Rugby, whether league or union, is a great sport for developing a number of valuable skills and attitudes in kids. While there has been some focus on the potential dangers of the sport to the health of elite athletes, sticking to proper protocols and focusing on safety during coaching makes this a superb sport for children from toddlers right up to teenagers.
Transferrable skills and physical fitness
So what benefits can playing rugby bring? First of all, it is a great sport for teaching hand/eye coordination and catching. Similar to basketball, rugby encourages players to get their heads up and look for the ball. Any child who plays rugby will therefore grow in confidence and develop skills that they can take into their other sports. Many of the skills learned in rugby are transferrable to other disciplines.
Fitness and strength are essential to be good at rugby, whether you’re playing the faster rugby league or the slower and more set-piece based rugby union. Rugby players are among the world’s fittest athletes, with the range of attributes required covering almost every aspect of physical conditioning. If your child opts to play rugby, they will learn fitness habits that can underpin a healthy lifestyle that can last for the rest of their lives.
A game with real virtues and a sense of belonging
Rugby is a sport associated with a strong moral code too. Respect for the referees and other match officials is viewed as sacrosanct. Even at the highest levels, players listen respectfully to referees and follow their instructions. They are also expected to display the highest standards of sportsmanship to their opponents. Playing the game and learning these values will also encourage children to develop their sense of ethics and fair play.
One of rugby’s greatest virtues as a sport is that it promotes a strong team ethic. Games at junior level are usually seven-a-side, which makes it hard for one player to dominate proceedings. The focus is very much on every player contributing according to their particular skillset – whether running fast, distributing the ball or organising the defence.
A sport for thinkers
Additionally, while rugby is often viewed as a very physically combative game that appears (and often is) very aggressive, it also has a strong intellectual strand. Breaking down defences is not an easy task, and children who play the game will develop a good sense of tactics and problem-solving. Both codes of rugby offer tactical challenges that allow children to develop creativity and collaborative problem-solving skills.
A sport with such a strong team ethic and intellectual underpinning is therefore good for children’s mental health too. All contributions to the group are valued in rugby, and children who play the sport will learn how to belong to something bigger than themselves. Sometimes it is necessary to compromise for the sake of the team; other times, it might be necessary to express strong opinions so that the group can target areas of improvement. Either way, a child will learn to be confident in their communication as well as developing an appreciation of the value of collective effort – in life as well as sport.
Safety is paramount
Any parents who may feel in any way concerned about the dangers of the game should feel reassured that the sport is non-contact up to the age of nine. Between the ages of nine and 11, children are taught the basics of contact and how to tackle safely. After the age of 11, full contact becomes an option – though it is important to stress that non-contact variants like Touch exist too. Both codes of rugby are games for all sizes too – speed and skill are every bit as important as size and strength.
Rugby is a superb sport for any child to play. As well as the skills of ball handling, vision and organisation that it encourages, it also highlights a noble sense of fair play and strong team ethics. Any child who plays rugby league or rugby union can expect to develop attributes that are readily transferred to everyday life as well as to other sports. Underpinned by protocols that guarantee safety, youth rugby can be a gateway to greatness.