Proudly Supporting Tasman Rugby


CEO Chat with Tony Lewis

Playing JAB & Age Grade Rugby has clear social, physical and mental health benefits for children but evidence illustrates that youth sports in NZ society has become increasingly controlled and regulated by adults, which takes the fun out for many children.

Tima Fainga’anuku returns from season in France

Rugby for all, not just the elite young players.

In response to concerns about elitism and high performance rugby programs at this age, the negativity of non-selection, the coaching process and the declining participation from this age group, the Tasman Rugby Union recently decided to remove representative junior teams. The decision was based on a business case developed by TRU staff and a considerable body of research that suggests children's sport is increasingly driven by adults’ ambitions.

TRU policy based on evidence

This decision was only made after an in-depth study was undertaken with all stakeholders including most importantly the young playing group themselves (those players who were or were not selected) in our representative teams. We have received mainly positive feedback from our stakeholders and the real proof will be the delivery of the new programs. Some responses fell back on the argument that political correctness had gone mad, which is a common response that tends to close off any meaningful debate. 

There were some people who believe that this decision will effectively close off a "career pathway". Seriously the only pathways kids should be on until well into their teens are footpaths. The idea that a 12-year-old is on the pathway to a professional sports career is ridiculous and speaks only to parental obsession, not reality. 

This year the Mako Development camps will start on Sunday July 28 and all the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup players will be involved in the delivery. Secondly in a first I believe in NZ rugby our camps will be for both male and female.

The Tasman Rugby based its decision on research over the last three years that shows young people play rugby primarily to have fun,  play with their mates; to receive good coaching and good refereeing ; in a meaningful competition; and for the sheer joy and exhilaration it provides. What will surprise many in the research carried out by Steve Mitchell of the Tasman Rugby Union was winning hardly received a mention.

The period of adolescence is the time most associated with dropout from sport, and a key reason commonly cited is that sport stops being fun. In the US, researcher Amanda Visek found that "fun" for children meant up to 81 different things.

  1. "Getting compliments from coaches" was number 1; 
  2. "Playing well during a game" was number 2; and
  3. Winning came in at number 30.

TRU Culture change in children's rugby within the region

Tasman Rugby have implemented positive changes over the past couple of seasons following feedback from local players at various ages, genders, and experience levels on what they want playing rugby: meaningful competition, development (learn new skills), and enjoyment. Bold changes involve removing the structures that encourage a ‘win-at-all-cost’ mentality, while emphasising and expanding on the reason’s kids play sport in the first instance. Some of these changes include:

  • Eliminating big score blow outs (cricket scores) by implementing a Win/Loss points system, removing point differentials.
  • Encouraging meaningful competition by introducing a bylaw that allows team management to work together to create a competitively balanced, enjoyable game of rugby.
  • Introducing an exciting 3-4 week ‘TRU Cup’ to conclude the season, giving all teams the chance to win the grade.
  • Another positive initiative has involved Tasman Rugby partnering with Armageddon Paintball and rewarding fair play and sportsmanship. The top teams at the completion of the season receive an all-expenses paid paintball session and meal. More Info - 

These changes have had a positive effect on the delivery of teenage rugby in the region and is a step in the right direction to a greater understanding on how coaches, managers, and administrators can deliver rugby. The following is some statistical evidence of positive change.

  1. 60% of Coaches & Managers saw an improvement in Side-line & Player Behaviour from 2017 – 2018 Age Grade Survey
  2. 80% of Referee’s reported on an improvement in Player and Side-line Behaviour – 2018 Referee Report
  3. 38% decrease in Yellow & Red Cards issued due to improved Player Behaviour – 2018 Card Tracker

A key focus was to inform parents, coaches, teachers and volunteers, through the clubs and schools that rugby must put the structures in place about ensuring a quality sporting experience for a young person every time they play. Representative rugby teams at early ages have also been associated with over-the-top adult behaviour at rugby events and selection biases. 

It is the belief of the TRU, and I fully support, that there is a need for a culture change in rugby if we want to grow our game and make it a game for all in the “Top of the South”. We should never lose or forget that junior rugby is the children's game, not ours and that includes all children both boys and girls.


This year, ALL U11 - U14 Junior players will get the opportunity to learn & develop their Rugby skills! Make sure you register online to participate in 3 days of developing your catch & pass, tackling, breakdown and improve your body position in contact & decision making.

On July 28th, everyone will get the opportunity to be coached by the Mako men & women players. Don’t miss out!! 

Tony Lewis