North Harbour Rugby are planning for their future and the future of the sport as they take steps to evolve and reimagine rugby for their community in the years to come.
Dave Gibson, North Harbour CEO has been looking at where and how the Union can keep growing the game in the Province.
In 2018 the Union led by its ‘Purpose, Improve Lives Through Rugby’, made leadership, culture and system changes in the junior and girls’ rugby with the goal of wanting more kids having fun for longer.
The ‘People in Rugby Model’ or ‘Nga Taangata i te Whutuporo’ continues this work with a drive to navigate rugby and our community in what is a rapidly changing world.
Gibson says “Evidence tells us that there are significant drivers of change in our world right now and that if sports do not evolve to meet individual, family, and communities’ holistic and diverse needs people will simply spend their time in other ways. We have seen continued growth with junior and girls but the decline in young males playing rugby is concerning. The model promotes a different way of thinking to help address these challenges which we are excited about.”
Bill Wigglesworth who leads the Union’s ‘Engagement and Participation Team’ and was instrumental in developing the model with industry specialists and community leaders explains his ideas looking into the future.
“We spent a lot of time talking with and listening to our community- particularly our senior, youth and junior rugby committees. We also engaged other sports’ experts from Sport NZ, High Performance Sport, Auckland University of Technology and of course NZ Rugby to gather their insights along the way.”
Essentially we are moving away from a traditional participation to performance pyramid to one that has focused on people’s needs and motivation and contemplates two very distinct environments- ‘Active and Performance’.
What we have learnt is that not everyone wants the same thing and people are trending towards sports where the ability to choose what best suits them is important. For us this means shaping an active environment with different forms and formats, less structure, contact and non-contact.
We also want to provide an improved performance environment for those participants who aspire to develop so that they are creating a platform where they can benefit from winning experiences.
Understanding when the appropriate time for pressurised environments to be introduced and what we focus on based on participants’ age and stage is important. We want people to be given the best chance to succeed in a balanced way whilst maintaining a lifelong love of rugby and sport.
We’re excited to collaborate with our clubs, schools and other under-represented groups.”
NZ Rugby’s Head of Participation Steve Lancaster is enthusiastically behind North Harbour’s initiative.
“Harbour Rugby strive to be innovative and committed to keep evolving the rugby experience to ensure the sport remains fit for the future. The approach is in line with a lot of what we are seeing across the industry and we support them in their endeavours to evolve rugby,” said Lancaster
Gibson believes there is no one answer to the issues facing the sport, but there are ways forward.
“The ‘People in Rugby Model’ is not a silver bullet but we hope that by focusing on people’s needs and motivation to keep active or perform, we will better deliver what they want as oppose to what a rugby system has traditionally supplied. We have some good success to take forward from the work we have done over the past 18 months,” says Gibson.
The next step will be to use the model to look at ‘Youth Rugby in our Province’ with schools and clubs having the same goal i.e. More males, females, coaches, managers, officials, volunteers- all of rugby’s people staying connected to the game for longer.