Return to rugby - Can We Compare Professional Rugby To Grassroots When It Comes To Injury?
If you are a rugby fan you will have seen the number of red cards produced by referees in response to dangerous play on the pitch to make the game safer for players. World Rugby and the RFU are focusing heavily on improving game safety which is a step in the right direction!
The area where I do not agree with however is the comparisons being brought between the professional game and the youth game. Just looking at it, you can see that rugby professionals are bigger, stronger and fitter than anything you would see at your local club on a Sunday morning...
As we get to the U18 age group, and players get heavier and more powerful, we can see games start to get a bit more physical, but is this because we mould our game plans on what we see on TV versus what the best style of play for the team is? I’ll leave that up to you to decide...
The reason behind this article is to dive into some of the comparisons between youth and elite rugby.
First of all is the injury rate, in a study by the RFU, for every 1000 hours of game time the Under 13s experienced 17.3 injuries, Under 15s, 22 injuries and Under 18s, 41 injuries. When compared to the Premiership the injury rates were more than double that of the under 18 age group with around 100 injuries per 1000 hours.
The above is still concerning and more should be done to reduce the chances of injury in rugby, but if we are to compare anything I believe we should be comparing the other way around how much more opportunity do professionals have over youth sport and their injury incidences are still far greater...
Firstly, all professional rugby players have strength and conditioning support. For the youth game, most players, especially in current times, probably are not conditioned physically through strength and cardiovascular fitness to best deal with the stress and strains placed on the body in a contact sport such as rugby.
Secondly, the professionals also have exposure to top quality coaches who will have the latest science available to them to help them provide the best training possible, whereas most youth players have a passionate teacher at school who has to juggle teaching, coaching and planning for both. Or a committed mum or dad at their rugby club who is balancing working responsibilities, school pick up/drop off and, planning and delivering fun sessions for their team. I am not for one second doubting the ability of any coaches and teachers out there and we wouldn’t have the sport as we know it without these heroes, but there is a real challenge with time restrictions that professionals don’t have to deal with not to mention parents who find themselves in coaching positions with no previous experience or qualifications, but nobody else stepped up to take the job!
Thirdly, is the matter of time itself. Between school, homework and trying to play as many sports as possible (which I am a big supporter of), youth players don’t have the same exposure to training. How much time is spent on tackling skills? And I don’t just mean bone-on-bone tackling. In my opinion, the actual bone-on-bone should only ever be around 20% of the competencies to make a good tackle. There is so much that can be easily covered without increasing the risk of injury but time isn’t allocated enough by coaches to tackle these areas. Whereas in the professional game, S&C sessions will include fundamental skills to get into good positions with defence coaches spending time working on skills like wrestling, judo and being able to move and control their own body well to help manipulate the opposition.
We need to stop comparing the youth game with the professional game. Based on time, money and resources available, the professional game is incomparable. If we want to continue to compare, why not focus on the importance of things like getting players strong, robust and able to move well, plus dedicate more time to the skills needed to make effective tackles - it will result in more competent and confident rugby players who will be more likely to stay in the game for longer.
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