USA Eagle Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints) and San Francisco Golden Gate spent the whole of last week working with children ranging in age from eight to 16 at their annual summer camp.
SFGG Club Director Bruce Thomas estimated that 45 percent of campers were new to rugby, so that meant much of the six-hour days focused on acclimating players to the sport. Ten children attended on scholarship, as Play Rugby USA San Francisco sent four players to the five-day camp, and Pacific Island Youth Association paid for six children to attend as part of the Samoan School program.
Part of the attendees' edification was familiarizing themselves with the camp's namesake, Manoa.
“At the beginning of camp, we asked the kids if any of them had heard of his exploits," Thomas said. "After showing them some of his highlights the kids got a good idea of how special it was to have Samu Manoa running the camp.”
In fact, the Northampton Saints granted Manoa permission to miss parts of pre-season to return to the United States and lead the camp.
In addition to Samu Manoa, the camp featured a bevy of top tier coaches. They included the all-time leading scorer for the USA 7s Team, Jone Naqica; 2002 Rugby World Cup player Mose Timoteo; Eagle prop Naima Reddick, also a RWC veteran; and up-and-comer Danny Barrett, member of Varsity Cup and CRC champion Cal. The diversity of these experienced coaches accentuated what that many other camps lack.
“All other camps going on around the country only have one or two Eagles at most," Thomas said. "Not only did we have five accomplished coaches, we were able to provide a female presence at the camp. With their experience and knowledge, you cannot find a much better group of coaches.”
With an age demographic of eight to 14 years of age, the coaching staff focused on improving individual skills. Each day the staff used the mornings to emphasize a particular aspect of play and allowed the campers to work on their skill set. Then, without realizing it, the campers would play games in the afternoon designed to incorporate these skills in a more realistic environment. By the end of the week, the participants had become familiar with all aspects of the game and had gained some experience implementing what they had learned.
All in all, the camp allowed new players to become familiar with rugby while at the same time allowing some more experienced players to improve their skills. “We saw some improvement and potential in some of the older guys,” Thomas said. “Of the 45 percent of kids that had never played before, many of the parents indicated that due to their children’s experience at the camp, they would be signing up for the youth program in the fall.”
There is always strength in numbers. For a growing game, it is imperative that we generate and maintain interest from our youth.