Monday, 4 October 2010
Should children play rugby?
Yup, it’s rugger season again and I’m resigned to giving up large chunks of my life to stand, shivering, at the side of the pitch, while my son hurls boys into the mud and is then duly hurled into the mud in return.
I have a love-hate relationship with rugby. It’s one thing when vast man mountain strangers brawl in gladiatorial fashion; quite another when it’s your own precious breakable eleven-year old who is somewhere at the bottom of a melee of writhing limbs and kicking boots.
I do sometimes wonder: should children really play rugby? Every atom of my mothering heart screams Nooooooo, don’t be so bloody stupid; of course they shouldn’t. Let me count the reasons.
#1 = visit to A&E for suspected concussion.
#2 = suspected broken wrist.
#3 = other wrist being fractured.
#4 = neck injury.
There may have been #5 and #6 but I have started losing track really.
Bottom line: it’s brutal and downright dangerous.
I’m the kind of mother refs dread. The kind who watches beadily, narrows her eyes and reproves: ‘That tackle was way too high, ref’ or who glares at small boys and mutters ‘get off his neck, you little toad.’ Yet, curiously, I’m also the one shouting ‘Rip it out’ or ‘Heave!’ or ‘Down the line!’ Jumping up and down with glee as James makes a break or fells some boy-tree hybrid. Punching the air in triumph when he makes a try.
It’s a game of strategy and speed as much as brute force and when the team works together, it’s a joy to watch, like quick-moving chess. I also love the fact that it’s a sport in which the most unlikely boys can shine. For once it’s not just the slim and speedy who get the breaks – there are roles for the solid and chunky too. When you want to move a maul, you need a bit of weight. Truly, I missed my calling.
Yesterday I was chatting to one mum who said she was over-the-moon when her son took to rugby. ‘He’s a solid child,’ she said. ‘The type who normally gets labelled as ‘non-sporty’. Yet he really loves that he can make a difference in the scrum, and be one of the team. It’s getting him fitter and healthier too.’
I once talked about it with the headmaster of James’ old school and he said that there are good psychological reasons for promoting rugby too. It doesn’t just get boys fit, strong and agile; it also gives them a safe outlet for their natural thuggishness; lets them burn off a bit of the excess testosterone.
‘Do you really enjoy tackling?’ I asked James after one match, genuinely puzzled.
‘Heck yes, I love it,’ he replied, eyes shining. ‘Sometimes you feel like you just want to thump someone but if you did that normally you’d get told off. In rugby, you bring ‘em down and get praised to the sky.’
I tell you, boys are an alien species sometimes.
There’s this weird preconception that rugby is some kind of ‘posh boy’ game but, actually it’s played in around 10,000 state schools and local clubs up and down the country teach rugby to children from all walks of life. Discipline is tight on the pitch and in the club-house afterwards when the children change into shirts and club ties for their after-match tea. It’s a far cry from football’s yob culture and you have to wonder whether, if rugby were played in every school, we might have less problems on the streets?
Would be interested to see what you think. Is rugby the Right Stuff or Total Insanity (or maybe a bit of both?)
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