Monday, March 14, 2016

Contact: The Art of the Tackle

By Brendan Triplett

It has been the subject spanning the globe, contact in youth rugby.  Should it be banned?  Is banning it saving our children or hurting them?  Is it hurting the sport?  Every few years we see something like this surface in the world of rugby and this year is no different.

On March 1, Allyson Pollock, a professor of Public Health Research and Policy in the United Kingdom sent out a petition to be simultaneously served to 24 officials in Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland outlining the dangers of the sport of rugby in all schools for youth under the age of 18.  The goal of the petition was to ban all tackling and ensure that no student in the school systems in these countries be permitted to make contact with one another until the age of 18.  The tackling in rugby being replaced by a touch version of the sport, thus removing all contact.  The petition was signed by over 70 school Professors and Ph.D’s all reported as, “sport scholars, academics, doctors, and public health professionals.”  It outlines the complaints as 1) A high-impact collision sport with serious injuries, 2) Many of the schools in the U.K. make the sport mandatory in their physical education programs, 3) The majority of injuries occur during contact and have life-long consequences, 4) The concussion is more serious in children of the sport, 5) Loss of school time due to rugby injuries, 6) Concerns that the sport is growing and more injuries will occur.

Take the jump to read more.

There is nothing to be said that the game would not still be entertaining for the youth without the contact but there is a lot here about this study and about the long term effects of these proposed changes on the sport and the youth programs as a whole that pose serious implications around the world.  Firstly, let’s take a look at World Rugby.  The petition here poses that not enough is being done to help the youth playing the sport and that the risk of injury is as high as ever.  World Rugby however has been on the forefront of injury response and treatment.  Considerable measures have been taken to grow the safety of the game from youth to the national level.  In a response to the petition, World Rugby came forward and outlined all of the programs that they have put forth to educate parents, fans, coaches, etc. on the risks of the sport along with measures to be taken to ensure that any player injured receives care and is only allowed to return until after appropriate evaluations.  This is not just for national rugby but also sets an outline for amateur programs and youth programs.  World Rugby makes a point that there is more risk to a child not being physically active then there is banning contact in a sport built around gamesmanship and both physical and mental prowess.

And what of the game?  The risks here are great and I would expect that many would agree that they outweigh the supposed rewards.  One of the main arguments against the ban on contact is how it would prepare future players of the sport.  If the ban was in place, there would no contact, but then upon reaching the age of 18, a grown adult would be driven to a university level match to tackle other fully grown men for the first time in his life, having never learned appropriate technique and not having the skillset to safely compete.  This is where the dangers truly come in because we would be seeing a national team, considerably weakened by lack of experience, taking contact on the pitch.  This might be a bit foreign for us Americans to understand because when someone looks at rugby, without pads and free flowing, there is an idea that it is violent and dangerous.  This is only compounded by the type of injuries that are seen on an American football field.

However, consider this: American football is all about the collision.  The idea behind the padding is to run full-force into an opponent and hold them in place or knock them to the ground.  We see this each and every play and then watch players limp to the side-lines to breathe oxygen and prepare for another round.  Rugby is different in this sense as there is training and focus on proper tackling techniques.  The idea is not run at an opponent and use the force of your body but rather to wrap a player and take them to the ground in a way that will allow both the tackler and the tackled to get up and resume play.  Let me try to make this simpler, football is a collision sport, rugby is a contact sport.  Studies conducted by NFL teams and several organizations have found rugby to be safer and have actually been trying to implement rugby medical protocols and tackling techniques into their gameplay to prevent injuries.

One of the main sticking points, in the petition, is that there is a duty by the government, and I am speaking of countries in the U.K. here, to provide for the safety of the children.  We have the same goal in mind here in the U.S. and I agree that it is important but I also like to keep in mind all of the positive aspects that the game is bringing to these same children.  Leadership, teambuilding, physical activity, mental toughness, the ability to take commands, discipline, and more importantly an outlet for growing young men to take their aggressions out in a refereed, safe, and directed fashion.  Does taking the contact out of the sport destroy all of these promising values?  Perhaps not but it does change the game on a very basic level and it takes away from the spirit of the sport.  This is a danger that the U.K. is facing right now but it isn’t a very far cry to think that someone here in the U.S. might take up the standard and try to ban tackling in rugby, football, and any other sport that puts someone at risk for the sake of making a name for themselves.

The study, though extreme, is not without merit.  There is a risk in rugby for every player.  Safety of our youth should be paramount and there should be a lot of focus placed on safety and treatment of injuries when they occur.  The solution?  Don’t throw the study away and don’t sit by and do absolutely nothing.  If world rugby wants to make a stand other than defending the game and attempt to make a difference in the sport then there should be a greater emphasis placed on coach and referee safety measures.  Schools and Universities should be taking the time and the funds to educate their staff to ensure that tackling is done safely and that the youth participating in these programs are doing everything that they can to keep in accordance with all updated safety protocols.  The idea here is that we don’t need safer players, they are children.  We need safer adults to instill skillsets into these children so that they inherently grow up and learn to go into contact safely.  Educated players are safe players, safe players make good sportsman and isn’t that the reason we put them in these programs in the first place?  Ruck on.

1 comment:

  1. Back at the beginnings of the sport in the USA, they tried to make it safer by adding helmets and pads. Look at how that turned out.