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Rugby Nederland continues on successful path


SOS - responsive organising of sports
Slagvaardig Organiseren van Sport (SOS – responsive organising of sports) is the name of a project – developed by several medium-sized sports federations and financed by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports – that should help smaller and medium-sized sports federations become more responsive and better equipped to anticipate changes in society. To start with, twenty sports federations took part in the SOS programme. Over the next six months Sport Knowhow XL will feature a series of articles on how those sports federations experienced the programme, describing, among other things, how one federation executed the change process, the effects and any follow-up steps. Previously we published in English the change process of Royal Dutch Cricket Federation, the change process of Badminton Nederland and the change process of Dutch Handball Federation. Below you can read about the change process of the Dutch Rugby Federation.

by: Jelle Zondag | 27 Augustus 2020

In 2019 Rugby Nederland launched a change process under the name ‘Rugby, sport in motion’. The process aimed at broadening and securing the range offered by the rugby federation and resulted in the introduction of new game variations and the tapping into new target groups. Adapting the name to ‘Rugby Nederland, a federation in motion’, the federation has started a new process to further increase its responsive abilities as an organisation. Project leader Tijmen Vader reveals more about the two projects.

Rugby Nederland was a traditional federation that organised competitions and was responsible for selections, Tijmen Vader explains. ‘We wanted to grow as a federation. We saw society and the range of sports change, and wanted to tie in with that. The plan had been on the table before, but nothing specific yet. The Slagvaardig Organiseren van Sport’ project offered us an opportunity.’

Rugby-1Mixed Ability Rugby
For Rugby Nederland the process of change began with the development of Mixed Ability Rugby, a variation of the game mixing players with and without disabilities. Unlike other parasports – in which players with disabilities do not play together with players without disabilities - Mixed Ability Rugby welcomes everyone. Vader: ‘We firmly believe in inclusion, in playing sports together. Tall, short, thick, thin, fast and slow, there’s a place for everyone on the rugby pitch. Mixed Ability Rugby takes it a step further. It is our love of the sport and togetherness that are key in Mixed Ability Rugby, not our differences. Everyone who plays rugby is different.’  

Following a successful kick-off with eight clubs showing an interest in the new variation of the game, three clubs have meanwhile organised Mixed Ability orientation days. It is Vader ’s ambition to build on the concept with the help of NOC*NSF - the umbrella organization of Dutch sport federations - and to implement Mixed Ability in several clubs. This variation of the game should be an example for other federations of inclusive sports. Vader’s goal is to send a Dutch team to the World Championship Mixed Ability Rugby that will be held in Cork in 2021.

‘The SOS project has taught us how to successfully launch new products. We have now started Social Rugby, for players aged 30 to 35 and over.’

Major physical differences
Over the course of the Slagvaardig Organiseren van Sport project Rugby Nederland introduced more new variations of the game. Old Stars Walking Rugby, for instance, is a variant for players over the age of 55, developed by the federation in association with Nationaal Ouderenfonds (National Foundation for the Elderly) and currently offered by thirteen clubs. The federation furthermore introduced Meisjes Rugby, for girls between 15 and 18 years. ‘Before boys and girls up to the age of 18 were playing together’, Vader explains, ‘but from the age of 15 the physical differences start to show. The girls can still play with the boys, but we want to give them the chance to play on all-girls teams.’ Last year three regional tournaments were organized. This year and next this number is expected to grow.

Rugby-2The ambitions of Vader and his colleagues don’t stop there. ‘The SOS project has taught us how to successfully launch new products. We have now started Social Rugby, for players aged 30 to 35 and over. Usually this age group cannot or will not train and play two or three times a week. Social Rugby allows them to play eight to ten matches a year.’ Seven men’s teams and four women’s teams have registered for this new type of competition.

Rise in membership expected
To keep the threshold for the new variations of the game low, the rugby federation advises clubs to keep membership fees reasonable. There are many clubs that veterans and Mixed Ability players can join for just 20 Euros a year. Vader has heard that the projects appeal to many new and former members. ‘Many players who had quit, re-joined because Social Rugby meets their needs. Despite the Coronavirus pandemic no teams have deregistered. On the contrary, we have eleven new teams. Once the competitions start in October, we expect a rise in membership.’

As part of the SOS project, Rugby Nederland received guidance from the Brown Paper Company, which taught the federation to work on the basis of projects and to improve cooperation. In the past, so Vader says, the departments competition, professional and recreational did not work on joint projects often. When the new variations were introduced, they had to work together, and learned that together they were stronger.

‘The rugby federation has always been small, with the board taking on many operational duties. Now the board has started to shift its focus to giving direction.’

Clear demarcation
Continuing to stimulate cooperation is one of the objectives of the new SOS project that starts this year. Vader mentions the organisation of more tournaments for girls as an example. ‘This is done in cooperation with the Technical Director and the Director and the national coaches of the under-18 selections; it’s a true collaboration between recreational and professional sports.’ An additional objective of the change process is to further demarcate the roles and responsibilities of the board and the head office. Vader: ‘The rugby federation has always been small, with the board taking on many operational duties. Now the board has started to shift its focus to giving direction. The federation trusts the head office to realise the federation’s objectives. That is a big change.’


Brown Paper Company coaches Rugby Nederland also in the new project, for instance by defining measurable targets. Coaching is given also in the implementation of project-based working, by giving feedback where necessary and alerting federation staff if they are likely to fall back into old habits. ‘What they teach us, is how to work more efficiently, how we can do more while spending less energy’, Vader sums up the company’s contribution.

Continue on the chosen path
Trying to achieve a lot with limited means is the general message Vader would like to send to other federations. ‘You don’t have to expand huge amounts of time, money or energy on projects, it is important that you identify and capitalise on opportunities. Even with minimal resources you can make a difference. We gained confidence when we introduced new variations of the game, and got positive feedback. It has encouraged us to continue on the chosen path. This is an opportunity for every small federation.’  

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