Ready or not, rugby is fast approaching Lynchburg. In this in-depth post by Director of Parks and Recreation Jennifer Jones, we run you through everything you need to know about Youth Rugby and what Parks & Recreation is doing to prepare for this new initiative.

Youth Sport Trends

Youth sports trend statistics according to a study done by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, that amid concerns of an overemphasis on sport specialization, more kids than ever are not playing sports at all. Inactivity among children approached 20% in 2014, continuing a six-year upward trend. In the same age bracket, the average number of team sports played per participant has fallen 5.9% over the last five years and now sits at 2.01, per the SFIA. Taken as a whole, for the 17 sports tracked by SFIA, there was a 9.09% drop in overall participation with total participation dropping from 50.2 million to 45.7 million kids, or 4.5 million kids. During this time frame the number of sports losing participation was nearly double that of gaining in participation; 11 sports showed a decrease while 6 sports showed an increase. The range of change was dramatic, from a 100% increase in youth rugby to nearly a 42% decrease in wrestling. Here is a current look at where rugby stands now.

What many feel are the core youth sports collectively followed the national trend of a 9% overall participation decline. Here too, there was a wide range of change, with youth tackle football losing nearly 18% while youth fast-pitch softball gained 1.6%.

Lynchburg City Youth Participation Sports Stats:

 Sport  2014 participant numbers  2016 participant numbers
 Basketball  252  259
 Dixie Youth Girls Softball  59  71
 Blue Ridge Lacrosse  193 (14% County)  116 (7% County)
 Central Virginia United Soccer  628 (60% County)  944 (38% County)
 Central Virginia Volleyball   472 (34% County)  473 (57% County) 
 Hill City Football  556  502
 Lynchburg Little League Baseball  225 (14% County)  345 (8% County)
 Total Lynchburg Youth Sports  2,385  2,710







Over two years, the City youth sports participation has a 10% overall increase. Central Virginia United Soccer has the greatest increase in participants while Blue Ridge Lacrosse followed by Hill City Football has the greatest decrease in participation.

Studies show dropping out of youth sport and physical activity continues to be a concern, especially since a majority of youths seem to withdraw during the middle school years. (Women’s Sports Foundation)

This is one of the reasons we decided to target Lynchburg Middle School children for the youth rugby initiative. Another reason is so that we can build interest and skill in order to host a team for State Games of America in 2019. We also hope to build enough skilled players to field a high school club.

Some of the reasons that there is a decrease nationwide in youth sports participation (Cary):

  • Overemphasis on winning as the objective with resulting increases in pressure to win and achieve
    The emphasis in rugby is working as a team and comradery after the games. Winning is simply one goal—while teamwork is the object. Find more here.
  • Stress on high performance that translates into longer hours of practice, longer seasons, and specialization in one sport at an early age

Fun, physical activity and teamwork are the youth rugby initiative objectives.

  • Expenses of participation, traveling teams, sport camps, sport academies, coaching, and equipment that are out of reach of middle-class families

Rugby in an inexpensive sport; a mouthpiece and shoes are the main requirements. So far all costs have been underwritten.

  • Increased injury incidence due to inordinate demands on young bodies

The league will be a sprint league of 4 weeks with practices twice a week and games on Saturday. As far as injuries go, flag rugby is a non-contact sport and we do not expect many significant injuries based on historical data.

  • Increased participation in alternative sports by young people who are turned off by traditional adult-organized programs

Rugby is an alternative sport with young adults as coaches.

  • Lack of training for youth coaches and the resulting frustration of kids who take orders from well-intentioned but misguided coaches

The Blackwater Creek Rugby Football Club coaches are players that will be trained as coaches.

  • Earlier starts in youth sport (sometimes as young as 3 or 4 years of age); children simply grow bored with a sport after a number of years (Cary)

No one is bored of rugby as this will be the inaugural season. We hope to ride the novelty train and build excitement, thereby sustaining participation by focusing on fun and comradery. Additionally, everyone is involved in rugby as it is a continuous play sport. Each position has an equally important role.

Youth Sport Injury Stats

One study showed that parents and young athletes were becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of sport injuries and that information was playing a role in youth sports participation decline. Here is more compelling evidence regarding the dangers of football. This article highlights the point of declining youth football participation on a relevant local level.

Poverty Initiative

The long-term goal of the Youth Rugby Initiative is to develop rugby skills of our area youth so they can compete for college scholarships. When rugby became an official Olympic sport, many colleges and universities moved their men’s rugby teams from club to varsity sports status and began offering scholarships. We want to be on the front end of the rugby scholarship awards. We are especially hopeful that players coming from low income circumstances will have the opportunity for a college education via a rugby scholarship. This is a poverty initiative that is unique in its approach. Overall, the adult and youth rugby initiative is in line with the portion of our department mission that encourages healthy, active living by providing the programs and infrastructure to support the initiative.

