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Exploring The Impact of Concussion in Rugby and What is Being Done to Manage it

Concussions in rugby are becoming an increasingly common issue and a growing topic of discussion among many in the game. This article is about the prevalence of concussion in rugby and how the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and local clubs are taking steps to protect players, particularly those under 18. By writing this article, we hope to raise awareness on this important issue, as well as highlight efforts taken by the RFU and local clubs towards protecting young players from sustaining head injuries while playing rugby. We also want to raise awareness about the need for proper medical care for those who do suffer concussions during games. Ultimately, our goal is to reduce cases of concussion in our sport, so that we can continue to enjoy rugby safely around the world.

concussion in rugby. man placing rugby ball on ground
How Can We Manage Concussion In Rugby?

What is a Concussion?

Concussions in rugby can be caused by any kind of contact between players, such as tackling, bumping or accidental contact. Concussion, a mild traumatic brain injury, affects how the brain functions and can have long-term effects on a player’s physical and cognitive health. Rugby-related concussions are often seen in players under 18 due to their inexperience with the sport and lack of protective equipment. To protect players from these debilitating injuries, the RFU and local clubs have implemented rules and regulations that aim to reduce the risk of suffering a potentially life-altering concussion.

How Concussion can Impact Players

The most commonly reported symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness, confusion and difficulty concentrating. If a player suffers from any of these symptoms after being tackled or bumped in rugby, they need to be assessed by a medical professional as soon as possible. In addition to physical effects, players may also experience emotional and cognitive issues such as depression, anxiety and impaired memory and concentration. These psychological effects can be long-lasting if not treated promptly. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Concussion's Impact on Lives After Rugby

Once a player has experienced a concussion, they need to be monitored over time to ensure that the injury does not become more severe due to repeated head trauma. This can have serious implications on their lives after rugby as they may struggle with cognitive problems and physical impairments that prevent them from working or performing everyday tasks. Furthermore, players are at an increased risk of suffering from long-term neurological conditions such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

Stevie Ward is an ex-Rugby League player, who suffered from concussion during and after his career. He has since made it his mission to educate others on the risks of concussion and mental health issues through his project, Mantality, which encourages us all to create "a movement where men can be vulnerable, address our mental health and then take up the responsibility to do something about it, to go find meaning and purpose within our lives".

We reached out to Stevie, who was kind enough to provide us with this quote.

"Ruby of both codes is an incredible game. It’s tough and we love it because of that. It can give us so much but I think we can make it even better. I think we can look after each other better. With all the awareness over the last few years, it needs to turn into looking out for each other better on and off the pitch to mitigate the risk. I still have symptoms now, however, they are nowhere near as debilitating although they still are up and down. The dizziness still tests me the most, but I have such a strong purpose in speaking about the power of authenticity in teams and businesses. It’s given me a new lease of life and ultimately it’s about taking accountability for our lives, whatever we have been through so we can offer our best self to those around us."

Stevie's comments provide us with a unique insight into the potential long-term effects of suffering from concussion and the importance of taking proactive measures to reduce the risk of this injury. Additionally, Stevie encourages all players to talk about their mental health, whether they are suffering from a concussion, injury, or anything else. This helps to erase the stigma surrounding men's sports in particular and will help players open up about their feelings, but also their symptoms. As a result, Stevie's work can go a long way in helping us all identify and address signs of concussion early, preventing serious, long-term injury.

How the RFU Protects Players

Naturally, concussion has become an increasingly common discussion among many in the rugby world, so the RFU have implemented various guidelines and provides multiple resources for players, coaches and relatives to read.

We contacted the RFU for a quote and provided the following statement.

"The RFU takes player welfare very seriously and it is at the heart of our training delivered to coaches, referees and medics at all levels of the game. We provide resources for schools to emphasise the different types of rugby they can offer We recognise that contact sport does not appeal to everyone. Rugby for young people at schools or clubs in England exists in different forms, both contact, reduced contact (XRugby) and non-contact (Touch Union).

The rules in operation ensure maximum possible safety for children, allowing players the time to learn rugby basics before contact is introduced to those choosing to play the contact game.  The RFU works hard to manage the risk involved in the contact game of rugby, particularly for young people. We have a Rugby Safe programme that provides structured guidance for all player safety and wellbeing projects to support schools, clubs and participants at all levels of the game. This includes an injury prevention programme called Activate, which is promoted to players, rugby coaches and teachers across the country, on our website, with practical face-to-face sessions and Activate has been adopted and promoted globally by World Rugby. Research has shown that when Activate is completed regularly, rates of injury and concussion reduce.

