Danville is Making its Mark on the Youth Game

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup 7s Danville has been helping to grow youth participation in the Bay Area

The Danville Oaks recently held their first Saturday practice of the season and it saw an incredible turn out from the youngest members of the club. With the 2018 Rugby World Cup 7s around the corner, Danville are doing a lot to help promote and build excitement around the event to the youth of the Bay area.

The Oaks are headed up by a fiercely talented and experienced administrative and coaching staff. Their Director of Rugby, Chris O'Brien, is a former USA Eagle, and administratively they have Kevin Barth, the Manager of the Rugby World Cup 7s legacy initiative: Impact Beyond. Overall in their youth program they are responsible for in excess of 300 participants between the U8 to high school level. As Barth explained, often the coaches the children have in their developmental stages will travel through with them on their rugby playing journeys. At least this has been the case for Barth and the teams he has coached: "I now coach middle school, but I started coaching at the U8s... I started coaching to introduce my kids to it... I have also coached U10 and U12." For Barth, he has been able to watch not only his own children progress, but also the youth program develop, especially in the women's game.

"We have 18 girls in middle school and 26 in high school." This stemmed from the initiative of "Try on Rugby" a program developed by USA rugby to get young girls involved with the sport. "Originally we set out with a plan of getting ten girls to come down... by the end of the month we had 30 participants."  The success Danville has had in growing the participation rates of youth rugby for women is only a very small sample of the work they have been able to achieve in the youth game.

Before Barth was announced as part of the legacy team for 2018, Barth and his team at Danville were already in the middle of helping to capitalize on the impact of hosting a World Cup: "Danville was making it their plan to be in local schools." Since joining USA Rugby Barth has been using the connection to really play up the significance of the World Cup: "We use it (the World Cup) as a commonality to introduce rugby by comparing it to other global tournaments." Hosting the tournament at AT&T Park also lends credence to the efforts as Barth explained: "When they hear it is being held at AT&T Park it lends some cachet to it...they know it's going to be big."

They have had a few bumps along the road, caused by rugby's "rough and tough tackle" reputation. This has been a key barrier to entry for Danville and their efforts to get rugby into school systems, but they've had success peddling it through various channels, one channel has been Rookie Rugby, a flag version of rugby which is aimed directly at introducing youth to rugby in the safest, and most enjoyable fashion possible. They have also had success championing it as the great equalizer. Barth explained many times when children play a sport in school there are some who are already familiar and well versed in the sport leaving them with an inherent advantage. Luckily, rugby is still a relatively unknown quantity and it evens the playing field and gives every child a chance to participate and start at the same level, so they aren't discouraged. 

Danville plays their season in the spring and will be looking to increase their presence in the lead up to the World Cup.

More information will be released about the legacy program "Impact Beyond" at The National Development Summit being held in Denver from the 19th-21st of January 2018.