The short-term goal is to get kids active, create an atmosphere where kids have fun, build trust through team interaction, learn the value of teamwork, and after-game comradery. We will assist our neighborhood center kids with transportation to and from practice.

New Opportunity

In 2016, rugby made it’s grand return to the Olympics. Because of rugby’s new status as an official Olympic sport, many colleges and universities are moving their club program to varsity sport status and offer scholarships for men and women. It is just a matter of time before many other colleges and universities embrace rugby fever. It’s a great idea, but we weren’t the first to think rugby was a great youth development tool. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we are going to take a few tips from model youth rugby programs.

A Note from city councilman randy nelson

Rugby football has a significant history in Lynchburg. The fact is that most people are simply not aware.

When I returned to Lynchburg from law school in 1976, in addition to promoting soccer, I joined the Lynchburg United Rugby Football Club to continue playing rugby as I had when I was in law school in Richmond. Lynchburg United Rugby Club was a viable team, and had hosted the Fidelity Cup Annual Rugby Tournament each September, until 1983, and were competitive on the State Level. Our 1979 team actually won the Virginia State Championship, the Ed Lee Cup, in Richmond. We did not have a youth outreach program, but exclusively practiced and played on public fields. Sandusky Park was our practice site with E.C. Glass and Brookville High Schools as the sites for three International Exhibition Matches against clubs from British Columbia, Nova Scotia and England. I was the captain and later President of the club in the early 1980’s.

Lynchburg United began to decline when many of its leadership players became parents, moved, or just “aged-out.” Adult rugby revived in the 1990’s under the moniker of Blackwater Rugby.

Unlike the earlier years, Blackwater Rugby Club neither practices nor plays its matches on public fields. Thus, they do not compete with other City teams for field space. Likewise, the youth rugby outreach component of this program is being undertaken and will be directed largely by volunteer members of the Blackwater Rugby Club, not by City staff.

It is true that Field #10 at Peaks View Park will soon be upgraded to allow rugby matches to be played there. However, this was always the plan. When I served on the “Citizen’s Advisory Committee” that helped the City design and plan the amenities, layout and needs for Peaks View Park in the late 1970’s, I made sure that it included space designated for soccer and rugby. Field #10 was always intended to be a rugby “pitch.” Funding challenges prevented that from happening until now, nearly 40 years later.   The positive thing about Field #10 is that it will also serve as an improved venue for other sports, i.e. youth football, lacrosse and soccer. All of these sports need more space.  

I know youth football is important to most Lynchburg residents. I saw the growth of lacrosse as competition for the same kids I had hoped would participate in my favored soccer club programs. No doubt, rugby may compete with some youth football players, but not necessarily. In fact, it may serve to promote American Football because they have the same heritage, except that rugby disallows blocking and forward passing.   But, I think it is good to offer multiple opportunities to our youth and this program is not going to draw from public resources to any notable degree. As has been the case since the early 1970’s, it will be spearheaded by private initiatives and funds.

Here is a photo of the 1979 Lynchburg United Rugby Club members. If you care, I’m the guy in the middle of the front row with the mustache.

But this is a new day—and so before we jumped in too deep, we did research with Rugby Virginia, as well as the national governing body, USA Rugby

Sports Tourism

We also have a vested interest in sports tourism, and more specifically, Virginia Commonwealth Games and State Games of America. We don’t want to lose our opportunity to host both adult and youth rugby because we don’t have the infrastructure or the organizing body in the City. We need both the fields and a local organizing committee to win the right to host and move it from Northern Virginia. The City pays the hosting bid fee while the return on investment is economic impact. The City only reaps those economic benefits when athletes and their families visit and stay in our city. Therefore, hosting the rugby tournaments here in Lynchburg is essential to the bottom line ROI.

Hundreds of athletes completed the inaugural Virginia Commonwealth Games evaluation last year. The games themselves had an economic impact of 1.6 million dollars for the City of Lynchburg. An equally important stat was that 80% of the families that came for the Games said they would return to Lynchburg for a visit or a stay. That is a great first impression.

Beyond economic impact, youth development is a major motivating force for our department. Playing on the grand stage of Virginia Commonwealth Games and State Games of America is an incredible stimulus for our area youth. Participation in these games is an opportunity for a great experience as well as bragging rights and potentially a gold medal.


Our partner Blackwater RFC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with our department to provide youth sports instruction as well as organize the various state and national rugby tournaments in conjunction with our department and Virginia Amateur Sports. 

Read about our first rugby event in Lynchburg here.

The Field

Peaks View #10 will be the new home rugby pitch for Blackwater Rugby Football Club. This new multi-purpose field is being built for both football and rugby as the priority users. This field does not supersede the plans for Sandusky Park. We simply don’t have the funds to build at Sandusky. That project is estimated at over 1 million dollars. We have pieced together $100,000 for this basic field with NO lights or bells and whistles.

Moving forward

Join us for our new Middle School Intramural Flag Rugby League and take a step toward becoming an Olympic champion. The league starts in Spring 2018.