Rugby in the U.S. has many challenges shared by other sports – money, sponsorship, field availability, coaches, etc. However, I think one of the largest challenges American rugby fans and players face is that we are not in Europe. We haven’t lived with rugby as part of our norm, part of our culture. Our kids throw baseballs and footballs, not rugby balls. My goal is to normalize rugby, make it part of our conversation, and make it something people want to watch and, better yet, play. We can’t get lots of kids playing rugby if they or their parents have never heard of it, or if their parents don’t agree that it’s a good thing. How do we do this on a limited rugby budget? I practice what I call “Random Acts of Rugby PR” whenever and wherever I can. I’m sure it probably annoys some people, but I don’t really care.
Rugby fans and players are among some of the most passionate of any sport I’ve witnessed. All sports have fans, and some of those fans are enthusiastic. But rugby has the most enthusiastic fan support overall. THIS is our capital to spread the word of rugby. Rugby fans and players are our best ambassadors to grow our sport and we don’t need a lot of money to do it. We need lots of Random Acts of Rugby PR!
Here are some examples of how I do this on a daily basis:
Yesterday, my pool was filled. The gentleman delivering the water and I were making conversation, and he asked what I did. I responded, “I stay at home, volunteer at school and try to promote rugby as much as possible.” I suggested he could play with our local men’s team, and then probably went into too much length about how he could catch matches on TV. I don’t care; now he’s heard about rugby and knows it’s not some foreign sport. It’s RIGHT HERE in Indiana.
On Facebook, I don’t post a lot, but I do repost a LOT of rugby pictures or news. Probably too much, but again, I don’t care. Guess who knows I like rugby and that it’s played here? All my Facebook friends.
When I’m out and about, I sometimes will wear a Bishop Dwenger (our high school) rugby t-shirt, or a Rugby Indiana “Mom Squad” t-shirt. Sometimes I have to break out the baseball hat and when I do, I try to wear my son’s Indiana University Rugby hat. Why? Because it brings rugby up in conversation and puts the word in their heads. I like to think I look fairly average. By this, I mean, you can clearly tell that I do not lift weights or run 5 miles a day. I don’t play rugby, but I’m wearing the shirt, so it must be okay with me. If one of my kids is with me, even better! Hey, a mom who likes rugby! It “must not be so bad”!
When I see our school principal, I invite him to watch our high school rugby team. In fact, when he sees me, he nearly always mentions rugby! He knows that I’m the one who sends him our rugby schedule, who invites him to matches, and who has asked to have a match on our football field. (I’m sure others have done these things, too, but maybe I’m the most persistent.)
Why say you need to pick up kids from practice, when you can say that you need to pick up kids from RUGBY practice? Specifying rugby gets that word in there. I’ve also been known to mention going to buy rugby shoes (instead of just “shoes”), etc.
Oh, and today at the Verizon Wireless store, I told Jake, the Verizon rep, that I needed NBC Universal Sports on any TV package they offered…. so I could watch rugby :).
How does this help? Well, at a “power mom” coffee at my kids’ high school the other day, my friend who was leading the group pointed to a mom and said, “How about you getting the cross country team to have a table?” Then, when she looked at me, she said, “And you could put a rugby table together.” Bingo!! All of this subtle mentioning of rugby has put the idea in non-rugby heads that this is something WE DO HERE.
Crazy? Maybe. But I don’t think so when my goal is for rugby to be introduced to every child in our country. Give a child a rugby ball, teach them how to use it, teach them the rules of the game, and they’ll take it from there. Kids love rugby. It’s up to us to practice Random Acts of Rugby PR to ensure they get the chance to play it.