By Robert Antonin, IRB Regional Development Manager, Europe
The development of the practice of Rugby has witnessed many important changes in the last thirty years in terms of strategies used, objectives reached and the establishment of reliable policies.
In countries with a strong Rugby culture it was mainly practiced in schools and at universities. It subsequently spread to clubs. Teachers in schools and universities often accompanied their players to the associative milieu of public and private clubs.
In countries where Rugby was either ignored or elitist, parents were often ex-patriots who indulged their passion for the game by establishing veteran teams or sometimes by trying to heighten awareness of Rugby among teachers or educators in clubs, of all sports.
My own experience began in 1972, in my role as Specialist Technical Advisor in Rugby at the Ministry of Sport, working for the French Rugby Federation and FIRA (The International Federation geared particularly toward European countries but also South America, Asia and especially Africa).
The development strategy always favoured the education of executives, trainers of seniors and especially educators of young people.
With the exception of 5 countries and Germany (which had a partnership with France : The OFAJ) there were no courses in Europe for trainers or referees.
France was the only country which organised a third level training course, on a yearly basis, to which approximately 15 trainees from countries such as Romania, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Belgium, Germany, etc, came.
The content of the course focused essentially on training-type sessions and on a collection of exercises (given in the form of a list) which the trainees used when they went back to their countries. The way they adapted these exercises was sometimes quite surprising since they had not received adequate educational or technical information to enable them to put them to best use.
What was important, nonetheless, was the awareness raised and the willingness to improve the organisation of education and practice of our sport.
Some invaluable works appeared at this time and they circulated in the Rugby milieu, becoming appreciated as the "Bibles of Rugby":
The ABC of Rugby - C.SAXTON The Fundamentals of Rugby - CONQUET & DEVALUEZ Rugby, a game of movement - R. DELEPLACE
However, theory alone was not enough to put in place the necessary level of efficiency required to establish sufficient, good quality development programmes which would fill the gaps left free by other sports, especially in areas where Rugby was totally unknown.
It should be noted that in 1973, the first World Conference on the game took place in Rugby in England, where for the first time the "creators of our game" let us into the secrets of their Rugby education system and of certain training methods. (see the photo of participants below).
The technical advisors in Rugby from France but also from the British Isles started to travel to countries which were in the process of developing Rugby. The British travelled mainly to the Scandinavian countries in Europe, to the southern hemisphere and sometimes to Italy and Portugal. The technical advisors for FIRA went to the sixty FIRA countries which not only included East Europe, but also Argentina, Morocco, Africa, China (Taipei).
This new way of functioning allowed us to work directly in situ with experimental technical advisors, who with the help of this detailed technical support were able to educate local trainers on the spot.
This proved to be a progressive factor which not only favoured the emergence of national senior teams but also the establishment of under 19 teams whose objective for the next 35 years would be to participate in the FIRA tournament, which a little later on became the World Cup IRB/FIRA-AER under 19s.
Information circulated in two directions:
An 8-day training course on a specific theme with 45 to 50 participants of 20 to 25 different nationalities. These subsequently became known as "expert training courses". Technical intervention in the countries with a trainer who worked in situ on the training plan as well as the training of local managers.
From this period on, our functions became institutionalised with the establishment of three types of exchange.
Bilateral exchanges (between two unions), teachers and referees carrying out training courses and information sessions in each country. Bi-governmental exchanges (resulting from Ministerial agreements) which provide state-funded training courses and competitions for young players. Courses and trips by trainers to other countries for a period of time specified by FIRA.
At present, several countries are putting in place their own organisation to teach trainers and referees: Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, often under the direction of a foreign official but also by locals who have previously been educated through the group training course system.
1987 - 1995: The establishment of the World Cup.
The impact of media on "Rugby life" becomes increasingly important (television in particular).
Appearance of training schools and methods from the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa ...) and equally from the northern hemisphere (England, France...)
Development of technical advisor exchanges between these two entities : advisors from the south appear in northern countries and their clubs, trainers from the north gain experience in countries, provinces or clubs of the south (see the photo below).
1995 - 2003: The birth of professionalism.
Development of competitions on a world scale for other categories, U19, U21, VII, Ladies.
A worldwide approach to technical research and precision in Rugby training with the establishment of world conferences on the game, a training system standardised by the IRB with different levels of training as well as a charter on the game and its players ("Play the Game").
The IRB becomes aware of the need to assist countries in developing strategic development plans and also to provide them with experts who are competent in two areas:
Training of National Teams (the Coach) Management of the training of players, trainers, referees (the Development Officer)
For this, grants are distributed and educational aids are furnished through the RDM and the trainers of trainers.
Today, there is an established network through which, educational and technical aid is distributed through resources such as video, Cdroms and technical documents.
The exchanges take place very frequently and methods are both reviewed and amended, which is a sign of great PROGRESS.
Changes have taken place in parallel with the evolution of the game and its players and also the necessity to render our sport both more spectacular and more widely accessible.
I have outlined the different educational approaches in the teaching of rugby:
An approach centred on the individual technique of the player. An approach centred on tactical intelligence and on the collective element. Alternative approach which takes into account knowledge of the global practice of our sport, the game, the player and all known tactics.
The world-wide spread of our sport has also brought to light the sociological characteristics specific to those individuals practicing it. For example "Island Rugby", Latin Rugby, Southern Rugby, Eastern Rugby, Northern Rugby, etc.
This should be taken into account in our teaching because if the game is the same for all, the way it is played should also make provision for individual characteristics, from a physical, mental, educational and sociological perspective.
Finally, a few years ago the development of Rugby may have consisted merely of encouraging people who had been used to playing with a round ball to play with an oval one instead! Today this is no longer adequate, the challenge has changed and so we must:
Develop the means available to individuals to express themselves fully in this sport. Develop all techniques available to teach the sport. Create teachers of teachers. Help unions to structure themselves and to build coherent technical projects.