In a world first, a Modified Rugby Program (MRP) is being run in Queensland to give children with learning and perceptual difficulties the opportunity to play Rugby at their local club.
After a successful pilot with Brothers Rugby in 2014, three more clubs are now sporting the program, with GPS, Easts and Wests all joining in on the action. Together they account for 73% of junior players in Brisbane.
The program began on the 27th of March this year and continues right through until the end of June, with participants enjoying sessions and also games on Saturday mornings. Through their club, boys and girls struggling with learning difficulties and their families, have the opportunity to connect with their local Rugby community.
Former Wallaby and Queensland Reds player, Tim Horan, is an ambassador of the program and believes MRP is beneficial for everyone involved.
“The program forms a unique opportunity to engage new families in the Rugby community and I’m honoured to be an ambassador for a second straight year.”
“It’s great to see some of the older players from Brothers, Easts, Wests and GPS put their hand up for the mentor program, as they help these children with their transition to the game in a fun, supportive environment.”
While the new-look program is in place to create an inclusive Rugby community in Brisbane, it also gives up and coming players the opportunity to contribute to club culture.
“It’s a unique experience for boys and girls struggling with perceptual difficulties to engage in Rugby and it’s also beneficial for player mentors as they learn valuable leadership lessons which will help them in life, on and off the field,” Horan said.
“It’s great that Rugby is engaging in initiatives like this and I’m sure the program will continue to grow in the future."
GingerCloud Foundation developed the MRP with a working party including the Queensland Rugby Union, Brothers, ARU and Allied Health professionals to ensure the program supported the specific needs of children who learn and perceive differently.
The MRP’s structure has been designed to remain aligned with the rugby laws whilst providing additional on field support through the use of Player Mentors plus necessary modifications for the children participating.
Megan Elliott, Managing Director of the not-for-profit organisation and proud mother of her son, Max, has found the program to be therapeutic for parents and their children.
“We have boys with language impairments and sensory issues to loud noises who just had no experience pulling on a jersey or understanding each other’s reactions.”
“But the lift in confidence for Max and other children in life generally is amazing. Their therapy is basically on a Rugby field,” Megan said.
Queensland Rugby Union and the St.George Foundation have helped to expand the program's reach with clubs fielding eight children and eight in-game mentors, from the Under-12 and Under-16 age groups, to ensure sessions run smoothly.
As part of their support of the Modified Rugby Program Queensland Rugby Union are supporting the program by providing the four clubs with the opportunity to play at half time and form the tunnel for the Reds V Sharks fixture at Suncorp Stadium on May 22.
In acknowledgment of the attendance and the potential challenges faced by the children who struggle to cope with loud noises and bright lights, the QRU has removed the use of fireworks on the evening.
The overarching goal of the Modified Rugby Program is to give young children with learning difficulties and their families, the opportunity to engage with their local club, in the hope that they maintain their relationship in the years to come.
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