Grass Roots

GRASS ROOTS…. IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR                                     Traditionally the great game is, and I suppose will always be, a Northern sport, despite  the games hierarchy much publicised attempts to broaden our horizons the foundation and more importantly our participants of our sport come from the North   of England with the BARLA network of leagues. This is where you will find five district leagues Hull and District, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Pennine and the North West Counties (NWC) and the three National Conference Leagues (the top tier clubs) like Skirlaugh, Miners, St Pat’s and the Humberside trio  Hull Dockers, West and East Hull.This structure also applies to the juniors and youth set ups which are all independently run by their respective committees while the whole family tree is looked after by BARLA and they kind of answer to the RFL. Each club must adhere to the regional league rules and regulations with all teams governed by a registration procedure. Add to that the summer conference competition and we are talking tens of thousands of people every week of the year give or take contributing to our sport, those numbers are made up from people playing, coaching, assisting and watching our great game from under 7’s to Super League.  Yes Wales would boast similar stats as would the rest of the country for the 15 a-side code but 13 a-side Rugby League will never challenge Union in its homelands and it is the same for Scotland and Ireland, if some of our own stronghold like Cumbria are struggling and desperate for funding and resources then surely it is time to focus on these areas we can have some impact on and in my opinion that is the way forward. Why doesn’t the RFL develop, market and resource the towns of Barrow, Workington and Whitehaven were we already have the grass root infrastructures developed to provide the talent required to produce and develop marquee players, instead these players travel to Yorkshire and beyond come 16 to attain the highest standard of play they can and who can criticise a boy for trying to give himself the best possible chance of success. Why don’t the seven Cumbria open age teams that participate in the North West Counties leagues  play in their own Cumbria league, if they did it would be a strong league so there are still things we the amateurs can improve on but I think that prestige and the media attention that goes with Super League  is a big part of this issue, there is no representative at the highest level of the sport (Super League) in Cumbria which must impact on any 16 year old kid who wants to be the next Rob Burrow, and so would be well advised to apply himself in the best leagues available with regional Super League representation and the scouting systems that come with it, in order for him to achieve his goals, so a huge majority of marquee Cumbrian Talent leaks to other district leagues and ultimately Super League clubs, but if the talent was able to remain within its district and there was a Super League club to play for then I think a Cumbrian side could produce and maintain a profitable and competitive franchise. Surely Super League could only benefit from a strong Cumbrian club competing at the highest level, it may alter the perception of the district league and generate the pride within those hot beds of rugby folk and offer the opportunity to the grass root players to play for their very own Cumberland Super League club.    The current and future state of the junior game is in very good health with new coaching methods and input from the RFL, new funding resources like the National Lottery, Sport England, Sports match and Awards for All there are resources to tap into and with the RFL are now educating clubs, leagues and districts as well as supporting clubs with the lengthy documentation and procedures involved in securing funding, the grass roots are getting the much needed and deserved facilities that will allow our game to develop and grow in the areas that are providing the Professional ranks with the talent to which they can showcase and exhibit round after round in the truly Super League.Over the years I have played and coached junior, youth and open age rugby so  I have first hand experience with all the tiers, both as a student and teacher I have witnessed the transformation in our approach to the game on both sides of the fence and I have made many friends along the way and I reiterate friends not acquaintances but real characters of the rugby fraternity, men, women and children who breed life into a game that has deep footholds in the urban and suburban towns and cities of  Northern England and not just players, coaches and staff of the clubs, but parents, spectators and volunteers like St Johns Ambulance and student Physio’s who put back into the sport, so that many others can receive.The development of our game has been both clinical and organisational we have introduced seminars delivered by the top coaches of our sport and campaigns like RESPECT, we have more understanding of diet, the Human body and training methods as well as the objectives and goals for each tier of the structure of our sport, by this I mean training for fun for the little ones, letting them run, pass and tackle with no fear of failure just encouragement and enjoyment whilst the youth can train to compete, studying the ethos and techniques, training regimes and lifestyle required to become an athlete.  For anyone who has never been part of a team you lack a very essential gift in life to rely on and be relied upon by your fellow team mates somehow beholds a special feeling that most who play or are involved with team sports will confirm a family is the only way to describe that emotion that is shared throughout. So with all that said and as with any family, there are always feuds and in-house disputes but for the main we seem to be getting it right at least in the amateur ranks, open age has and always will have it’s problems through natural losses and mismanagement but all the leagues boast a wealth of talent and ability, youth and experience but it is at youth and junior level that I witness an abundance of talented children hopefully the next generation of National and Super League stars that will continue to promote and develop our sport. I watch at least one junior, youth and open age game every week so have just cause for my claims.  The NWC leagues are amongst the Best in the land (Lancashire cup final Blackbrook v Wigan St Cuthbert’s) National cup finalist (Halton Simms Cross) Champion of Champions Final (Blackbrook v Halton Simms Cross) BARLA youth National cup Final (Leigh Miner Rangers) all NWC teams feeding the likes of Wigan, St Helens, Warrington, Widnes, Leigh, Salford, Oldham, Blackpool, Rochdale and Swinton and all the reports I get from around the globe (North West England) support my statements that the family tree has strong roots and the tree will continue to grow, and who knows, one day we might even win a test series against the Aussies, well only time will tell. Yours in sport,                         Dave Tickle

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