One of the biggest factors preventing young people taking up and enjoying rugby is the risk of injury. Due to the intense physical nature of rugby, chances of sustaining an injury are relatively high compared with other, less physically demanding sports. No parent wants to put their child into a risky situation where they could sustain a concussion, shoulder injury, knee injury or something even more serious, and so many will now opt for a safer option for their child’s sporting endeavours.
Contact and collision elements of rugby such as tackling, and scrummaging present the highest risk for injury, which has led to some suggestions that these elements of the game should be depowered or removed altogether from junior rugby.
It’s fair to say that if rugby participation is to grow, then the sport needs to address these issues and come up with strategies to mitigate the risk. Changing the rules to reduce or eliminate the contact situations faced by girls and boys when they learn the game would reduce the risk of injury in the short term. However, as these children develop and become adults, they would have to learn contact skills at a later stage, and so wouldn’t be able to practise them for nearly as much time as they currently do and would be unlikely to master the skills, leading to potentially higher injury rates later. The other option along this line would be to change the rules throughout the sport into senior rugby, but then that would change the sport so drastically that it would become a completely different game.
It seems however that there may be another way to reduce the risk of injury in junior rugby. A recent study from the University of Bath in England, found that in youth rugby players aged 14-18, a set routine of exercises completed as a warm up prior to training and matches led to a reduction of injury by 72% and the number of concussions by 59%.
Those number again – 72% reduction in total injuries and 59% fewer concussions.
The study potentially provides a huge breakthrough into how we prepare children and young adults for the demands of rugby. The exercise routine was relatively simple and focussed on developing general athletic movement competence to enhance coordination and improve the ability to learn contact skills.
Although they only used 14-18-year old’s in this study, I would suggest that younger children would benefit just as much as this age group. To be safe in sports, young people need to know the basics of how to move efficiently and effectively.
The young rugby player of today is very different physically from previous generations. While 20 years ago, a child would spend their time outdoors, running around, climbing trees and playing various sports; today children will predominantly prefer to spend leisure time indoors in less physically active pastimes. Even when they are involved in physical activity, it is usually an organised session of a certain sport, rather than spontaneous play where they explore various movements.
This has led to a decrease in overall physical capacities, with general movement skills involving balance, coordination, spatial awareness and bodyweight strength not being fully developed. As a result, injury rates of young people have spiked, and performance is being limited.
There is therefore, a need to include some form of general movement skill training and athletic development exercises in the sports programs of all young athletes. Through appropriate training, we can reverse the decline in physical qualities, reduce the risk of injury, and give each youngster a better chance to reach their sporting potential.
We can categorise movement skills into ‘general skills’ and ‘specific skills’, with each being progressed as appropriate as players get older and physical competence improves. General skills include basic body awareness, the ability to dissociate the trunk and limbs, balance, single leg control and co-ordination.
Specific skills are movements that are actually done on-field, such as acceleration, deceleration, change of direction and of course the actual sporting skills such as the contact elements of rugby mentioned earlier. These specific skills can be mastered far more easily if the player has great body awareness and control.
A progressive curriculum of movement skill and athletic development training can be developed to suit the time and logistical constraints of the team or club. For example, if time is short, five 2-minute ‘break out’ blocks during each rugby session will allow for short, focussed hits of athletic development, which will focus the attention of players rather than interfering with the main rugby session. Or if time isn’t so limited, then longer blocks of athletic development can be used to complement the skills sessions and help with skill acquisition.
Whatever your beliefs as a coach as to how young players should be trained, there is no doubt that player safety must be the number one priority. If you can make them safer and increase confidence in their own abilities, young players will enjoy the game more, and will be more likely to stick with it.
As specialists in athletic development for rugby players, Fowkes Fitness & Performance can assist teams, clubs, schools and individuals with these programs. Our experience ranges from working with primary school children, right up to senior international players and almost every level in between. To enquire about how we can help you, please contact us here.
Posted By: Rob Fowkes
Posted: 22 Dec 2017