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Free Jacks Academy FAQs

What is the scope of the Free Jacks Academy?

The Free Jacks Academy is a long-term, systemic approach to rugby athlete, coach, and referee development through year long identification, training, and enhanced competition programs and periodization. 

The Academy’s goal is two-fold: to narrow the gap between amateur rugby participants and the professional / international game; as well as to dramatically increase the number of participants playing the game in New England. The former, as measured by the number of players and coaches who “graduate” into the international and / or professional games: named All-Americans; USA national age-grade players; Eagles; Olympians; and MLR Free Jacks. The latter, of course, by the number of athletes who Learn-to-Play and continue on the journey of rugby participation. 

The Free Jacks Academy operates 13 Regional Training Groups that collaborate with rugby infrastructure (clubs, school, state-based organizations) to deliver on its mission of enhancing the rugby experience for those that currently play and to also increase the number of participants in the game. 

It is an iterative pathway between the Free Jacks, USA Rugby National Teams, Major League Rugby, and grassroots rugby programs to offer the athlete and the coach the best chance of growth and success over the course of their development. 

The Free Jacks Academy is designed for domestic-based high school, college, or club athletes and coaches, who should have additional rugby experiences in a long-term program to enhance their club experiences and to reach their rugby performance goals. Where feasible, athletes need to train and play with a local club to fulfill the standards of the Academy. 

What are the Goals of the Free Jacks Academy?
  1. Increase the number of players, coaches, and referees in New England. 
  2. Improve the level of school and club play in New England. 
  3. Identify and develop future Olympians, US Eagles, and MLR Free Jacks players and coaches. 

 

What are Regional Training Groups (RTGs)?

The New England region is organized into multiple areas (Free Jacks Academy Regional Training Groups) to provide more localized access on a regular basis to talent identification and talent development for players and coaches as an augmentation to and to support regional rugby infrastructures (teams, clubs, and SROs). 

In areas with limited rugby infrastructure, the RTGs will work to increase participation and the number of club teams in that area to support the growth of the game. 

In all areas of New England the Free Jacks Academy will strive to create new Learn-to-Play opportunities through partnerships with town recreation departments, youth centers, schools, and existing rugby clubs.

I want to participate in some camps and clinics and cannot commit the time to play rugby outside of the normal club / school season, can I still participate?

Yes. The Free Jacks Academy has multiple ways to engage depending on an athlete’s or coach’s needs. 

The Performance track, which one has to be selected into through performance at tracking days (“combines”), is for athletes and coaches seeking to compete at the next level (beyond club / school regular play). 

The Development track is based on the athlete / coach’s time and is there for any and all rugby participants in New England to take advantage of when they are available through online and in-person clinics, camps, and seminars. 

Will I have to choose the Free Jacks Academy, and / or an RTG, over my club or school team?

No. The Free Jacks Academy is a performance program that is additive to your club and / or school team. You should participate in the club and / or scholastic program in your area (if they exist) in order to meet the necessary volume requirements of a performance rugby athlete or coach and to be eligible to qualify for a Free Jacks Academy Squad.

What is the general schedule of the Free Jacks Academy?

Throughout the year athletes and coaches are able to be identified and have opportunities to enhance development. 

In general, the fall season is weighted towards identification of club players (NERFU & college) and top-up skill enhancement sessions for HS and club players. 

The end of the fall and winter is spent upskilling talent through development and trial camps. There will be some competition opportunities depending on the age-group and school calendar. 

The spring season is XVs club season where athletes and coaches will be tracked while playing with their club or school team with occasional top-up skill sessions and fitness tracking. 

The early summer season is the start of the Regional Training Groups competitions, which book end the summer 7s season. 

Late summer provides touring opportunities as well as late fall and winter. 

I am a high school player, should I focus on year-round rugby development?

As a Free Jacks Academy high school participant you are highly encouraged to play two to three different sports in a given year. When participating in the Academy you are required to learn multiple positions in the game of rugby. 

Throughout the year there will be opportunities to top-up your rugby skills and physical fitness to ensure you are best prepared for the competitive school rugby season and subsequent Free Jacks Academy opportunities. This should not compromise, however, competition in at least one other sport (e.g. soccer, football, hockey, basketball, wrestling, etc). and multiple other recreational athletic pursuits (e.g. skiing, skateboarding, tumbling, MMA, yoga, racquet sports, other field sports, etc).  

We are more concerned with your future abilities as an athlete than peaking in rugby in high school. 

What is the expected volume to participate in the Free Jacks Academy?

In general the aim is: 

  • 9-months per annum of rugby “connectedness” (1 to 2 seasons of play, 1 to 2 seasons of limited skill and fitness top-ups); 
  • At least 2x four-week recovery periods per year; 
  • 6x single-week recovery periods per year (at the end of each cycle); 
  • Minimum 3x rugby specific training sessions per week, per athlete while in-season; 
  • 2-3x strength, speed, and/or conditioning sessions programmed per week, ideally conditioning work is embedded into rugby-specific skill training;
  • One rest day minimum per week;
  • Aim for minimum 75+ rugby training sessions per year;
  • Aim for minimum 18x matches per year (15-a-side); with a recommended maximum of 25 full 15-a-side matches per year. 
What are the sports-science protocols of the Academy?

