A new event in the Irish Rugby calendar focuses on creating and maintaining a safe and fun environment for young people this weekend. The first ever Spirit of Rugby Conference will be held at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday January 13th.
The Conference’s organiser is IRFU Spirit of Rugby Programme Manager Anne Marie Hughes. She says the idea for the event was first floated in 2017.
“There was clear feedback from our network of Club Welfare Officers that we needed a forum to address certain issues in the modern game.
“Our theme this weekend is Play Your Part, Let Them Play. We want to remind coaches and parents why young people play and the importance of letting young people enjoy their game, without fear of expectation, criticism and harm. We want rugby to be a positive influence in their life, not an additional pressure in their life.”
The conference is open to all sports practitioners and volunteers looking to gain a deeper understanding of what attracts people to their chosen sport. Anne Marie Hughes says it’s one of the most important issues facing parents and coaches.
“We need to be mindful that sometimes we see the ‘potential’ in a player rather than understanding what their goals are. We know from consultations that young players play for fun. They want to be with their friends. They like the physical challenge and an opportunity to learn new skills.
“Of course, children enjoy winning. But they rarely state it as a primary concern. Research tells us that 86% of kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.”
Four experts in well-being will address the conference, including keynote speaker John O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is a coach, author, TEDx speaker and founder of Changing The Game Project, a US organisation dedicated to improving the lives of children through sport.
Also addressing the conference will be IRFU Head of Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Prof. Phil Glasgow, Senior Clinical Psychologist Dr. Paul Gaffney, and Dr. AnneMarie Waldron, who is a Clinical Director with the HSE’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
The day culminates with a Q&A session featuring all four speakers. Hughes points out that the aims of the conference go beyond what happens on a rugby pitch.
“Sport and physical activity are fundamental to childrens’ development. Research has shown that those involved in sport and physical activity achieve high grades, have higher levels of self-esteem and can have a better capacity to deal with adversity. Sometimes we need reminding – it’s their game, let them play.”