Ban Rugby for Kids?

April 18, 2013 in Rugby, Springboks

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.

19 responses to Ban Rugby for Kids?

  1. Abri said on May 14, 2013

    I agree, manage it. The problem is not the rugby, it is the parent!! The boys learn to play safe rugby. If introduced too late in life they will be hard, competitive boys wanting to proof too much…..that is when injuries will be more of a problem. Parents simply has to know that it is for the enjoyment of the boys, they are not Springboks at 6 or 7 years old.

  2. Don’t ban it control it!! And Regulate it! :-))

    • I won’t say Rugby, the game, should be banned. But I would prefer that contact be delayed until the kids are more developed, like grade 5 or 6, instead of them tackling each other etc at pre-school already. Too often do I see little kids grabbing others around the neck, and then it’s “OK” cause they are still small and don’t understand the risks yet. But for me, it’s NOT OK to let them potentially kill each other just because they don’t understand yet. In fact, that is WHY they should not be making contact at such an early age. Let them play something like TAG Rugby, which is brilliant for developing skills and a love for the game, and only later on introduce contact when they are old enough to understand the risks.

  3. Agreed, you should see some photo’s ON WHAT IS HAPPENNING

    Bumping, Tripping, Grabbing by hair , Grabbing the leg upwards , EISH MAN HI KONA MAN

  4. Do not ban it but in force proper regulation of safety first then, certified coaches. If a ref allows foul play stop the game there and then and replace him. He will be the soul person responsible for a unpleasant game and injury (a unfair ref)

    Boksmart should be followed by Rugby Smart as a must before you coach.

    Take Lynnwood for instance Fathers do not coach there own children.

  5. The problem is not with the PARENTS, the parents gets frustrated because there is no regard for safety or foul play or Regulation set down by Boksmart and the Unions involved. There is no or little regard for injury.

    They say Rugby poles do not have to covered at matches’ of bulletjies as long as the field of play is 5 meters away. What if a player gets bump into the pole threw foul play or during warm up around the poles a child runs into the pole.

    I will state this to Coaches , Teachers and Referees if a child gets injured by way of involvement in the game and the field was not safe from dead ball line to dead ball line it is negligence. There is a case where a Child actually died. Safety , Safety , Safety

  6. Interesting read REM. I remember when the Boks toured NZ during the Boks isolation period causing riots/protests left right and centre, there were parents who in a dumb attempt to protest decided to take their kids away from rugby and in turn there was a soccer boom. Anyway, cut a long story short a lot of our schools during the 80’s made it compulsory that all boys had to play rugby to preserve our national sport and keep it alive.

    No way should kids be banned from rugby in my opinion. The worlds turning too soft with too many do-gooders creating the opposite effect.

  7. Besides touch rugby for children SARU could have a good role in putting in place guidelines which should be communicated to parents and teachers. For example: A guideline that during a rugby game the parents are not allowed to give any instructions and comments from the side of the field and all they can do is clap and cheer on positive ways. Also instructions can be given that parents shouldn’t give advise ect.. even after the game – that is for the coaches to do and parents should preferably only ask questions like “did you have fun” ect..

    I coached soccer myself oversees for few years and the kids were 8yrs old when I took over the team. I started with a meeting with a parents where I laid up the rules and made all parents sign commitment adhere with this – the result was that the team progressed to be very good and all had a lots of fun. Some of the guys made it later to semi-professional stage – but the important thing was that all of the guys are today stand up people with good values in life.

    Team sports at is best lays a very good foundation for life – which is the most important thing in the end of the day. The reality is that only a very small minority will make it to the professional level anyway in any of the main sports. I think coaching kids should in any sport be made in a way that the most talented who have a chance to make it big time, should receive the skills thru coaching to give them a chance – but for the big majority the values of respecting your opponent and supporting your team mates is very important as is discipline and learning the attitude to work hard for reaching your goals.

  8. I do agree with pof Cilas. Come and attend a Saturday of 3 to 5 matches per team, and experience the frustration and language written all over some of the adult faces – not to mention the comments shouted from teh sideline. Rather focus on the development and enjoyment of the game – leave out the competition Saturday after Saturday

  9. Another idea perhaps is to have like they used to do years ago in the schools in the Karoo where the primary school kids did not play in age groups, but in weight groups, so you always had kids of a similar size playing against each other and therefore reducing the chances of injuries drastically.

