Changing Grass Roots Culture in Australian Rugby League

Mather, Barrie-Jon (2019) Changing Grass Roots Culture in Australian Rugby League. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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As a result of the changing political landscape within Rugby League in Australia, and the change in position and importance of the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) within that landscape, the NSWRL Board wished to determine the current state of the game within New South Wales. The Board wished to plot a course in order to grow the game for both the elite level and participation within the state.

This thesis addresses the overarching aim of attempting to move the NSWRL forwards as an organisation, identifying areas of weakness and development for the organisation and its members. The purpose of this was to create a culture and environment for participation throughout grass roots Rugby League that would allow talent to develop and their love of the game to flourish in a safe, challenging and appropriate environment.

For the purpose of this thesis, ‘grass roots’ is defined as covering all areas of participation from Junior League football through to the Elite Level of New South Wales Cup. Specifically, the thesis aimed to address four objectives: -

1. To identify best practice and theory according to the literature, identifying and assessing any issues with current practice within NSWRL
2. Determine the current status and conditions of grass roots Rugby League within Australia in general and NSWRL in particular.
3. Propose and pilot specific, applied initiatives to address the issues identified.
4. Determine appropriate measures to assess the success of those initiatives.

The objectives are addressed through a series of studies conducted within Australian Rugby League in general and New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) specifically. Accordingly, Chapter 2 revealed both the need for an organisational health check of NSWRL through a comparison of the current situation of the sport of Rugby League and the overall sporting landscape throughout Australia, as well as comparing current sporting systems and policies within NSWRL with successful systems and policies in other countries. Chapter 3 provided empirical evidence of the need for refinement and improvement of the player development pathway within NSWRL. The limitations of the current performance pathway were recognised in Chapter 4 and reasons behind those limitations were investigated through a mixed methods approach. Possible solutions for some of those limitations were proposed in Chapter 5, 6 and 7. Chapter 5 documents the implementation of alternate formats of the game that are designed to improve the retention and recruitment of participants to the game, with participants tracked to their end point in order to determine the success of the formats. Chapter 6 outlines the processes associated with developing an environment monitoring tool for both Junior League clubs and the Elite through a two-step process of design and implementation. Chapter 7 implements a Respect campaign designed to improve participant and spectator behaviour through the implementation of sporting policy. The thesis concludes with Chapter 8 and a summary of the investigation and the related initiatives.
This study is novel in its attempt to adapt sporting policies, structures and measurement tools designed to deliver international sporting success and apply them to sport at a local and State level of organisation. It has identified a number of cross-sport applications or uses, including the importance of making evidence based decisions, developing alternate formats of the game that address previously identified issues rather than just scaling down an adult version of the game, and the advantages of a single administrative pathway alongside that of the participation and talent development pathways

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