Any Given Monday: The only problem with rugby-playing kids is their parents

Publish Date
Tuesday, 26 February 2019, 10:46AM


ANY GIVEN MONDAY with Dylan Cleaver

Have to confess to some skepticism when North Harbour Rugby general manager David Gibson started laying out his plan to increase the enjoyment factor and, as a corollary of that, participation numbers in junior rugby.

The cynical part of me thought that, with proper resourcing, you could increase the development programmes for all Harbour are about to trial, while simultaneously running a rep programme to cater for those kids who are ahead of the curve.

After reading some of the feedback bobbing along on the raw sewage lines of soshmed, it seems more vital than ever that Harbour's initiative not only works, but that other unions follow their lead.

What the feedback told me was that it was not kids who were placed at the centre of the room in this conversation, but ego-driven parents living second lives of sporting glory through their kids.

Some people actually committed the following thought-droppings to digital eternity.

"Guess there will be no more All Blacks coming out of North Harbour. The world is going soft and your [sic] not helping, kids need to learn how to lose, need to learn to fight to be the best, nothing in the real world is handed to you just cause [sic] you turned up."

"In other words, North Harbour kids are snowflakes who can't handle the swings and roundabouts of life."

"This is a stupid move by NH. Will ruin sat morning rugby and the future of the Union."

On a network news clip there was the father of two rugby-mad kids talking about how Harbour's decision potentially closed off "career pathways" for his children.

There's a bit to unpack here so let's start at the end. The only pathways kids should be on until well into their teens are footpaths. The idea that a 12-year-old is on the pathway to a professional sports career is ridiculous and speaks only to parental obsession, not reality.

Also, this conflation of ideas – that Harbour's decision is somehow shielding kids from the realities of life and losing – is just lazy thinking.

Kids learn about losing every day, whether it's in the school playground, whether it's arguments with their siblings (or parents), whether it's the C on their essay that they thought should have been a B. Life lessons arrive in so many different forms, so to think that the only way your child will get positive affirmation or will learn the art of resilience is through the making or failing to make rep teams is a fairly horrific indictment on modern parenting.

Scores will still be taken in club rugby, in school rugby, in Rippa rugby. That hasn't changed; what is changed is that the union is saying they value all the children in the programme equally and are not going to discourage the potential in all of them just because a select few might have an accelerated skillset, might have hit puberty faster, might have a birthday closer to January 1, or might go to the right school.

If a parent is hell-bent on taking their kids out of that environment to another, presumably Auckland, to try to get their child to a Roller Mills' tournament, then quite frankly Auckland have just acquired a problem and Harbour have shed one.

Rugby has a very real issue with playing numbers. Kids, particularly boys, are leaving the game in droves. There are multiple reasons for this; being "snowflakes" is one of the more fanciful.

North Harbour is at the sharp end of the drop off. The leaders there are trying to do something to arrest the decline. The old system was clearly not working.

There are no guarantees this will work either but the evidence they are working off suggests it has a better chance than what they are currently doing.

If you're a parent of talented kids in the area, here's a suggestion: get out of the way and let them try.


The Blues start to the season reminded a bloke I know of one of his weekly chores. In response to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson's claims that the Blues improvements were down to better structure, he said: "My recycling is so much better organised these days… but at the end of the day it's still rubbish."


Disappointing to see Sky has ditched the services of veteran rugby journalist Jim Kayes from their Breakdown show. The show's paint-by-numbers format made it a struggle anyway, but Kayes at least offered some resistance to the usual hivemind of former-player opinion. It is understood Kayes and Radio Sport's Nathan Rarere were recently handed DCMs at the network.


This deep-dive reportage breathes new life into an old match-fixing story. From ESPN. Warning: It is long.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.

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