    • Agree, I believe that is how they do it in NZ as well

      • Yes you are right H&P or at least that’s how our school rugby system worked when I went to school but I’m 43 so I’m not sure if that still applies today.

  10. Great to have this discussion pointed out to me. I would like to add a few comments.

    The Tag Rugby Association with SARU and Rugby Unions are actively getting schools and children to play Tag Rugby as an introductory game to Rugby. The Association has since 1994 being saying that Tag Rugby is all about introducing children (boys and girls) to the game of Rugby in a FUN and safe manner.

    Tag Rugby breaks rugby down into its simplest form and THAT is catching, passing, running forward into space, scoring tries and having loads of FUN.

    SARU and the Tag Rugby Association are currently busy with 22 clinics for 390 primary schools around South Africa introducing schools and communities to the concepts of the game.

    Over and above this SARU have kindly assisted the Association in giving us the opportunity to run 15 Tag Rugby Introductory coaching courses at each rugby Union (14 plus the Limpopo Bulls). These courses ended yesterday and 240 community coaches have been trained and can now run Tag Rugby in their communities. There is a huge passion in communities for Tag Rugby and I have seen this in communities wherever I have been.

    Tag Rugby is becoming the norm and as soon as parents (the good ones and the overly competitive ones see the benefits of Tag Rugby they will soon realize the long term benefits the game has not only for there children but for the game of Rugby in South Africa.

    Thank you for a good discussion. If anyone would like to find out more about the work we are doing please contact me

    • Thanks for the comment Stuart! As with everything I guess the Lowveld is a bit slow to catchup with the rest of the country. I noticed there was a clinic in Nelspruit on the weekend, do you know about it and which schools were involved?

  11. The problem has never been the sport itself.

    Whether it’s tag or contact, there is always a bunch of tannies, not standing a meter behind the touchline, but standing on the 5m and sometimes the 15m line, yelling at the ref, their sons, the opposition and opposing parents all at once.

    That is where the problem comes in. The abuse that is levelled on to that field has absolutely nothing to do with good sportsmanship. That is where the pressure to perform comes from. If those parents could stand next to the pitch, and instead of abusing encourage and correct the child that runs the wrong way, then you’ll have better human beings at the end of the day.

    You have parents sending their 9-year olds to sport psychologists so that Pietie can be the best flyhalve in the district. Pietie might turn pro, but Pietie is going to hate every minute that he plays.

    But if Pietie grew up knowing that his parents would back him even if he didnt play rugby, and playing rugby was his CHOICE because he loved it… then Pietie will play for a long time.

  12. Shew, took a while to read through that! Interesting topic. I have a 4 year old boy and 3 yr old daughter, so I find this topic very relevant..
    My idea of bulletjie rugby is a bunch of boys with a rugby ball running around and just having fun. there shouldnt even be a “structure” and you shouldnt actually keep score. teach them to pass to each other, take a gap and score a try. And of course tackle. But the whole idea is to have FUN. yes praise them when they score a try or do something good, but if they miss a tackle or drop the ball so what! Who cares who wins a bulletjie rugby match??

    My boy will go to primary school in 2 years time. I dont think the schools around here have bulletjie rugby (blerrie souties hier in natal!), but even if they did, I dont know if I would let him play. He is very small compared to others his age. His ball skills are however flippen good, so he can play any sport that has to do with a ball. But if I had to let him play bulletjie rugby now, I know he’ll get trampled simply because he’s a lot smaller than the other boys his age. But if he stays a lot smaller than other boys his age, should I prevent him from playing rugby, ever? I dont think I will, but I definitely wont push him to play rugby if he doesnt want to! And yes, thinking back to my schoolboy rugby, I dont think our coaches had a flippen clue.. Only the top schools like waterkloof, monument, Greys etc have specialist coaches. The rest, they sommer let all the male teachers coach rugby. Pierre Lamont, who some might know, was at school with me. Broke his neck in a school game.. Really tragic and it happens more and more often.
    There’s a fine line, as a parent, between supporting your child in the sport he/she chooses, and pushing them beyond their limits. I would love nothing more for my kids to excel at sport. And I will support them as much as I can, BUT they will choose which sports they want to do.. And I’ll def teach them that winning isnt always everything.
    Back to rugby. I think SARU needs to focus more on touchies rugby. Introduce touchies tournaments at school and club level, those sort of things.. I also played a bit of touchies a year or 2 ago, and it really was so much fun!