive report contains four principal findings and nine key recommendations to help increase player retention. These findings are currently being actioned by Connacht Rugby.


The second phase was a review of the current scientific literature relevant to player retention in sport. This literature report highlighted six key findings which will inform phase 3 of the project, but also provides recommendations to address current practices and enhance the player experience. The overarching themes of the review are illustrated in figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Key factors surrounding an individual’s intention to continue in their sport or to dropout


The third phase of the project is currently underway. Focus groups are being conducted with a range of stakeholders regarding the reasons why players aged 16-20 years are retained or drop out of rugby, to inform decision making on policies and enhance our rugby landscape as we look to the future.

Initial focus groups have already been conducted with parents of current players, current male players aged 16-18, current female players aged 16-18, and coaches of current players. It is important this research account for all perspectives on player retention. If you are involved in the rugby community in Connacht and you wish to add your voice to help shape our research, please click the link here to fill out the interest form (it will take about 90 seconds) and leave your preferred email address. Remember, your voice and your perspective is as important as anybody’s and will add to a meaningful step in keeping young players involved in club rugby.

If you wish to find out more information about what focus group participation means and what is involved, please click on the   VOLUNTEER INFORMATION SHEET. There is also a brief description of what to expect and how each focus group is Focus Group outline attachment.

If preferred I can be contacted at I’m here to help and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.