Last month I had the honor of presenting at the USA Rugby National Development Summit to an enthusiastic and engaged group of youth rugby administrators and coaches. Everyone was passionate about learning how they could help their groups create pathways to college.
As a recruitment and marketing tool, being able to say that “90% of our U18 players go on to a four-year college” is extremely powerful, and I commend everyone who is diligently pushing their groups toward embracing the importance of academics.
Administrators and coaches, you provide a huge impact on the lives of the young people you see on a weekly basis. Because youth players are often times much more willing to listen to you, it becomes even more important to play a part in supporting their academic success. This will be the first of a series of articles highlighting what we covered in the USAR NDS session.
1. Set perspective – Emphasize “Student First, Athlete Second”
Every college coach I have talked to brings up the importance of a student’s academic record. With close to a 50% dropout rate during freshman year, building the work ethic and study habits in high school is a key factor to their success in college. It does coaches no good to recruit someone who will wind up dropping out before they even get a minute of play time. As administrators, coaches, parents and players, we must re-align our perspective and understand that rugby is an extra-curricular activity. Students’ jobs first and foremost MUST be their school work. Ask players how school is going, how their grades are. Showing an interest in their schoolwork is a wonderful first step to establishing these priorities.
2. Set team minimum grade requirement, 2.0 or better (3.0 preferable)
Grades are the first step into college. Without a minimum GPA in core classes, students are ineligible to even apply. Therefore, one of the best ways you can help your players is to set the expectation that grades matter and good grades are expected.
In most single-school high school teams, the school already sets a GPA minimum in order to be eligible to play. The grey area comes into play when we get into multi-school and club teams, which do not keep track grades. As a club, I suggest you set a Club GPA Requirement of at least 2.0 GPA (that is a C average). If you can set the bar even higher and recommend a 3.0 GPA for all players, even better! Coaches can request that all players upon registration turn in a copy of their current report card or progress note. If a student does not have the minimum GPA, you can allow them to play on the team under probationary status but require they turn in an updated progress note from their teachers within six weeks to show they have raised their grade to a satisfactory standard. Just knowing that their coaches will be checking their grades may be enough to motivate players to keep working hard in school.
At the end of the season, coaches can request another grade report, and as the South Bay Youth Rugby Club in Los Angeles does, add academic awards at the end of the year along with their athletic awards. This goes a long way to reward those who have proven themselves in the classroom. As a larger, State Based Rugby Organization, you may even be able to offer an annual “All-Academic Team” recognition to players with GPAs of 3.5 and above.
3. Talk about college
One of the best ways to encourage and inspire students to set college goals is to simply talk about it. For those who attended college, find ways to bring it into the conversation, such as: “When I was in college, I used to love having practice in the rain!” or “I had the coolest coach in college; he taught me how to drop kick.”
Talking about college and making it the “norm” helps students who may not hear about college at home start to think about making it a goal for themselves. If you did not go to college, I urge you to find someone else in your team’s circle (parents, other coaches, etc.) who can talk about college with your team.
Stay tuned for Parts II and III in the next few weeks. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me. I plan to offer a “Mailbag” column soon to answer any questions you readers may have.
For questions or more information, contact her at
or (310) 497-0619.
Karen Fong is a college admissions consultant with Dunbar Educational Consultants, helping students worldwide navigate every step of the college search and application process. Fong is a former DI rugby athlete, Under-23 National Team representative, current member of the USA Rugby referee circuit, and recently named the academic advisor for the HSAA program. She is helping student-athletes find the perfect collegiate fit for academics and sports.