Although some mates would claim otherwise, I’ve played rugby for 20+ years, including a stint in England and tourneys with self-styled Clowns. Second to my wife and child, rugby has blessed my life with some of the greatest friends and family, not to mention some of the fondest (and, yes, funniest) moments.
Rugby is the greatest, most dynamic sport for kids around. It’s a team sport in which every kid at every position can catch, pass, kick, run, and contribute to win with a smile on their face and a spot of mud across their forehead.
The 60+ kids at our Santa Cruz Youth Rugby agree, as do the thousands of kids playing the nation’s fastest-growing youth sport.
And yes, it’s a contact sport.
To those parents who are new to the sport, let me address the “elephant in the room”. Someone – maybe your spouse, your neighbor, your co-worker, your kid’s doctor or teacher – someone is going to scold you. “You let your kid play rugby? I know a guy….”
So yes, rugby is not only a contact sport, but rugby is the right contact sport for life. Rugby is a SAFE contact sport for kids of all ages, and a sport that encourages the right, effective action on the pitch (“field”). It is a contact sport played by kids under 8 and “kids” over 60 – and there’s a reason youth, women’s, and collegiate teams are growing faster than any other sport in the US.
There’s a reason the Seattle Seahawks, Ohio State Buckeyes, and others are learning rugby – it’s because rugby is NOT about “blowing up” a player. Rugby is about stopping the ballcarrier, getting the ball, and then moving that ball downfield without the violence of crack-back blocks, chopping, head-tackles, spearing, ramming with the shoulder, and other dangerous play we see in every play of an American football game.
First, there is no blocking. Ballcarriers learn to go safely, confidently into tackles – players are under control, not simply lowering their heads and ramming though a line. Similarly, defenders learn to tackle through the hips, head to one side, wrapping with both arms to bring the ballcarrier down – again, not simply barging through with shoulder or head. In the meantime, your teammates on either side are busy getting into position to win the ball – rucking and mauling from an onside position.
Second, safe, effective play has been promoted for years. While rugby penalizes dangerous play, American football has only recently begun arbitrarily penalizing dangerous play. Rugby referees and coaches have consistently not only promoted safe play, but the EFFECTIVENESS of tacking, rucking, and mauling the right way.
Third, safe play WINS. Your kids and your team learns how to tackle effectively, ruck and maul effectively, and they will win games. They play the right way, effectively, with great sportsmanship with their mates on the pitch no matter their jersey color. First, their game won’t be lost to penalties. Second, they’ll gain yardage and points from the other team’s penalties. Third, the referee (sorry to divulge an obvious secret here) are human – a team that plays clean, effective rugby is more likely to “get more calls” than a team that doesn’t. And lastly, the fluid play, ball possession, and field position that results from your kids playing the right way leads to WINS. And who doesn’t want to win?
Fourth and foremost, safe play is fun to play and watch. So yes – safe play is the right way, is promoted, and wins games. It also happens to be a blast. Who wants to watch a game where the whistle is blowing every minute? You want to see, and the kids want to play, an open game where the ball moves; where players run, kick, catch, carry with equal part grins and grit; where players tackle and get tackled, and their mates ruck and maul the ball out cleanly to keep the ball moving.
In the coming years ahead of you and your kids, you are going to see 15-stage possession with your kids moving the ball 2-3 meters (yes, rugby is metric) at a time. You are going to see your kids tackle someone 30 pounds heavier than them – and in turn be tackled by someone 30 pounds lighter. You will see goal-line stands with the game on the line, and you will cheer loudly.
So loudly that perhaps your neighbor will listen and bring their kid to your next practice….
[That’s all for now. Stay tuned for my next post: “So, you think you’re waking your kids up at 6 am on a Saturday for a rugby tournament in Fresno?!?” Quick answer will be: “Heck, yes!”]
About Brian: Brian Schnack is an Iowa native, Santa Cruz resident working in product management in Silicon Valley, and currently Buttermaker-ing with the Santa Cruz Redhawks Under-12s. He’s played across multiple positions and teams since 1990, most proudly with the U of Iowa, West Point, London Welsh Occies, Paxos (RIP), Mission (RIP – I’m cursed), and Vagabonds Old Boys. You can babble with him on twitter via @theschnack