If you had said to me at the age of 10 that I’d have given up playing football seriously by the time I reached 18, I would have said that you were crazy.
Especially if you’d have said that, instead, I was focusing my energies on the oval ball and rugby. Quite frankly it was not on the radar. Having been brought up on a council estate in Newark in Nottinghamshire, there really was only one type of football to play.
However, that all changed when I passed the 11+ and went to the local grammar school where Rugby was part of the school’s sports curriculum. I dovetailed my playing of football outside of school with the playing of rugby in school and, over a period of time, began to love the latter at the expense of the former.
Whilst trying to juggle the two sports as an 18 year old I was under enormous pressure from the town’s football team, who played in the East Midlands league, to commit to playing football. Similarly, I was under even more pressure from the town’s rugby club to commit to playing rugby. So, what made up my mind?
Rugby for children these days is a much better sport than it ever used to be.
In the relatively dark ages ofthe 70s and beyond, there was still an expectation on participants to ‘get stuck in’ and ‘take the knocks’.
Quite frankly for me, that was not the appeal, whereas running with the ball, passing and kicking effectively provided an excitement and thrill that it was difficult to find in football. The only thing rivalling this feeling in football was the thrill of scoring a goal.
Fortunately the coaching of rugby during the last few decades has gone through a metamorphosis and its proactive approach to the development of skill has been the model upon which other sports, like hockey and, to a degree, football have tried to base their structure.
The rugby continuum makes the coaching and playing of rugby for children a progressive and developmental experience graduating from tag, to contact without contested lineouts and scrums, to contested lineouts and scrums and, eventually, the full blown game by the time that the players are 13.
Team sizes start at seven, then go up to nine, then twelve, and finally fifteen.
Mini rugby Sundays at most rugby clubs are very much a family affair with enthusiastic fathers and, just occasionally, mothers, helping the little ones nurture and develop their skills.
All children want to run freely, and if it is with a ball, all the better. I have even seen some Under 13 mixed tag festivals where the slightly more mature and quicker girls have outpaced the macho males, much to everyone’s amusement! Perhaps the greatest thing about such Sundays is the tremendous family feel and camaraderie percolating through the club.
Like any sport, the coaching of rugby depends upon the quality of a club’s structure and the quality and expertise of the coaches. Unlike football, many of the enthusiastic dads do go off and get a coaching qualification. Indeed, many of the clubs insist upon it. Clubs also are obliged to follow the Rugby Football Union’s guidelines and directives. If they don’t, then they open themselves up to potential criticism.
For the children, the great thing about rugby is that in, say, comparison to football, there is a place for all shapes and sizes in a team. When I was playing football, and it’s no different today, the only one who stood out above the crowd was the goalie, as he needed to be bigger. Peter Crouch is a major exception to the rule!
On the rugby pitch, there is a place for all levels and abilities. The fast guys get to show their pace and handling skills; the bigger frames can push and shove, jump in the lineouts and drive in the loose; good kickers get to kick and even my best mate Teflon Thompson, who barely ever caught a pass, was a fantastic tackler. That is what makes rugby unique.
I posed the question earlier as to why I chose the oval ball. Well, in the end, I enjoyed the whole rugby experience more than I did the football one, so the decision became an easy one for me. Of course, that might not be the case for everyone. However, if you haven’t yet considered the merits of playing rugby for your son or daughter, I strongly recommend that you give it some thought.
Go and check out the local club and see what is going on.
Kieron Peacock is deputy head at Port Regis School and coaches rugby.