By Zoe George
Being involved with sport, for a variety of reasons, is an important ingredient in any childhood. However, sport can become rough and injuries happen.
ACC statistics for July 2007 to June 2008 show the organisation received in excess of 3900 new claims related to rugby union, 1900 new claims from soccer and 1400 new claims from netball.
The cause, justified or not, might be parents encouraging their children to play low contact sports such as football, avoiding traditional contact sports like rugby union and rugby league. The fact is, football participation numbers are increasing.
A key issue in the debate centers around mass and how much or how little opposing players have. Children coming up against kids their own age, but who are 15 kilos heavier, means the propensity for injury is higher as there’s no escaping simple physics, especially on the sports field.
So, should children be encouraged to participate in any sport they desire, even if it is a high contact sport – or is the trend to avoid statistically more injury prone pastimes just common sense?
Matt Allan, a parent of two boys aged 10 and eight in Blenheim, played a range of contact sports from a young age. These days he’s on the sideline supporting his boys in their chosen sport – football. “They can play any sport they want,” he says. “At the moment they are playing football and learning how to run and developing skills, but they can play rugby if they want to.”
Should his children decide to play rugby, Matt’s main concern is they would be competing in a weight category, instead of an age category. “I hear complaints from parents about their boys going up against kids the same age who are a lot heavier. They shouldn’t be playing together. It’s just not fair – they get smashed.
“Sport should be fun and the fun factor is gone because they are intimidated by the bigger kids.”
He says however, to develop skills regarding a contact sport such as rugby union or rugby league, the good old game of bull-rush could be introduced back into the playground.
“When we were growing up we learned how to play rugby through bull-rush and the big kids always protected the little ones. Now it’s not allowed. We need to bring this game back because it stops them from playing rugby at school. There is more chance of getting hurt in scrums or mauls. It’s all about techniques.
“The key thing is that we don’t force them. Let them make up their own minds about what sports they play. They don’t have to play rugby just because you want them to be an All Black.”
Paraparaumu Beach Primary School teacher Colin Siversen says rugby is still a popular sport at the school however, there has been more interest in a range of different sports.
“There has been a rise in ‘non-traditional’ sports such as basketball and touch and we have many teams involved in these competitions,” he says.
“Students need to know how to fall and engage in competitive contact without hurting themselves.
It would be sad if they were denied this experience and the chance to develop the skills to cope with physical contact.”
Contact sport — rugby
Rugby has always been a contact sport, but there are strict rules and regulations to minimise on field injuries.
The sport’s incurred a seven percent increase in the number of participants in the junior years, but at the same time has the highest injury rate of any sport in New Zealand.
New Zealand Rugby Union general manager of community and provincial union rugby, Brent Anderson, says measures have been put into place to minimises injuries. “Certain provinces have weight grades and in our junior rugby there is. Our injury rate has been going down. We’ve invested, along with ACC, a programme called Rugby Smart, which is a coach education programme looking at ‘good technique is safe technique’.”
He says the rugby union has also tried to educate parents about what the sport is all about. “It’s very important to get parents understanding what the game is about. With under 13 (year grade) and down the injuries are no different to what you get in soccer. The kids don’t generate enough power, so this brings the ability for all shapes and sizes to play, particularly boys. Boys should be boys and that involves a bit of rough and tumble.”
Non-contact — netball
Netball is considered a non-contact sport however, when you watch top grade and international competition, many of the players end up on the ground. So is netball becoming rougher, or do we need to ensure the rules are firmly in place so people do not get injured?
Netball NZ operations manager Kate Agnew says players are able to contest the ball a lot more at the higher levels however, junior and secondary school netball is very clean and not a lot of contact occurs. “It’s the view of netball that it is a non contact sport – that’s slightly overstated. There’s always the element with penalties around contact and obstruction, but it’s all about controlling and management.”
She says Netball NZ has strategies in place to get young Kiwis to play the sport, but says it’s about providing the right opportunities to get kids active.
“Encourage kids to participate in a range of sports.
They can take up soccer or have a go at rugby, basketball or whatever. That’s critical – it’s about providing a range of opportunities.”