Exciting times at Ross Sutherland as community coaching team already seeing benefits at Invergordon club of reach across schools in Ross-shire and Sutherland
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Ross Sutherland are hoping their revamped community coaching team can have as strong of an influence as they ever have.
Mitch McSpadden has taken over as the Stags development officer, with Michael McClenaghan replacing him as the cashback officer at Alness Academy and Andy Mair serving as a Sutherland-specific community coach.
With the area those three have to cover ranging from the Black Isle to Helmsdale, moving further west across Ross-shire and Sutherland too, all three coaches are kept busy.
Discussions are ongoing around adding more schools to their portfolio of curriculum-based programmes too, but McSpadden is confident that they are covering all bases as well as they have in a long time.
"We have the most school players we've had for ages," he explained.
"We've managed to get good buy in. We now have secondary schools in the areas around Golspie, Tain and Invergordon, and Dingwall are keen to come on board too.
"Primary schools can be quite difficult – we could almost do with another member of staff just to cover the primary schools – but I think we're covering the area about as well as we ever have, and I think we're in about as many schools as we ever have.
"If Fortrose come on board as well, we'll have covered all the secondary schools in our catchment area, which is really exciting."
Any sports club in the Highlands will say it is difficult to recruit senior players, so having a thriving youth section is crucial to Ross Sutherland's future.
If that is the goal, the Stags are certainly delivering on it. Numbers across every school are strong, and the club are seeing that translate to their own age group sides outside of school too.
"It's great having us in the schools, but a big positive for us is starting to see that transition to the club," McSpadden added.
"That's what it's about at the end of the day. Being able to make it so enjoyable that they come along – especially if they're travelling from somewhere like Golspie – is a massive positive for our community team.
"It has been a big transition at the club – most of our under-16 team is now made up of Cashback kids from Alness, and it's the same in our under-14s.
"They obviously see the new facility we have, and Invergordon seems to be the place to be. It's all going really well, and I think it can only keep getting better.
"Places like Invergordon and Alness have traditionally been football-dominant schools, but Alness must have over 40 kids playing rugby now.
"That's about 15 per cent of the school, which they say is only five per cent behind football, so it's obviously a popular game and a lot more people are buying into it.
"Invergordon must have 30-something kids playing, which is over 10 per cent of the school playing rugby. Golspie, being a Sutherland school, has got great numbers so it's all very positive."