End of Year message from the England Touch Association
As 2020 draws to a close, we caught up with Mark Croston (Chair), Chris Simon (Chief Executive), Ben Powell (High Performance Director) and Sammie Phillips (National Development Officer) to reflect on the last 12 months and to let us know what they expected and hoped for in 2021.
I don’t think my first 12 months in the job could have presented much more of a challenge, but at the same time we have been given a fantastic opportunity to propel the game of Touch to new levels in England.
The obvious challenge of the pandemic has kept us all busy, but by working closely with the Rugby Football League, Rugby Football Union, Sport England and DCMS, we have been able to keep Touch being played for much of the year and in most of the country. The Touch community – our clubs, leagues, universities and more – have pulled together to ensure that those who participate have been able to through a combination of virtual activity and local return to training and competition. I’d like to thank everyone who has played their part in keeping our fantastic sport going during the last 12 months.
Whilst we have still been able to play, postponement (then cancellation) of the Euros to 2022, the Youth Touch Cup, also to 2022, and the absence of a Junior Touch Championships, not to mention our own domestic events, has left a void for many who gain such satisfaction and enjoyment from excelling at the top of our sport. With uncertainty continuing into 2021, we’re doing everything possible to get some sort of meaningful competition for our elite athletes. We expect to be back in contact early in the New Year and hopefully with some good news.
The last 12 months has also seen an immense amount of planning for the future. Prior to the pandemic we started setting out our strategy to further develop Touch as the mass participation version of rugby – not to replace league or union, but to work alongside, getting more children and adults picking up an oval-shaped ball. We have continued our planning in this area and as we move into 2021, you’ll be hearing a lot more about the growth of Touch (rugby) in schools, as well as other environments for people to participate.
As we look to invest in the future growth of Touch in England, we are keen to continue engaging with our membership. During the last 12 months, we have spent a lot of time listening to those that play and we intend on continuing to do so through 2021. We are the governing body for the sport and need to ensure we can provide a high-quality offer that is welcomed by those who participate at all levels of the game.
So, all that is left for me to say is a massive thank you to everyone – the board, our employees, our volunteers, our clubs, leagues and individual members and to those outside the sport who have helped us get through this year. It has been a challenging one, of that there is no doubt, but I truly believe the ETA leaves 2020 in a stronger position than when we entered it. We just have to go and deliver now...
Growing the game of Touch during a global pandemic has certainly not been without its challenges. However, 2020 has also provided many new opportunities. The pressing of ‘pause’ on the game has enabled us to analyse and review the current offering in the whole of England. From grassroots to elite level and in many different areas of delivery, we have been able to really invest the time into thinking strategically about the direction we want to travel. At the same time, we have used the opportunity to consult on ideas and ensure that the Growing the Game Strategy is robust, collaborative and achievable.
This year has witnessed an explosion in the use of video conferencing across the organisation. This has enabled stronger connections across the organisation, and I have personally really enjoyed putting faces to names, hearing about the great work going on around the country and being introduced to the vast number of opportunities that exist across different areas.
We have also been able to offer increased access to our refereeing and coaching courses and workshops, which has also helped develop our volunteer workforce. We have seen an increase of 16% in the numbers attending the Level One Referee Course and a whopping 67.8% increase in the numbers attending the Level One Coaching Course, not to mention the addition of new workshops covering specific areas of the game. We intend to continue to invest in these areas next year, further upskilling and empowering people around the country to deliver Touch.
We do not know exactly what 2021 will look like, but it is likely that we will experience a gradual return to play, from a local to regional to national level. This will allow us to focus on grassroots development and empower our clubs and regions to further grow the game and raise awareness of opportunities to play Touch at all levels. Alongside this, we will continue to develop our Growing the Game Strategy in the six key areas of schools, universities, clubs, leagues, workplaces and social/park Touch, as we work towards our strategic aim of 500,000 participants and 50,000 England Touch members by 2024.
On a personal note, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to take up an employed role within the organisation, which is something I had always hoped would be possible as the organisation grew more professional. I will plough my expertise and energy into growing the game, alongside many others who share our vision of growing Touch as the mass participation sport that it has the potential to be.
Despite two National Lockdowns, multiple cancellations of Training Camps and the postponement of the 2020 and 2021 European Touch Championships, we have united as a High Performance Community. This has not only been evident in our progress through online learning, coaches CPD, improved policy and administration and strategic planning, but in establishing a vision and network of support that will certainly outlast this global pandemic.
Hive Learning and Zoom have proved valuable platforms to provide athletes and coaches with engagement and learning opportunities through our High Performance Training Camps. Our Opens Athletes have also started the process of their DISC Profiles to provide invaluable information on how they behave, respond and engage, which we hope will transform their performance on and off the field. There has also been a significant contribution from the High Performance Community in supporting the provision of online CPD for the broader membership of the ETA and the global Touch community.
It has been a real team effort to keep things ticking over the way they have, and I will be forever grateful to our committed and professional team of Head Coaches, Assistant Coaches, Team Managers, Medical Team, Sports Psychologist Team, Strength and Conditioning Team and the High Performance Panel – without their dedication and expertise we simply would not have been able to offer the provision that has been available. Finally, I need to thank the High Performance Athletes – it would have been understandable and easy for focus to be lost and for commitment to waiver, but this has not been the case. Their support and commitment to the programme and our sport has been nothing short of inspirational.
There are already exciting and innovative plans for 2021 and I am confident that our programme, and everyone who makes up our caring, driven and talented High Performance Community, will endure this very difficult time we are in.
Speaking to Chairs of other governing bodies, it is clear that 2020 will live long in our memories. It has forced every sport to dig deep, reflect and embrace new ways of thinking and doing.
We are very fortunate as a sport. We have a great volunteer base, a growing talent pool and more and more people looking to play. 2020 has in some ways enabled us to develop how we lead and grow the sport – and how we represent our players, workforce and audience. Listening to Ben’s, Sammie's and Chris' thoughts and feelings about 2020 and beyond, reminds me of the many opportunities that our sport has, and how we as a governing body, shape and drive that forward.
As we head into the festive period, on behalf of everyone at the ETA, we hope you will get to spend time with those close to you and if not, that you are all safe, well and are being looked after. It feels right to expect that 2021 brings much more in terms of enjoyment and celebration. We know there will be some tough times ahead, but as an organisation, we’re ready for the challenge and look forward to getting everyone back out on the Touch pitch as soon as we can.
Best wishes and Season's Greetings from all at the England Touch Association!