Launched in 2013 the RFU’s Don’t be a headcase concussion awareness & education programme covers all levels of the game from grassroots to elite. It offers online and hard copy resources to support clubs, colleges, schools, universities, players and parents. The programme guidelines were adopted as the national concussion guidelines for the education sector in England published in 2015. The RFU also provides concussion seminars and presentations to schools, parents, coaches and referees.

"Playing rugby provides significant physical and mental health benefits and we believe that the life skills, wellbeing and health benefits of playing the sport outweigh the risk of injury. Against a backdrop of increasing physical inactivity and a global obesity epidemic in children, we believe rugby has a role to play in keeping people active, healthy and engaged. It is also crucial that we remember other non-physical positive benefits of contact and non-contact rugby for all ages, including increasing confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and building character, as well as the physical benefits of engaging in enjoyable exercise whilst working as part of a team.”

The RFU has been at the forefront in providing resources and materials to aid local clubs in keeping their players safe. It is imperative that clubs are aware of concussion symptoms and are actively implementing guidelines set out by the RFU to protect those who choose to participate in rugby.

What are Local Clubs Doing to Help?

Concussion is present among all levels of rugby, and local clubs are doing their part in trying to keep players safe.

Many clubs have implemented the same guidelines as the RFU, such as providing resources for coaches and parents, raising awareness of concussion among players and educating them on where to look in order to find resources and guidance. The focus on preventing injury is especially important at lower levels where there may not be access to medical professionals or properly trained staff. Injuries such as a concussion can go unnoticed and go on to cause serious long-term issues.

We contacted multiple local rugby clubs in the Sussex area. Here are quotes from a few that replied.

Local rugby coach Ben Harris, coach for the U12s at Haywards Heath RFC had this to say. "It’s important for the safety and well-being of our players that we take proper precautions to prevent and treat concussion-related injuries. We need to educate young players about the seriousness of this injury so that they understand the importance of taking action if they feel any symptoms". Ben goes on to explain his views on the current state of how concussion is handled in Rugby: "The RFU has implemented guidelines and protocols to ensure that players are kept safe, but it is up to the individual clubs to make sure they are followed. It’s also important for coaches and parents to be aware of these regulations to properly protect their players".

Philip Bell - VP at Heathfield R.F.C

"We have taken an active part in the RFU-led consultation. There is a range of opinions within the club about the best way forward but we recognise the need for change to address the concussion issue which appears to be of particular concern for parents of junior players, as well as other factors.

Statistics from countries that have implemented such a change are helpful but not conclusive. The likely outcome will be a law change that will sanction tackles either above the armpit or the line of the sternum. Both present practical issues in application for coaches, players and especially referees but we feel that these can be addressed with adequate support and preparation time before serious competitive matches commence.

Our major concern is that the RFU appears determined to start the league season for adult male teams in the first week in September. When this happened last season, many matches had to be postponed because of hard ground and inadequate practice matches. The introduction of this significant law change needs all involved to have enough experience before competitive matches commence and this will not be possible during August. As well as hard pitches, many players are unavailable in August for reasons such as holidays and their involvement in other activities such as cricket. We are actively lobbying through appropriate channels to ensure that the season timetable is adjusted to allow for such preparation to be made.

It is up to local rugby clubs to ensure that their players are well-informed and prepared for the risk of concussion. With the right resources, support and education, it is possible to keep children safe while they still enjoy playing the sport. We look forward to what more can be done to further protect those who play rugby at all levels.

However, the RFU has a responsibility to ensure that proper concussion protocols are in place at all levels of the game, and it is encouraging that they are actively working towards doing so. It is through the efforts of the RFU and local clubs that rugby can remain an enjoyable activity for participants, while still protecting them from injury. Protecting those under the age of 18 is an especially important task and one which should be taken seriously. By working together, we can make sure that everyone who participates in rugby does so safely.

What We've Learned

Overall, the RFU and local clubs are making a concerted effort to protect players from concussion. Through preventative measures, educating coaches and parents, and raising awareness of symptoms and diagnosis, we can all do our part in helping to keep those who choose to participate in rugby safe. Evidently, there is still a way to go regarding identifying concussion at the grass-roots level, but with the help of public figures such as Stevie Ward, and RFU guidelines we can begin to make a difference in the way we look at and treat concussions in rugby. With continued effort, we can ensure that those who play rugby enjoy the sport without putting themselves in unnecessary danger.

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