In a season so disrupted by Covid, the standout feature was arguably having over 600 Minis, Juniors and Colts playing a huge amount of rugby on the field, as well as online, in 1:1 training and in four huge holiday camps.
This season included a very special milestone of one of the original Minis cohort representing the Senior club in a competitive fixture. In fact, three ex-Minis and Juniors represented Barnes against Richmond and the Civil Service, namely Hector Price (started in the Under 6’s), Will Staples (started in the Under 13’s), and Jack Seymour (started in the Under 14’s). Jason Betteley, Colts Manager and one of the founders of the Minis, said, “It is a wonderful day to see these boys turn into men and now graduate to the Senior Club. We have looked forward to this moment for many years: to ‘bridge the gap’ to the main club. Our aim in the Youth section is to make rugby fun, to keep players wanting to come back each week, and feed Barnes RFC with committed men and women from the local area. Behind these three are hundreds of Barnes Minis and Juniors falling in love with the gold and green!”
About 50% of our normal weekend schedule was permitted outside of lockdowns, under variable rules and formats. The RFU’s ready4rugby touch became very familiar, and new protocols around track and trace, sanitising breaks, health checks and distancing were willingly adopted, to get out playing rugby with friends. Amid limited opportunity for outdoor exercise, we actually saw record attendance at training sessions in a number of age groups. Many did miss the contact side of the game and just as much the clubhouse camaraderie, social events and Zoe’s hot dogs. But we suspect that the enforced emphasis on running and passing skills, playing at speed and support running will pay dividends in term of core skill development of the young players when we return to normal rugby rules.
During lockdowns we brought some innovative solutions to continue to engage our players and parents:
First, Jack Heald’s team provided Zoom training sessions, mixing skills training, strength and conditioning and 6-Nations match analysis, orchestrated by Jack Heald, Cameron Ruddock, and Megan Jones (England Roses and GB Olympic 7s Star). Hopefully not too much damage was done from stray passes and kicks inside people’s houses: not least Cam’s Gran’s apartment that featured a few times!
Second, we were able to offer a large proportion of players 1:1 coaching with Jack’s professional team, when regulations allowed. In a truly wonderful gesture, the Barnes Senior Coaches also provided their time for free to coach the less privileged players.
Third, Joe Gray and Paul Spencer organised Zoom meetings with elite rugby stars for the U11s, Juniors, Girls and Colts. These age groups enjoyed one hour Q&As with Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Joe Gray, Jack & Tom Willis, Beno Obano, Josh McNally, Abbie Brown, Megan Jones, and Tommy & Chris Bell. In troubled times, it is heart warming that these stars of the game were willing to share their time and experience with younger players seeking to emulate their heroes. The overwhelming takeaway for the kids was that everything is possible with hard work, a good diet (!) and enjoyment of club rugby at all levels.
Fourth, we enlisted the help of two Olympians from Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, Jade Johnson (GB Long Jumper) and Anson Henry (Canadian 100m sprinter), to coach over 100 kids to run faster. Jade, also Strictly Come Dancing Star, promoted her mantra of ‘Technique is King’ and was very keen to run a very successful girls only sessions to embed her own take on ‘body confidence’.
Fifth, with everyone confined to holidays in the borough, we organised four holiday rugby camps, peaking at Easter with free camps provided for 179 minis and 137 junior members and a further “commando camp” attended by 100 players receiving a taste of military training from existing Royal Marines.
A number of teams were able to participate in Ready4Rugby festivals and bilateral fixtures in the Spring, tasting competition again as an appetizer for next season. We hosted Rosslyn Park U15s and U12s on consecutive weekends, giving our players the rare opportunity to play on the 1st Team pitch.
Among off-field and fund-raising highlights, after last May’s ‘Big Lift’, which saw 1.9 tonnes lifted by 768 youth section participants, Zac Woods’ ‘Be Brave’ T-shirt campaign, #Elleven11, and the #FullofBeans initiative saw enthusiastic participation to contribute to charitable causes. We have also just witnessed lots of youngsters from Under 7 upwards walk and run around the BEST fields as part of 24 hour relay supporting the Club’s latest #BigBuild project to donate a playground and fitness trail to Barn Elms Sports Centre this summer.
At Barnes Youth, we take Touring very seriously. Fortunately, one squad, the U11s, was able to construct a Covid-compliant tour, to mark their rite of passage to the Juniors. They had a fun camping and rugby weekend in Oxfordshire in June with 31 players attending, mixing rugby games with bushcraft and camping experiences.
So, while it was not a complete season, it was definitely still a valuable one for all, providing an important opportunity for community sport through difficult months.
Thank you to all the parents, the wider Club who support us strongly, the many coaches and refs, and especially the age group head coaches and managers who design the training sessions and arrange the matches, but even more so to the players who represent Barnes RFC with great skill and spirit.