Ban Rugby for Kids?
There was talk this morning on two different Radio Stations about the disadvantages of kids playing rugby at too young an age. This was based on a report in Beeld (read here for English version) in which one Professor Cilas Wilders, a biokineticist at Pukke, said that the competitiveness of Rugby at Bulletjie Rugby, may negatively impact a child for the rest of his life.
Part of the problem is said to be the immense pressure placed on kids to WIN at all costs, with some parents paying their kids for every try they score. Another problem is that some parents get aggressive next to the field, and there has been several reports where parents get involved in physical fights over their 6 year old’s on the field. I think many who have been to these Bulletjie Rugby or similar contests, have seen the boorish behaviour of some parents.
Dr. Mariette Swanepoel says that the children’s incapability to perform to the expectations of the parents, and even unqualified coaches, has a major emotional and social impact on children. I recall that if you didn’t play Rugby at school, you were a “moffie” and teachers/coaches were more times than not, discriminatory towards boys who chose, or whose parents chose for them, not to play Rugby. And that was in the era when Rugby was still “just a game”
It is not today. Today, Rugby is a multi billion Rand Industry. An industry in which you need to get noticed as as an early stage as possible to make a success from it. More and more are there reports of performance enhancing drugs being used at school level as the pressures to perform and rise to the top increases. If your kid can make it to the Craven Week in Standard 4 (grade 6), you know you have a very good chance of getting into a great high school, and he will have to best opportunity to become a well paid, professional Rugby player.
Is that really so wrong? To push your child from an early age so he can have the best possible future? Is the emotional weight they carry of cutting out the pain and chasing a win at all cost really that bad? Time and Time again we hear Rugby scribes and journalists say “mediocrity is not acceptable”. It is not acceptable when the Springboks do not win. But then, Dr Swanepoel and Professor Wilders wants us to teach kids that it is OK to lose. Just enjoy playing.
Which then brings me to the question: If we raise our kids in today’s age to just play, and not be worried about winning, at what stage do we teach them that just playing is not good enough anymore?
Another aspect that I often wonder about is, what type of skills do we teach the kids at a young level? We always complain about how our Springboks just do not have the skills and creativity to create space and have an eye for the gap. Yes, when we watch the Junior Boks, we see the amazing Jan Serfontein, player of the series, doing very little less than crashing the ball up. This is the type of player the Springboks want. They don’t want a player that has an eye for the gap, can step of both feet, or can put their support players into space. They want a player who can run his opponent off his feet, set the ball up for the next ruck, and so on…
Then we wonder about the player’s condition as opposed to the New Zealand players conditioning, because our players get injured more often. Hmmm…are we really surprised much?
Then we have the teachers/parents/coaches, with their own, unqualified ideas of how to coach these kids, who may inadvertently cause the children irreparable physical, not to speak of emotional, damage, and then it’s just because “rugby is nie vir sissies nie” and your child is too soft for the game. A “moffie”. Is it not a requirement these days that anyone coaching Rugby at school level and above must be BOKSMART qualified? I am sitting in the position where my child as a grade R is going to rugby practice every day after school at 13:00 and I don’t know if my child is safe. Who is this coach and what is he doing with the kids? My Kid?
I have talked about Tag Rugby before, and I may sound like I get paid advertising fees for this sport. But playing it at our local club, at my age already, has seen many, many advantages to how I play. Suddenly as a traditional 4 lock, I can step like Bekker, and accelerate like Spies! Ok, on my amateur scale of course, but probably as any other kid in this country, I was never taught these things, because, “the shortest distance between points is a straight line over your opponent”. Bah!
If we want to see creativity and the creation of space in the Springboks, in the Super Rugby, and Currie Cup, we need to get down to the basics and let our kids learn these skills from the youngest age possible. Starting them off with Tag Rugby from pre-school, up to an age where they can safely execute tackels, will teach these kids amazing skills that we have not yet seen. Stop this silly cheering of a kid running over another, or a little laaitie being cut in half by another laaitie twice his size. Make it fun for the kids so they buy into the sport, with full contact only coming in at an age where kids are better physically prepared for it.
People say, what is different now than it was when I was a kid? I used to play Rugby when I was a laaitie and I am fine, so what has changed? Well, firstly, you are one of the lucky ones who never got to break your neck because of a poorly executed tackle. Also, in those days, the physical monster’s we’ve seen were limited to guys like Vleis Visagie, Boy Louw and the likes. At u/20 boy level, we hardly ever used to see kids like Eben Etzebeth, PS du Toit, Arno Botha, Paul Willemse and Jan Serfontein, almost all in one season. Today, Rugby is a multi Billion Pound enterprise worldwide, and the competitiveness is light-years ahead of what we had when you and I were kids. Things are very much different. It is not just a game anymore.
I won’t say ban Rugby for kids in totality. I say, change the focus of Rugby. Make it fun from a young age, with things like Tag Rugby and once they can, on an emotional and physical level cope with the demands of the physicality of Rugby, then let them play the full game.
It is about time these old ballies catch a wake up and realise that Doc Craven is long gone and South African Rugby is what we make it, not what someone says it is. And if we want to ever gain the overhand over New Zealand again, its not going to be because they are without Dan Carter and Richie McCaw somewhere in the near future. It will not be because we feed our children why protein, HGH and Testosterone from the time they are in the womb and they come out with Rugby balls in their arms and legs as thick as tree trunks. No. It will be because we have changed our thinking about what is smart Rugby, as opposed to what is HARD Rugby.
Should kids play Rugby at schoolboy level? Yes. But make it TagRugby.