Railway announced their Futures program last week and The Front Row Union are happy to throw our recommendation behind it and we will be getting our Team FRU players involved. The Futures program helps fill a gap that has been present in women’s age grade rugby since we started covering the women’s game 12 years ago.
This is an exciting opportunity for ambitious young players to learn from some of Europe’s top women’s players while continuing to play and train with their home club.
It’s a constant battle for time and resources, at women’s clubs, between trying to develop elite young players and keep all the age groups involved in the sport as a recreation so it’s encouraging to see that clubs like Railway Union with this Futures program and Queen’s University with their Under 18 Performance Camp are starting to address the issue.
It’s also personally pleasing to see, one of the players we’ve supported throughout her career, Nikki Caughey involved as one of the coaches of the programme. We know how hard Nikki had to work to get her international caps and it’s great to see she is taking the chance to give back, in a meaningful way, to the internationals of the future.
We caught up with Nikki last weekend to find out more about the Railway Union’s Futures program.
“One of the things we’ve found is that the 18-year-old girls coming out of underage teams and into our adult program won’t have been exposed to a high-level performance environment before and it takes years to catch up. This is a big gap in the women’s game.
“If they were boys, they’d get this in their rugby schools. They’d have years of Strength & Conditioning done, technical development, tactical understanding. The opportunities to develop at this level just aren’t there for young girls.
“Getting better is an everyday thing. It’s done steadily over years, it’s gradual, it’s incremental. A one off programme over a couple of weeks or a weekend here and there are great as tasters and for learning specific skill sets but it’s the year long repetition, monitoring and assessment that makes the difference.
“We have experienced coaches and experienced internationals delivering the program and we’ve all said the same thing, we’d love to have had this when we were teenagers.
“The way international rugby is going now, programs like the Futures is essential if we are going to compete. Julie Patterson has spoken recently about an U18 Six Nations rugby tournament for women and we need to be doing programs like this to be able to compete even at that level.“
How will it work?
“It’s a very similar program to the adult program at Railway. The Strength & Conditioning is on Teambuildr, which gives the exercise, reps and sets. It has a video if you don’t understand what the exercise is and the S&C coaches can monitor your progress remotely.
“Similarly, we’ve developed our own content for skills work that we’ve put on Teambuildr. You’ll have a video of one of our Irish internationals demonstrating a particular skill and the player will be able to practice this at home.
“We’ll have monthly camps, as well as camps on school holidays. The beauty of it is that the everyday getting better piece can be done from anywhere and we all meet in person once a month. The players still train and play with their home club and get coached there. This just supplements all of that to make it a full high-level program.
“For the girls in Dublin, they can come to our adult skills sessions on Monday evenings but because we can do so much online, those from outside Dublin won’t lose out.“
How did you get into Coaching?
“I did my ACL against England in November 2018 and after I was rehabbed, John Cronin (Railway DoR) put me on the Stage 3 coaching course. I coached Railway’s Senior 7s side that summer, which I really enjoyed. Having spent four years as a professional 7s player, it was great to see things from the coach’s perspective.
“Whilst I’m back playing now, I’ve kept my hand in coaching, coaching at our age-grade and schools’ program. It’s definitely something I’d like to get into when I retire.”
Why should coaches at other clubs trust Railway Union with their players?
“Quite simply we see this as a supplement to the individual club programme rather than a replacement. It’s an additional route for those 10% of players who one day want to play AIL, representative or professional rugby, like I’ve done.
“The big benefit is that the bulk of the players/coaches involved in the Futures programme have been through the same challenges that these players will face, we’ve learned a lot on our journeys and this is an opportunity to give something back. It’s something we didn’t have at the same age.
“Club coaches are more than capable of developing their own players but it takes time and resources to implement the type of performance environment that exists at the top level and what would be in an equivalent standard to a top boys schools environment. Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition for both time and resources at most clubs. We are offering that time and those resources to specific players who are interested and would benefit from it, while they continue to play at their own club.
“We don’t want the players to transfer to Railway and we don’t accept transfers at age-grade. The whole program is based on the player continuing to play and train with their home club, as the program is supplemental and not a replacement for that.
As I said we will be getting our Team FRU players involved in this as a natural progression from their time at the Queen’s Camp. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn from one of Europe’s top women clubs.
There are superb coaches working in the women’s programme throughout Ireland and hopefully we’ll also be able to get our Team FRU players to sample the offerings at our other Member Clubs, Old Belvedere and UL Bohemian throughout the season. Stronger together.