Players will be subject to most up to date technologies including but not limited to, GPS, jump mats, tendo-units, speed gates, and rugby analysis software to monitor athletic performance. The Free Jacks will evaluate physical performance across RTG’s on a regular basis (at least 4x per year).

The Academy will provide virtual and live support to athletes focusing on holistic human development including but not limited to personal responsibility, strength and conditioning, nutrition, social/mental health and provide support in planning their futures in rugby and, where applicable, college and life.

There will be quarterly performance blocks prescribed for athletes perceived to be of regional interest. 

Strength and Conditioning prescription within these blocks will be built with three types of athletes in mind, Club, Collegiate and High School, built around accompanying annual competition structures.

Players will be monitored year round in respect to weights and measures, reported once every two months. The academy will set physical performance standards to strive for across stratas in a tiered system based on physical performance standards at those levels nationally and internationally. 

How will I be evaluated?

Players will be evaluated at RTGs at least four times per year in respect to certain criteria under the Free Jack way umbrella. Players will be databased and progressions tracked over time. 

Free Jacks academy staff will be in touch regularly with coaches within the local infrastructure of each RTG keeping up to date with progress.

In addition to quarterly performance block strength and conditioning prescription for athletes. Players of regional interest will be subject to PPPs (Player Performance Plans) with technical, tactical, and holistical work-ons. Players will converse every two months (6 times per year) with an academy coach on their PPP. 

When do the RTGs meet?

It is region specific depending on the capabilities and needs of each area. In general, the aim is to provide:

  • quarterly identification (tracking) and testing days in each region;
  • 35 additional rugby skill enhancement training sessions per year; 
  • 4 to 6 elevated (above club level) performance matches at each Academy level (likely select teams from RTGs).
How do I participate in an RTG?

Simply head to the Free Jacks website: freejacks.com/academy to register for events in your region (or another near you).

Keep an eye out for schedules on the Free Jacks social media streams and sign up to our newsletter for upcoming academy events and all information.

Additionally you can reach out to: academy@freejacks.com to find out when the next event will be in your area. 

How do I try-out for a Free Jacks Academy squad?

By attending a quarterly identification (tracking) and testing day in a region near you or participating in regular training programs with the Free Jacks.

What is the 2021 Schedule if I am selected for the Junior Jacks?

We anticipate Junior Jack competition at the culmination of the spring school season for Junior Jacks under 16s and 18s (girls and boys) in 2021 COVID-19 protocols permitting.

In late summer and during the fall, Free Jacks Academy Tracking Days and skill clinics will serve as the primary identification opportunities.

In winter there will be further development clinics and trial camps.

Through spring there will be occasional top-up skill sessions and fitness tracking while an athlete progresses in her/his daily training environment (i.e. school team). 

What is the 2021 Schedule if I am selected for the Independents?

The Independents (men’s) matches are currently scheduled to begin prior to and then following the spring club season. In 2021 there will be scheduled Independents (women’s) opportunities (dates pending USA and WPL schedules).

The Academy will be in constant contact with USA Rugby relaying player developments for Independents.

During the fall, Tracking Days will form identification opportunities in addition to performance at the club level.

Winter development series will run to provide developmental opportunities for Men and Women Independents to develop their game and provide opportunity for selection to the player pool 

Through fall, there will be occasional top-up skill sessions and fitness tracking.

How does my club host an identification or development event in our area?

Reach out to Performance Manager Tom Kindley or Operations Officer Oliver Engelhart to coordinate an identification or development event in your area:

tom.kindley@freejacks.com

oliver.engelhart@freejacks.com

Can girls and women compete? If so, where does the pathway lead?

Absolutely! The Free Jacks aim to provide equal opportunities for girls and boys, women and men alike through the academy system. 

There will be Junior Jacks competition for girls as well as boys and Independents women’s development and identification events will funnel towards WPL and strong women’s clubs in the area. 

The collegiate landscape in the women’s game is quickly developing and we aim to assist our girls into these amazing opportunities. As a National Development Pathway, we place focus on fostering talent for the National teams (15s and 7s) and will be working alongside USA Rugby to provide further opportunities for girls and women in New England.

What ages can participate in the Academy?

Typically the breakdown is as follows: 

  • Junior Jacks – Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 (14-19)
  • Independents U23 – 20-23
  • Independents – 23+
  • Coaches – Any age
  • Administrators – Any age
What ages can participate in a Regional Training Group?

All! 

Typically the breakdown is as follows: 

  • Learn To Play – 6-13 years of age
  • Junior Jacks – Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20
  • Independents U23 – 20-23
  • Independents – 23+
  • Coaches – Any age
  • Administrators – Any age
When in the calendar year does the age cut-off occur?

Consistent with USA rugby cut-offs, participants must be of age on December 31 of the current year. For example, if the player is 19 or 20 on December 31 of the current year, they are deemed an under 20 player. 

An easy way to think about it is the age (16/18/20) and under during the calendar year.

I’m a college student, what does this mean for me?

Players under 20 (Freshman and Sophomore year in College) are eligible to compete with the U20 Junior Jacks team. Players 21+ are eligible for the New England Independents U23 teams.

The develoment programs aim to push your rugby to the highest level to acheive your goals and support USA Rugby’s National Under 20 team and prepare players for selection at the National level.

The focus for this age group is physical, technical, and tactical development preparing for competition opportunities.