BACK IN ACTION Children are pictured at a mini rugby training session in Westport last year.
THE return of training in pods of 15 for children this week will provide a huge boost to their mental health, according to a volunteer with Westport Bulls Rugby Club.
Donna Gavin, the club’s ‘Minis’ co-ordinator (for the Under-12 team and below) says that Westport RFC’s 150-strong underage membership can’t wait to get back to non-contact training next weekend. The fun starts next Sunday, May 2 at 10am.
“I have three kids, one turned seven this month, and he can’t wait. I asked him there did he want to go to the rugby summer camp and he was like, ‘Sign me up!’,” Donna told The Mayo News. “The other two are missing out massively too. They love going down to the pitch. They miss seeing their friends, they miss the run-out, they miss getting muddy.
“I know parents hate me for all the washing bills, but mud is good!” she laughed.
“It’s good clean dirty fun. They need it for their mental health, they need it for their fitness.
“Being stuck inside all this time is not good for them. It’s not good for anybody.
“We need to get them off the Playstations, off the tablets, off the TV, off the couch and they need to get back there running around again. If we can do that for an hour at the weekend, I’m for it.”
Westport RFC fields a team at every underage grade and have kept in touch with their Under-15 squad with Zoom fitness classes.
But Donna Gavin believes that the full return to ‘in-person’ schooling for children has added further impetus to allow them to safely return to outdoor exercise.
“Everybody enjoys being outside for the hour. A bit of fresh air does you the world of good. It’s great for your mental health. It’s great for your physical health.”
Last year rugby clubs like the Bulls were obliged to put in place protocols to minimise the risk of Covid transmission during training.
Recently it emerged from government statistics that less than 0.1 percent of confirmed Covid-19 cases were linked to outdoor activity.
Donna says that last season’s return to play was warmly received by children and parents alike in Westport.
“There was no case of Covid and all the parents said it was really well run and they were really happy with it. You could see that.
“We thought our numbers would drop off, but we actually had an influx of new people coming down. We’ve got over 40 kids alone in our Under-6s and Under-7s teams which is phenomenal. It was really great to see.”
The ‘Minis’ co-ordinator, who has also coached girls’ teams in the past, was keen to praise the work done by the club’s coaches to ensure that training went ahead in a fun and safe manner last season.
“The club really is a great community. All my coaches, every single one of them have worked their bottoms off this year making sure that the kids are happy out there. And I cannot sing their praises high enough.
“I wish to thank every single one of my coaches for the work that they’ve done, new and old coaches. I’ve a lot of new coaches this year and every single one of them has risen to the challenge of trying to coach kids in the Covid age, and it is not easy. It really isn’t.
“When the weather is coming down on you and you’re soaked through, it’s still not easy going out there on a Saturday morning for an hour. But every single one of them did it. Not one of them has let anybody down this year.”
‘Non-contact’ leads to focus on the basics
WITH non-contact outdoors training for children in pods of 15 resuming this week, the question for clubs like Westport RFC is how to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
The club’s Mini Rugby co-ordinator, Donna Gavin, says the club will be taking extra care in the running of training sessions to ensure Covid-19 regulations are met.
“We’ll be asking parents to stay in their cars or drop their children off and leave. We’ll be making sure the kids have all their hands sanitised before they go onto the pitch. We’ll be making sure the coaches, because of government legislation, will be wearing masks,” she explained.
While ‘tackling’ coaching will remain off the agenda for the moment, Donna Gavin says coaches will be running ‘touch rugby’ drills to minimise bodily contact.
“Touch rugby is ideal because there is no contact or tackling involved. It’s really fun.
“It’ll be ‘7v7’ and the kids will get their hands on the ball a lot more and they will be playing and running around the pitch a lot more.
“It’s thrown up a few challenges as you can imagine, but it’s making the coaches think,” Donna admitted when asked about the limitations of non-contact training in such a contact-heavy sport.
“Connacht Rugby have this programme called ‘Rugby for Children’ which came in about two years ago, it’s all based on smaller pods. It’s really being implemented now because it’s very Covid-friendly.
“Rugby is an awful lot more than just contact. Contact is a very small part of the overall game, especially at ‘mini’ level. It gives us a chance to work at other aspects such as the fitness, the ball, making sure that the kids can do the basics and do the basics well.
“If you can do the basics well you can go anywhere you want in rugby.
“As long as you can do a proper catch and pass and you remember to pass backwards everything else kind of follows.
“You’ll even see Andy Friend with the Connacht squad before any match doing the basic catch and pass,” she added.
“Andy Farrell has the Ireland team doing the ‘catch and pass’. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki down to little Johnny in the Under-6s. They all do the same ‘catch and pass’.”