Monday, 4 October 2010

Should children play rugby?

So, look at the picture and three guesses where I spent my Sunday morning? Bondage fashion show? Outdoor shopfitting workshop? Oh, alright, so we were at Sandyway, the rugby ground of the Exeter Chiefs.

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?)


Totally changing the subject, I was deeply chuffed to read a lovely review of this blog....do have a read by clicking here.

And please don't forget that I also blog for The Lady as Mrs Muck (get me!) - have a butcher's here (and do leave comments if you feel so inclined.  Or, indeed, write to that august publication and demand more of Mrs Muck (that would be fab!).  Latest post is Mrs Muck's Guide for Lonely Hearts..  :) 

21 comments:

Tara said...

So funny. I've just posted about this very subject too, although my son is only 7 and not yet onto contact rugby.
My husband was a rugby player all his life. He adored it. Loved the team spirit, being that fit. But yes, he had some quite awful injuries and now gets his fix by coaching

Sheena Ignatia said...

I have worked in about 50 schools and nearly all of them play rugby as well as football. Boys who are in football teams are often well behaved- they can't play up else they'd be chucked out!
The problem is inclusion - even if every school had a rugby team, not all boys would be able to join it.

Exmoorjane said...

Tara: aha, great minds think alike... Tag is so sweet... Off to read yours now.

Sheena: I think it's different in school sports from clubs. James used to play football at a local club and I grew to loathe the matches - mainly because the parents were, frankly, maniacal. One parent screamed at his son for letting in goals. They were like a baying mob. Dunno, different somehow. At rugby you clap when the other side gets a try or conversion or applaud good play, whoever is doing it. But, basically, the more sport children play, the better (though I wouldn't have argued that when I was at school!)

Sheena Ignatia said...

Ah , I see, yes, Hubby played five a side for a football club years and it's really violent.
Hmmm in that case we must ourselves this. Football related violence is more to do with working class men finding a place in society. There's some really good stuff done by Leicester Uni on football sociology- fascinating really- have a few essays myself.
Funnily enough, I live just across a field from Moseley rugby club and as we came home on Sat, I thought it might be quite fun to go.
And as for the posh thing , I have a hilarious stry about a date with a rugby player, but I am not posting it here! LOL!

Irish Eyes said...

One reason I always thanked God that I never had sons was the fact that Rugby is a dangerous game, and your description of the beady eyes Mum would have been apt as a description of me...it was bad enough two girls playing hockey!

Judy Astley said...

I think rugby is horribly dangerous but many children love to do dangerous things so they might as well do them under sports supervision.

What I'd hate is for any child of mine to be at a school where it was compulsory to do rugby. If they loathed it, dreaded it, were terrified to be at the bottom of the ruck then they really shouldn't have to.

(Long ago but still awful memories of hated hockey here..*shudder*)

Exmoorjane said...

Sheena: oh go ON.....must hear that story. I know, I know, shouldn't tar all footies with the same brush...just that many of those I did meet made me just horrified.

Oonagh: now hockey can be vicious too. I was banned for concussing two girls!

Judy: oh, you and me both....just LOATHED hockey. So so much. *shudder* It's a tough one re sport at school. I think all the boys at James' school have to play rugby but the ones who really loathe it do the bare minimum and avoid the matches. In the junior school, a few of them used to do tennis instead.
I would have traded all my pocket money not to have endured gym!

legend in his own lunchtime said...

I went to a school that only played Rugby and loved it. I would play for the school on Saturday morning, then for the local club in the afternoon. I had ny fair share of injuries, but non as bad as falling out of trees or crashing bikes over railings.

Exmoorjane said...

Legend: yup, my son plays for school AND club - so that's every day of the week at the moment! :)

Rob-bear said...

We're not quite so "into" rugby here in the colony. But I did get to play when I was in University.

Had we been able to do that in high school, I would have been into it faster than you could blink.

It can be "brutal and downright dangerous," particularly if not officiated properly. But if you know the rules and stay within them (or are made to stay within them), it's good. Fast. Exciting.

Actually, though, I preferred ice hockey. But what would you expect of someone living in Canada, eh?

Posie said...

The Scottish rugby union made a ruling something about matching age and size to rugby games, so grown adults can't play teenagers, and this has led to a reduction in the accidents, in particular the neck injuries that were occurring. I am not completely sure what the rule is, but did read that so far it has seemed to have made a difference. We have a fab beach rugby tournament here each year, sponsored by the distilleries. It is becoming really popular. My son is in the football club though, he is footie mad just now, phew, like you I am a tigress around my children, although instead of being beady eyed on the pitch I tend to have to not look...eldest is into horse riding and show jumping....

