Diverse themes at National Development Summit in Baltimore

BALTIMORE – The 2017 USA Rugby National Development Summit kicked off Friday, Jan. 13, with HP Friday before the full slate of presentations and panels got underway Saturday. The annual gathering of administrators, coaches, referees, and athletes will continue through Sunday afternoon after the Saturday Night Awards Dinner, where the Coach of the Year Awards will be presented.


Women’s Eagles Sevens’ Ryan Carlyle and Richie Walker’s two-hour clinic Friday offered early attendees at Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel a glimpse into some of the skill sessions performed in a full-time, professional training environment. The Olympian and Team USA Olympic head coach, respectively, gave hands-on demonstrations from the most basic pass-and-catch drills to the breakdown work so important to the team on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series circuit.

While the opening of NDS gathered coaches and players for techniques to take home to their clubs, National Panel Referee and USA Rugby Youth Director Kurt Weaver’s Friday session dealt specifically with match official training. As a domestic referee that has officiated domestic championship tilts and internationals in South America and South African Varsity Cup clashes and works hand-in-hand with the country’s referee pool, Weaver has to stay in tip-top shape in order to put himself in a position to earn high-level call-ups. Active Training for Refereeing – Getting Better Through Practice and Process, held concurrently with USA Rugby National Teams and Performance General Manager Alex Magleby’s opening presentation, showed veteran match officials and those newer to the whistle alike best practices in reaching and maintaining the level of fitness required to achieve their aspirations.

Once Friday’s check-in closed, USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Dan Payne welcomed attendees to the fifth annual Summit with a brief address leading into the Welcome Reception’s scheduled meet-and-greet time. Mingling ensued for several hours, but quickly made way for a night’s rest for a busy Saturday.


Though there was no College Fair Saturday like there had been at previous Summits, there was an emphasis on the college game in Baltimore. Starting with The Rugger’s Edge’s Karen Fong Donoghue’s Best Practices for College Recruitment in the Specialty/Admin track, several sessions covered numerous aspects of the collegiate game. San Jose State University Director of Rugby and Head Coach James Fonda and USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez’s College Rugby: Your Team and the University delved into the relationship between rugby clubs and their academic institutions, for those looking to start a club to established programs to ensure benefits to schools and their teams.

The A Guide to College Varsity panel, featuring University of North Carolina Head Coach and USA Rugby College Development Coordinator Johnathan Atkeison, NIRA Championship-winning coach of Quinnipiac University Becky Carlson, and Dartmouth College Senior Associate Athletics Director Wendy Bordeau, went a step further for collegiate programs. Providing example data for a team applying for a school’s intercollegiate varsity spot, the panelists combined their own experiences with the growing varsity movement to give attendees a comprehensive breakdown of necessary information and materials, and how to acquire them.

“The panel has a pretty diverse group of viewpoints,” Atkeison said prior to the Summit. “Our hope is by presenting them, we’ll give the audience a better chance of making a fully-informed decision about the tactics they take in their presentation to administration, and how they should focus their advocacy in those discussions based on the department’s goals.”

One portion of a presentation to administration refers to the benefits the elevated programs would have on the game of rugby as a whole, with scholarship opportunities and increased exposure resulting in more high-quality competition and an impetus for growth in the younger age groups.

Rugby New Jersey President KJ Feury’s Make Rugby a Front Page Headline had a banner headline of its own on the NDS agenda, and delivered a related message important for all levels.

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“Headlines catch people’s attention, though certainly in the past 20 years the newspaper headline has become limited,” Feury said of her presentation. “Whether it be an electronic lede, a social media blast, a local event that draws; those are the things that really change the pace of the game in terms of growth and opportunity.”

Citing unique events and successes of flag rugby, high school, and youth programs pertaining to sport safety, Olympic Day, and in-school activities, Feury gave her peers creative examples of how to spread the values of rugby into the public eye. Imploring organizations to seek the creative, open-minded talents of their local communities and follow through on interactions, she highlighted fun as the biggest attention-grabber.

“People want to have fun, at a youth flag event or an adult club; people want to have fun and feel good,” Feury said. “If they walk away feeling good, you’ve done your job. It may be less hands-on rugby that grows the sport, too. Some of the events I’ll be presenting were with rugby players and had rugby within, but rugby may not have been the top theme. We got a lot of bang for the buck out of the program because it was fun.”

On the heels of Weaver’s interactive session, USA Rugby High Performance Referee Manager Richard Every initiated the Referee track with Principles of Refereeing: The Tactical & Strategic Approach before an in-depth look at a match official academy system with South Africa Referees Academy: Reviewing a State of the Art Referee Development Facility. Showcasing how referees can shape their own strategies by analyzing team tactics and strategies through game footage and review preceded Every and USA Rugby Referee Development Manager Marc Nelson’s Pathways & New Review System, Structures, Opportunities, & Systems for Refereeing, during which the Advantage referee development system was introduced – a review tool for developing referees – as well as a new grading and competency system.

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“Referees can now upload the video of their matches and tag aspects of their game,” Nelson said of Advantage. “If a referee wanted to focus specifically on scrums in a match, they no longer have to search through the entire match; they can just view the tagged scrums.”

Following on from Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday’s Attacking Patterns and Strategies presentation in the Coaching track, USA Rugby Referees Selector Riaan Van Greuning’s The Breakdown: Trends, Issues & Triggers, & Positioning and National Panel Referee Haylee Slaughter’s Making Big Calls: Contextual Refereeing & Making the Right Decisions contained a wealth of information related to vital areas of the game. Those in attendance were given lessons in how to keep a match run safely and without needless obstruction, leading to a better product on the field.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the Coach of the Year Awards.