USA Rugby Releases Player Development Model

BOULDER, Colo. – USA Rugby released details Tuesday for the updated American Rugby Model (ARM), a long-term player development program providing an integrated framework through which rugby players can be developed at all levels of participation and experience. The ARM is player-centered in that specific characteristics to each development stage are based on the particular capacities of players at each stage of their development.

The player development model focuses on the technical, tactical, physical, mental and lifestyle development of players regardless of age and level of participation. The ARM will be integrated into all USA Rugby structures and systems and will provide rewarding experiences for players, coaches, parents, referees, supporters and administrators of the game.

“The American Rugby Model sets out clear player development pathways that support the development of a player from introduction and participation to elite, supporting the core purpose of USA Rugby,” USA Rugby Development Team Leader Dave McCann said. “USA Rugby will introduce this model through our rugby development activities in support of high performance programs.”

Rugby is still a relatively niche sport in the United States despite the game’s introduction in the late 1800s. In recent years, rugby has grown more popular and more visible due in part to media and television exposure.

“These are exciting times for the game of rugby,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said. “However, sustained long-term development will be driven by the quality of the rugby experience and the opportunities that we can offer our players.

“Raising the level of performance at all levels will provide long-term benefits for the sport, creating more exciting domestic competition and stronger international teams, as well as attracting more media, sponsors, and fans to the game.”

The life of a rugby player today is consumed mostly by traveling, playing and recovering from competition, while the main focus is on the result rather than the performance. This attitude leads to long-term failure as coaches forgo the development of core skills to focus on tactics, which may also be a contributing factor to low retention rates of players. Though many sports capitalize on early specialization of athletes, rugby benefits mainly from players crossing over to the rugby pitch after being ‘cut’ from another sport.

“Developing a long-term development model for rugby will address critical areas in our system for kids at a very early age,” McCann said. “Children progress through the same development stages and this model will ensure we address the appropriate points along the development curve in order for them to reach their genetic potential.”

Through utilization of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) principles, the ARM integrates training, competition and recovery programming with relation to biological development. The ARM offers equal opportunity for recreation and competition – a key to retaining younger players and developing better rugby players for the future.


Stage: Play
Chronological Age: 0 – 9
Training Age in Rugby: 0 – 4

This stage represents the entry into physical activity and sport, including the development of physical literacy. Athletes develop basic physical literacy and enjoy their first participation in organized games; Safe, community-based programs; Equal participation for all; Skill development is placed ahead of competition; Broad-based stage-appropriate development including football and other sports and activities; Social development and fun are never forgotten.

Stage: Develop
Chronological Age: 10 – 16
Training Age in Rugby: 2 – 8 years

This stage represents development of a well-rounded set of rugby skills, complimented by participation in other sports, and, for many athletes, using flag/touch rugby as an ideal introductory experience. Athletes develop basic and integrated rugby skills and utilize these in competitive game situations.

Guiding principles are:

  • Athletes have the opportunity to develop skills in a variety of positions
  • Training, competition and positional play is appropriate to the development and maturation of individual athletes
  • Skill development is more important than winning

Stage: Compete
Chronological Age: 17+
Training Age in Rugby: 6 – 10 years

This stage represents a serious commitment to competition, coinciding with college and senior club age. Athletes enter highly-competitive programs, begin to specialize in their positions, and work toward excellence.

Guiding principles are:

  • Emphasis is on building solid competition skills
  • All athletes are provided with optimal annual training
competition and recovery programs
  • Programs support athletes to learn from victory and defeat, to live balanced lives, and to always train and compete in a
fair, honest and “clean” way
  • Work towards international play
  • Develop skills to be successful in college and club rugby

Stage: Excel
Chronological Age: 21+
Training Age in Rugby: 8+ years

This stage takes the advanced athlete from a high level, CIS, junior starters and non-starting professionals to starting professionals. Athletes work to excel in highly competitive programs, aiming for the highest level of performance and success.

Guiding principles are:

  • Every program and every athlete is committed to excellence
  • All athletes are provided with optimal annual training, competition and recovery programs of the highest level
  • Each athlete strives for the highest level of performance in the context of fair, drug-free living, training and competition
  • Athletes, coaches, officials and administrators are role models, mentors and ambassadors of the sport
  • Experience in high-level games develops and refines tactical skills, anticipation and reading the game in a variety of situations

Stage: Lead
Chronological Age: Any
Training Age in Rugby: Any

Individuals can remain active in the sport for a lifetime through recreational competition and as a coach, official and sport builder. Fun is an essential part of the game throughout – the glue that bonds people to the game and to each other.

Guiding principles are:

  • Fun
  • Giving back to the game
  • Respect for themselves, others and the game of rugby