Is Rugby Safe for Children?
From the outside, rugby can seem quite dangerous, and headlines about kids hurting themselves, getting concussed or even getting life threatening injuries certainly aren’t helping rugby’s reputation.
But people within the sport see it very differently, as a safe and exciting sport that not only keeps kids fit, but also teaches them cooperation, forms friendships, improves their spatial awareness and boosts confidence.
So if rugby can be safe for kids, how has it gained such notoriety?
It’s not the sport, it’s how it’s taught
Unlike football or tennis, rugby involves frequent and direct contact with other players. To be effective at rugby, you need more than stamina, flexibility and coordination, you also need the strength to give and take a tackle. If a player, especially a young one, goes into rugby without first building their physical fitness, they’ll be easily injured on the field.
According to RFU guidance, children under the age of 14 shouldn’t have full contested scrum and children under 9 shouldn’t tackle, sticking to touch and tag until they’re at an age where they’re more physically capable of performing these demanding manoeuvres. Match times and ball size are also reduced for underage rugby in order for kids to keep up with the physical demands of the sport along, and line outs are uncontested for under 15s.
And regardless of age, players need to be taught tackling technique, which is much more involved than simply shoving your opponent. Long before they take on another player directly, players need to prepare against tackle bags and shields until they have proven they can tackle in a way that’s safe both for them and the other player.
Even in professional rugby, the leading cause of injury is tackles that don’t follow the correct technique. The full weight of one player colliding with another can lead to serious injuries.
Make sure your child is playing in a safe environment
Unfortunately, many schools don’t have staff with the experience or knowledge to properly train their pupils, and throw them into the deep end without proper supervision. If you get a field full of untrained children tackling each other before they’re old enough, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Then when a child does become injured, the same school is unlikely to have the medical staff at hand who know how to respond to and rehabilitate an injury, leaving them vulnerable to further injuries and even the development of chronic conditions.
Sports injuries can’t be treated with rest alone; the affected area needs to be strengthened, gradually have its movement restored and its proprioception retrained to avoid the development of chronic conditions down the line. Even GPs consistently fall short in providing the correct advice, so it’s no surprise that medical staff at schools can’t keep up.
While there are many schools who have fantastic rugby facilities with full time coaches and medical staff – some rivalling professional clubs – if your child is showing an interest in rugby and you suspect their school isn’t equipped to provide the appropriate training and safety precautions, you should encourage them to join a local youth rugby club.
But you also need to choose your club carefully. In London, your spoilt for choice for high quality youth rugby clubs, but there are still amateur clubs out there where there are too many kids and not enough coaches to give them the attention they need for a safe playing environment.
You best place to start finding a rugby club for your child is the RFU directory for rugby clubs that you can search through by clicking here. The RFU website also has plenty of information on its child safeguarding policies and can send qualified coaches to schools or clubs to ensure they’re being run safely.
As someone who’s worked for various rugby teams in my career, I’m happy to provide any advice or answer any concerns you might have about your child playing rugby and at Physio London we can also provide physical assessments and conditioning programmes if you want to help them make the most of this fantastic sport. You can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.