Concussions are among the most common injuries in rugby, which is a contact sport and therefore comes with inherent injury risks. While head injuries during match play and training can’t be completely eliminated, certain mitigating actions can greatly reduce the risk of concussions in rugby.
Monitor Fatigue Among Players
Players’ training loads and fatigue levels have both been shown to be risk factors for concussions.
Training can only be reduced minimally until player performance is impacted, especially at the high-amateur and professional levels. Training can be managed to minimize fatigue, however. For example, coaches can:
- Adjust training times when players are up late from a previous night’s matches or travel
- Minimize contact during training on days following matches
- Encourage players to maintain generally good health, getting sleep at night
Properly Prepare Before Play
Regularly participating in concussion-conscious exercise can reduce the risk of head injury by upwards of 35 percent, and how players warm-up is particularly influential. Taking the time necessary to correctly warm-up before training and matches can greatly reduce the risk of head injury, as concussions can occur toward the start of matches if players are unprepared.
Warming up should include both physical and mental preparation, as being able to avoid mistakes is as important as being physically ready for contact. The physical preparation should involve motions that are similar to what’s expected during match play, and they should slowly escalate in intensity.
For specific guidance, the Rugby Football Union has developed an Activate head-injury prevention programme that includes warm-up exercises. The programme takes an evidence-based approach to preparing for play.
Develop Proper Tackling Skills
Many of the concussions that occur in rugby happen during tackles, which is when players are making the most contact with one another. Proper tackling technique that lessens the likelihood of head impact, thus, is extremely important in preventing concussions.
Coaches at all levels should teach and encourage proper tackling techniques. Youth and amateur players should be trained in the most effective yet safe ways to bring opponents down, and professionals can similarly use regular refreshers. Encouraging proper technique is especially important at the professional level, where tackles can occur with great force.
To instill proper tackling techniques, coaches should first make sure all players are aware of the RFU’s rules regarding tackles. For example, players aren’t allowed to tackle in a dangerous manner, or too early or too late. They also can’t tackle any opponent who doesn’t have the ball or is off the ground. Other rules apply too.
Coaches can also actively encourage safe tackling in training. In addition to verbal exhortation, systems can be instilled into practise matches that reward good and right tackles. For example, a correct tackle could result in a change of possession or a point during scrimmage play.
Ensure the Pitch is Safe
Player contact isn’t the only cause of concussions in rugby, for players can also collide with stationary objects around the pitch. Before any match or training, coaches, staff and players should all check the pitch to ensure it and the surrounding area are safe. A few details to check include:
- Stable run-offs should be in palace around all boundaries of the pitch
- Cover all nearby stationary objects (e.g. goalposts, walls) with padding
- Ensure appropriate first aid is readily available
- Make sure the pitch is in good condition, and not icy
Reduce the Risk of Concussions in Rugby
These steps are practical ways to mitigate the risk of concussions in football. By implementing them, organizations can make the game safer without changing any notable aspect of it.