I agree with more or less everything you say here Mike. I am speaking now not as a Director of Barrow RFC but as a grandparent of a rugby league mad youngster. The local junior game (up to and including under 16s) is struggling for numbers and that needs to be addressed somehow and it needs to be addressed very quickly in my opinion.
Already during 2012 Hawcoat Storm have declined to join the U12 and U14 levels, Walney have dropped out of the U14 level until at least next March and other sides at all levels are calling off matches due to lack of numbers. And all this from a not very strong base in terms of numbers to start with.
This season just 6 teams are playing at U12s, 8 at U14s (now less Walney who are in limbo until March 2013), and U16s. In the U14s league Barrow Island field two teams so just six clubs are now competing at that level.
Even in the schools the situation is no better - just recently St Bernards Year 8 side was given a walkover in the local schools cup as the Academy (North and South combined I believe) couldn't raise a team.
This situation bothers me greatly as we are building the future of the sport in our region on sand and unless we can increase numbers more and more kids will turn to kiss ball where they will get a match every week.
I have no idea what the anwser to this problem is and I am absolutely certain that everybody involved at junior level is doing their utmost to increase numbers but the stark reality is that we are declining rather than growing.
The academy are absolutely shocking at fielding sports teams, it isn't just RL to be fair. At St Bernards the teachers are generally quite good at getting people to play, they got around 30 people giving it ago in year 7 as they got moet of the football lads playing and said there isn't a reason you shouldn't give it a try. The numbers dropped getting to 15 and 16 but never got to the point where we couldn't field a team of 17.
Maybe the council should get tighter on sports teams and get as many people playing as possible, fair enough if they don't like it but at least give it a go. Regarding the ameteur sides I think the best way to get the numbers up is through schools, make the game sound appealing as possible its the best way too get kids into the game. The leagues can be very unbalanced also which can be a problem, getting absolutely hammered every week by bigger and better players will lead to people dropping out which doesn't help. Maybe a draft system could be put in to try and balance it out? More competitive games also leads to a higher standard, plus it would stop all the best players to join one club which doesn't help anyone. Another thing which I think could help is advertising the club more in schools and getting the club across too the kids. Maybe players doing training sessions, free tickets given away and more posters being put around school. The club should be putting a lot of drive into schools as at the end of the day they are going to be where our fans and players come from in the future. Even though St Bernards were good at getting kids playing, their wasn't much advertisement of a pro rl club in the area. That's one improvement we could try and make an improvement on.
These are only ideas I guess to try and help. As I say the kids are the future of the club in many aspects, but it is a difficult task to get them involved.