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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Atlanta Youth Rugby Growing The Game

One of the best things about writing about rugby is that you get to see all the cool things people are doing around the country. There are thousands of coaches and administrators out there putting in hard work to grow the game. One of the organizations taking part in that growth is Atlanta Youth Rugby. We spoke with Paul Raio the Director of Coaching at Atlanta Youth Rugby to get more info on the organization.

TIAR: What is Atlanta Youth Rugby? How did it get it's start and how many teams do you have?

Paul Raio: Atlanta Youth Rugby is a rapidly developing organization that is dedicated to exposing a younger generation of Americans to the sport of rugby. AYR was founded in 2011 by Stewart Haddock. Stewart's son Karl expressed an interest in rugby and the only game in town at that time was a South African guy who was running weekly clinics on the north side of town. He was relocated to another state and Stewart took the initiative to start his own club to fill the gap and continue to foster his son's interest in the sport. What started with his son Karl and a few of his buddies has since evolved over the last 4 years into a 501c3 organization with professional coaches, corporate sponsorships and 86 players. We are fielding 4 full sides sides in the 3rd-5th Grade (elementary) bracket, 2 sides of 6th-8th graders (Middle School) and a JV Side (9th and 10th grade) and will continue to evolve into having a full High School side.

Take the jump to read more.

TIAR: Atlanta is a very diverse place. Is that reflected in the players you have coming out to your teams?

PR: We do have a diverse membership with representation from the city and suburbs, but really want to expand upon that outside of the typical rugby community. We are working on several different fronts to accomplish this by hosting informal runs and clinics at several parks around the city, playing exhibitions before and at the halftime of club matches, as well as hosting "clinics" at Boys and Girls Clubs in the city.

TIAR: How are you growing the game in Atlanta?

PR: Our initial strategy to scale was to avoid the football and soccer seasons and provide parents with an offseason option. We believe this has enabled us to scale faster than we could have if we chose to compete head to head with established sports. In addition, we are focused on the things that we think matter, which is developing the sport and the passion for it in our boys, versus running the club for profit. Beyond that, we have been really fortunate to have aligned ourselves with Life University which is located just north of the city in Marietta. Dan Payne and his entire staff and players have been incredibly supportive of our program from the start and have provided advice, funding, facilities, etc. We have tapped into their resources to provide a level of coaching that is unparalleled anywhere in the southeast. The end result of this is that we are delivering both a top notch coaching experience and providing incredibly solid role models for our boys to emulate and look up to. We feel that this has been a real key to fast track our growth and are really grateful for their support and guidance and the feedback we get from our year end parent surveys has been very positive.

TIAR: How important is it to start players young?

PR: It is incredibly important. Compared to most American players who pick it up later in life and spend the first few years figuring out how to play the game, our boys will have a tremendous advantage where ever their rugby careers lead them. My 10 year old son already has a better left than I ever did.

TIAR: What plans do you have for the future?

PR: Our long term plan is to add a women's side and continue to scale the organization on all fronts, develop a solid alternative youth option for the city of Atlanta and ultimately start to feed experienced, knowledgeable players into clubs and university sides all over.

TIAR: Do you think Atlanta is an underrated rugby market?

PR: There is no question about it. We have parents that commute an hour plus to get to practices today. The youthyRugby market (sub high school) is completely under served in the SE, with the exception of Charlotte which has a great program. In 4 short years we have grown our numbers exponentially, added sponsors, organized a full advisory board with diverse back grounds from Rugby to Medical to local business professionals and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface.


  1. Great article! Great organization!

  2. Its crazy to talk about the growth of youth rugby in Atlanta without mentioning Phoenix RFC in Alpharetta.