Exmoorjane said...

Bear: ice-hockey would probably be my greatest nightmare - hockey AND ice!!!

Posie: interesting. I was talking to a dad at school recently about this and he was saying that somewhere (could have been NZ come to think of it) children played according to size, rather than age...and that it cut down injuries immensely. Does make sense.

diney said...

My son started rugby at 7 and is still playing occasionally now at 28, though he stopped his twice weekly training just before he married (sensible!). I used to wince and cover my eyes, but if was a game that defined him somehow, and he adored it. As you say, alien species!! It also kept him very fit, and gave his life a structure (Match on Saturday, Training younger ones on Sunday (when he was 18), training twice a week...).

Northern Snippet said...

Rugby is completely different to football,I mean can you imagine supporters not being segregated in football?
I suppose as with everything you have to not be too overly protective.Having said that,the injuries that are possible in rugby are far more serious than you would be likely to sustain playing football.
Also rugby is such an impact sport that most players do have problems later in life.
I used to work in pro rugby and remember a couple of horrendous accidents.One a local lad paralysed,scrum collapsed.
Sorry, I'm sure you knew all that not trying to put you off.My sons played at school too!

Irritatingly Optimistic said...

Neither of my two boys are particularly sporty despite the fact that both of us were very sporty and competitive when young. They both love skateboarding though. I wish they did more physical sport.

Exmoorjane said...

Diney: yup, I wonder if James will keep up his interest for so long. I suspect he will - though his other love is cricket.

Snippet: aaaghhh, no (shoves hands over ears)... But yes, totally agree - love that there is no need for segregation in rugby..and no banning of alcohol either...just seems more sportsmanlike somehow.

Optimistic: funny, isn't it? I often wonder how i produced such a sporty son when I barely have a sporty bone in my body (squash is about it as far as I'm concerned). I'm glad he does get the exercise and the bonding that being in a team gives.

Mark said...

In almost any other context, rugby would be unjustified. The injury count is ridiculous- I read somewhere that 40% of players in the five nations will sustain an injury - and that is top level, properly regulated play. At lower levels it is poorly supervised, aggressive with a tendency to violence. It is interesting that very few players continue beyond early thirties - not like, say, running or cycling or climbing..

Of course there are loads of middle class self -justifying cliches to defend it, but they don't really stand scrutiny.

I remember our games teacher saying that rugby players got out their aggression out on the pitch and not off it (as if that somehow justified it!)

Perversely I am not against dangerous sports as such - I have kayaked huge rivers in Nepal and climbed many extreme rock routes. But the point here is that the risk is controlled and the choices largely your own. You are not prey to some idiot oaf taking it on themselves to collapse a scrum or gouge your face.

Compare our attitude to rugby to those adds on the TV about work related accidents. Have you had a trip or fall recently? You could claim compensation. Call ....

If schools had the same liability there is no way it would be compulsory.

Rant over.

Mark said...

Guess what - after my rant above - my son came home early from school on Friday.

Broken collarbone from a rugby tackle.

Nuff said.

kez said...

My son was told he wasn't allowed to play Rugby ( medically not wise, he only has one kidney ) He played football,cricket, basketball,tennis some at county level and also football for Bristol, he always begged to play Rugby and at the age of 17 he played for his school twice without my knowledge and on both occasions won man of the match, I don't believe he's played since but has spent 3 season skiing and ski jumping , I have spent its seems years in and out of casualty units in the Uk and in Europe,Boys will be Boys and if they have a need for adrenalin there will be no stopping them even when they are men.

Lorraine said...

I adored watching our boys play rugby and was often to be seen running up and down the touchline screeching like a banshee – I’m sure that’s what helped them win all their matches!
There was never a prouder mum when my son won the try scoring record year after year. The skill of a good team is amazing to watch and in their day, the First XV were never beaten except at Rosslyn Park National 7’s tournament.
I much preferred watching rugby to football, but admit to always having worried at the same time so know how you feel as a mother.
My son bit through his tongue in one match and although very nasty he kept p[laying till the end. He boasts about it like an old war wound these days

Anonymous said...

I have a 15 year old who plays for school and club rugby. He is absolutely mad about it! He has played since he was eleven and as the years have progressed the matches have got faster and more furious and the tackles a lot harder. Of course I worry he will get hurt but all mothers at the club have the same fears and I really couldn't stop him playing because it keeps him fit and strong and learns lots of things like respect and discipline and team work! All sports have risks, life has risks, children who sit around not playing sports risk damaging their health so I think weighing it all up the benefits outweigh it all.