VANCOUVER - This past Saturday and Sunday some 70 players attended the first academy session for the 2012-2013 season where the program included working through the new Rugby Canada skill assessment protocols as well as covering enhancement workshops on hydration, flexibility, fitness and time management. The start of the 2012 season marks the seventh year of the BC Rugby Academy Program which began in 2006 with a crop of approximately 30 players, mainly from the BC U16 Team that won the National Championship in Winnipeg.
In the years following, BC U16 provincial team players have been added to the program while athletes graduating from the U18 group have been tracked and monitored as they progressed though National U19 and U20 teams. Attending players have been involved in educational workshops on flexibility, core stability and nutrition. They have attended conditioning session and tested on Rugby Canada fitness protocols. They have been addressed on professional overseas and domestic national player pathways by people such as Mike James, Mike Webb and Pat Fleck. They have met regularly at Academy Weekend Camps and Regional Training Camps to work on core technical skills and tactical decision making.
In 2010, when BC began to send two U16 men's teams to the National Championships, the number of athletes entering the program immediately jumped from approximately 30 to just over 50, which means the current program will contain approximately 100 athletes in the U17/U18 range and the graduating players moving into U19 club and senior rugby will be tracked and engaged as part of the preparation for the CRC U19 event. The Program has been run by Dave Brown, and was set up in partnership with former Rugby Canada High Performance Coach, Geraint John.
"We used the initial group as a test group, observed and evaluated what went well and then began to modify and narrow down the focus on some key areas that we believed would benefit the development of the athletes. Better to do four or five things well, rather than 10 or 12 poorly," noted Brown.
Brown believes the success of the program will be judged over the long term, especially if you take into account the widely held belief that it takes 10,000 hours of training over 10 years to produce the elite performer in any given arena.
"I would like to wait until 2016 and after to see the results of some of our initial groups," said Brown, "but some of the short term results indicate that we are going in the right direction."
From the initial group in 2006, 12 players represented Canada at the U17 level, 12 players went on to play for Canada U20s, 8 players have played in the Senior CRC for the BC Bears and 2 players, Connor Braid and Sean Ferguson, have represented Canada at Sevens. Through the duration of the Program almost 100 players have represented Canada U17 (averaging 16 per year), 36 players have played for Canada U20s (averaging 12 per year for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 U16 entry groups), 4 players have played Canada Sevens and 13 have played for the Bears.
Brown acknowledges the importance of BC's system and programs in developing its younger athletes.
"The Academy is only one component. The work done at Mini, Junior Club and School programs is a key, as are the efforts of all our regional coaches. The provincial age grade Staff have a tremendous impact on the development of our athletes as well. In addition, we have had a good working relationship with National U17 and U20 Coaching staff. The more integrated the process, the better it is for the athlete."
Brown is also quick to point out that the program is still developing. "I think we have seen that there was a gap in engagement once athletes moved on from the U20 program. Some of the players have been integrated into the National Programs and BC Bears but there has also been a large number that still needed development. When we initiated the U23 program this summer, there was a tremendous response from the Academy group of players as well as athletes that had developed outside this and our Provincial programs. We engaged them again and we plan to sustain this engagement through 2013 and beyond."
The Academy program in BC (and other regions of the country) has been supported by Rugby Canada through IRB development funding and by the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific through its Integrated Performance Sport Program. "We have had the targeted funding support that has enabled us to implement and sustain this program, especially in the areas of Regional Staff coaches (such as Jason Young, Pat Fleck and Shane Thompson) and performance enhancement workshops. But most importantly, we have had the buy in and commitment from a large number of athletes, and their parents, from right across the Province," said Brown. " Of the 90 or so athletes from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 U16 groups that came into the program, there are some 65 still involved in the game....for me, to have almost 72% still involved is one of the most pleasing outcomes."