Fun while you’re young: mini rugby should focus on the enjoyment of the game

Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of kids descend on rugby clubs across the British Isles to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of our game.

Ferrying this chirpy little army is a battalion of parents wanting the best for their children. As a parent, I understand that.

Many of these good souls willingly take up coaching and refereeing responsibilities. I’ve been roped in myself, helping out a committed and ever-enthusiastic bunch of mums and dads who give up their time for an U8 team in Hertfordshire – Joe Schmidt and Nigel Owens can rest easy!

Yet I have been disappointed and angered to witness these unpaid volunteers within mini rugby criticised, shouted at and undermined by parents, opposition coaches and hangers-on. What these naysayers are exhibiting is, to my mind, not the true spirit of rugby – namely camaraderie, inclusiveness, a sense of fair play and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of humour.

Clear message: Beddau RFC's sign struck a chord wtih parents

Clear message: Beddau RFC’s sign struck a chord wtih parents

It will also do nothing for the confidence of their offspring to have their parents jumping up and down maniacally on the touchline. It sets a poor example.

This overly competitive nature has reared its head on Sunday morning football pitches for years where referees are often too scared to give decisions, and there have been reports of physical and verbal assaults. Do we want this creeping into rugby?

Indeed, who can forget the shameful picture of a parent inexplicably tripping an U16 player in a game between Fullerians and Royston in Hertfordshire earlier this year? It’s an act for which the perpetrator was banned from the club for six months.

Only a few months ago, Beddau, a club a matter of miles from where I grew up and a true South Walian rugby heartland, felt compelled to put up a sign asking for understanding for coaches whose Sundays were being ruined by over-zealous parents.

Now I’m not advocating that rugby loses its competitive streak. Far from it; it can prepare youngsters for the rigours of real life, but for goodness sake, please keep this behavior within the realms of the sport. There is no place for bad sportsmanship in the game. After all, this is rugby.

This interview was published in the January 2015 edition of Rugby World. Click here for the latest subscription offers.