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Banning tackle rugby in schools? Why we believe that rugby isn’t just a game. It is an education.
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Banning tackle rugby in schools? Why we believe that rugby isn’t just a game. It is an education.

Should children in schools play tackle rugby? It’s a long-running debate and the topic hit the headlines last week following the publication of a report* that is encouraging the elimination of contact from the school game completely. Hampshire Collegiate School’s Head of Rugby, Tom Cleary, shares his thoughts.

The authors of the report have reached this view after analysing multiple research projects and statistics which, crudely summarised, have shown that the injury rate among children, particularly concussions, is higher in rugby than other non-contact sports. 

Children who don’t have the relevant knowledge about how to use their bodies in contact situations can be a danger to themselves. A coach who cannot recognise why a child is missing a tackle is also a danger. This all comes down to the ability of the coach to pass on knowledge and techniques to their players. Safety in rugby is paramount, alongside learning and having fun. At Hampshire Collegiate School our coaches are highly qualified Rugby Football Union (RFU) coaches. We are First Aid trained and understand the safety aspects within rugby. This means that our students have coaching methods that are up-to-date, are coached in a fun and safe environment and are only selected to play games if they are safe to do so. 

Rugby plays an important part in a child’s development. Ultimately the values and quality of rugby far outweigh any perceived risks attached to it through these studies. People play rugby because they want to be physically active, they like the values the sport provides, the culture and most importantly because they enjoy playing rugby with their friends - giving them connections with their peers that they have for life. Six hundred schools have taken up rugby in the last four years - this hasn’t been done blindly and has been done after a lot of research. It also takes children wanting to play the sport for a school to start playing rugby.  

The RFU core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship are what make rugby special for those who enjoy the environment and culture they create.  

Boys and girls are taught to play selflessly: working for the team not just for themselves, both on and off the field. Rugby provides a team spirit that gives people a real family feel and connection. It helps give children the skills they need to learn in new groups, at school and to build friendships. I consider sport and rugby in particular to be an international language. It breaks down barriers and helps create a fun environment for anyone playing, to learn and progress. 

In life we want our children to move forwards and achieve, being able to communicate about what they can see ahead, make decisions and learn from different outcomes. Rugby instils these learning points. When we make mistakes on the pitch it is not a case of heads down and stop, we move onto the next job. I often tell our children that the worst decision we can make is no decision at all. Rugby teaches them to carry on moving forwards. It instils a belief that we can get knocked down, be helped up by our teammates and carry on striving forwards, learning and aiming to succeed in life.  

The solution to this debate is not to ban tackling, neither should we disregard the findings. The solution, now more than ever, is to find a middle ground to continue the development of player welfare. Education is key and we must continue to work hard. We need to keep coaches up to date with current thinking and make sure each child has the best platform available to learn and play the game, in a safe and fun environment. 

 For me, rugby isn’t just a game. It is an education. We play, we learn and we grow.  

* Tackle and scrum should be banned in school rugby’, Professor Allyson M Pollock and Graham Kirkwood, British Medical Journal, 25 September 2017 

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