Where Have All The Players Gone?

I manage a 3rd team in Cheshire, we are the clubs “social” team made up of really old vets who refuse to give up, broken ex-players in their 40’s, youngsters taking their first steps into senior rugby, but interestingly not much in between.

Over the years I’ve seen player numbers steadily decline at my club. When I started playing rugby here in 2009 we had 4 healthy teams and a vets side of over 35’s, similar to most established clubs in Cheshire. I’m reliably informed that at the turn of the century we had 7 teams in total. Today we’re struggling to maintain 3 teams and talking to my peers at other established clubs, they are struggling too.

I have heard many opinions in the bar on what’s caused the decline, all the old guard blame “kids today” no sense of commitment, too busy on their phones and putting their thriving social lives first. But I don’t just see the decline in youths at my club, there’s also a lack of 20 and 30 somethings working in the area wanting to commit themselves every week.

In my youth, I’m 43, you either played a sport at weekends or…erm well I’m not sure what else kids did as I lived for weekend sports, went to the pub and then clubbing I suppose. University was not mandatory and music festivals were few and far between. Organising social things was much more difficult, you needed to have a F2F discussion or use a house or pay phone to communicate with your friends.

These days there seems to be a festival every other week and I believe that groups of friends are generally larger and better informed than we were due to the myriad of ways they can communicate on their mobile phones so there are possibly a lot more more alternatives and distractions now than there were in my youth.

As for the lack of 20 and 30 somethings, my theory is that work life is more competitive and therefore more demanding of that age group than ever before, many of them have graduated to middle management jobs, have serious relationships and young children, high mortgages and live in fear of redundancy or injuries that might cause them to jeopardize their incomes. I’ve seen a definite shift in priorities from this age group over the years and it’s hard to argue with it.

I’d be keen to know if this is a trend that other members of the rugby fraternity have witnessed over the years and if so, what they believe the causes are. I’d also love to hear from people who have managed to avoid or halt the decline in numbers and how they did it as I’m concerned that this trend is going to threaten the existence of many long established clubs and that would be a travesty.

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  1. I firmly believe that a decline in junior rugby has been taking place over the last 20 years.
    The reasons are many. Work life balance, players looking to be paid. I have seen almost every club no longer running the number of social teams that they once did. I have seen clubs having to amalgamate.
    The RFU believes the great game we all love is thriving. The top of the game will always have a strong position in the game.
    As we all know it was always the grass roots that was the lifeblood of rugby.
    Where camaraderie and friendships were forged.
    The RFU have been guilty of neglecting this level of rugby.
    As was once said the best players in England played junior rugby, this definitely is no longer the case.
    Finance has been the driving force in the decline of the lower levels, the RFU should have financed the game across a levels as opposed to concentrating on the top tiers. It is probably too late for the juggernaut to be put into reverse.
    We could live in hope, but please don’t hold your breath.

  2. Wow, a sobering thought Howard, but I have to agree. It will be such a shame if the “juggernaut” can’t be dealt with so I do live in hope. Thanks for your feedback.

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