Rugby: not for the faint-hearted (parent)

abbyrugby01In the 11 years I’ve been writing a newspaper column, I’ve received hate mail only two times. These being Townships readers, though, it was more like strong-dislike mail. Peevish mail, tops.

The first was when I suggested that curling, like golf and bowling, was a game that improved with drinking. I realize now that such a statement is ridiculous; I forgot darts.

The second angry letter came when I wrote about my two older daughters having taken up rugby. I said that no one really understands the rules of rugby and that those who claim they do have probably been bashed in the head one time too many. There were also references to binge drinking. Clearly, there’s a trend here.

It’s probably a good thing I never wrote about clogging, ’cause ya know, I don’t see anyone willingly doing that sober.

Years later, not two but three daughters are now rugby players. In the interim, the rules of rugby have become somewhat clearer to me. I know this because I can shout things from the sideline like, “Support! Support!” and, “That’s a knock-on!” and, “Is her leg supposed to bend that way?”

Rugby season: better known as crutch season.

All three of my girls love the sport. They love the roughness, the physicality, the camaraderie and the mud. Mostly the mud.

As a father, I respect that rugby allows young girls to tap into the full strength and grit of their bodies, upending expectations about femininity while wholeheartedly embracing the team spirit of womanhood, its power and tenacity. Rugby is aggression without anger, something that can only improve their way in the world for these young women.

But, as a father, I also worry about brain damage.

Letting your kids play rugby is kind of like saying, “Here: hit each other with these baseball bats. It’ll build character, and if you do it right, you probably won’t get hurt. Much.”

Players hobble their way through the season, their legs bruised and scraped, sunburns and turf burns on their faces, some body parts in slings, other parts merely bandaged.

This past Saturday, we looked on as a 14-year-old girl crumpled to the field after a hit from one of our team’s players. Or maybe it was her own player. Or maybe she just tripped. With rugby, it’s hard to tell sometimes. It’s kind of like a controlled riot.

The girl stayed down, pale, drifting in and out of consciousness. Someone called an ambulance. Yet I guarantee that girl will be back playing as soon as she can. And not because young people are idiots, but because those who play it, love it.

Our eldest daughter Emily played rugby in high school and Cegep and off and on since. She’s started up again recently, and this past weekend she travelled with her Montreal team to a rugby tournament in Vermont. She shared with us that, during one game, she came off the field, threw up and then ran back on. It happens.

Katie, the middle daughter, played high school and Cegep rugby too, but has played basketball the past few years, except when she had to take time off for knee surgery. She had a bone chip on her kneecap. She probably got it playing rugby. She’ll be back playing rugby for Bishop’s University this coming fall. Of course.

Abby is only in her second year of rugby. She’s a small girl. From the sidelines, we’re likely to be cheering, “Get the ball, Abby! Get the ball!” followed quickly by, “Get rid of the ball, Abby! Get rid of the ball!” When an opposing player hits her, I would describe it not so much as “a tackle” as “being folded in two.”

And yet there she was Monday, trying to take down a girl twice – no, make that three times her size. Grit, courage, only a slight bump to the head.

“Do you feel confused?” I asked her after the game. “I mean, more than usual.”

Thankfully she’s only at the junior level, so there’s no binge drinking yet.

All three of my girls love the sport, as bone-crunching and flesh-pounding as it is, and they have coaches who work to ensure they don’t foolishly injure themselves or others. It’s a great sport to play, just not easy for us parents to watch. But then, as parents, what is?

Besides, they could be doing worse: they could be clogging.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
This entry was posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Rugby: not for the faint-hearted (parent)

  1. Amanda Fox says:

    Seriously, rugby is the worst game ever for a parent to witness. My middle played. I spent most of the time on the sidelines with my hand over my eyes. Give me hockey and football any day. I feel your pain.

  2. Rucking English says:

    While I appreciate your parental perspective, I believe that you are limiting your view of rugby. I have played the sport for ten years and coached a high school team for the last five, and while I will never argue that the sport is safe, the way the contact is coached is significantly safer than many of the padded sports like American Football or Ice Hockey. I won’t be so crass as to link to an article that I wrote about safety and rugby, but basically (at least in the U.S.) a coach has to be certified to teach contact rugby. We specifically train the players to protect themselves, especially their heads. I have only had one concussion from playing rugby (compared to four playing American Football for ten years) and one of the two was from colliding with a teammate off of a set piece due to miscommunication. I can honestly say, the sport is much more brutal to watch than it is to actually play; my mother has only seen me play once and she watched the entire game through her hands. I understand the concern for your daughters, even more so since I have started coaching, but I appreciate the fact that you are supporting them! And, just so you know, the binge drinking is a phase!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks for the reply. And three cheers for the coaches. My girls have had good ones who, as I said and you reinforce, know what they’re doing. There is, of course, risk in any sport. Rugby, however, seems more raw, which is part of the fun and part of why it’s so tough for us parents to watch.

    • franhunne4u says:

      You make me worry:
      ” I have only had one concussion from playing rugby (…) and one of the two was from colliding with a teammate ”
      “one concussion” and “one of the two”? That does not add up …

      • Rucking English says:

        I was doing too many things at once! I was thinking through my concussions and had to place when I got them. I meant to say that I only got two while I was in college, one of which was during a rugby game and the other (ironically) was during an intramural soccer game. You shouldn’t worry; a good rugby tackle keeps the head completely out of danger!

        • franhunne4u says:

          Thank you for clearing that up!

          • Rucking English says:

            Not a problem! Even outside of concussions (which are, understandably, the current athletic injury focus), I have really only had one significant injury from rugby. A guy came into a ruck funny, caught me with a knee, and I ended up with two broken ribs, so I was out a week. The worst injury I ever had was tearing my Achilles tendon and that happened in an intramural soccer practice! I played football from about 8 to 18 and had multiple concussions, dislocated shoulders, tears in muscles, and innumerable sprains and strains. If coached properly, rugby is safer than football!

  3. markbialczak says:

    Oh, poor, poor Ross. You are denied one of the more satisfying lines of father-to-daughter parenting: Honey, every time you see a scrum, run the other way.

    I feel for you watching all of that controlled malevolence. But you don’t have to worry about any of the three dating much in-season, do you? Too many injuries.

    Now, about drinking and darts. I thought nothing of combining the two until I had to remove mine from the forehead of the fool who wandered across the game zone that night …

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    That’s a good photo (of Abby I think) and terrifying, captures one of a million moments I’m sure. Gosh, I just couldn’t watch. Of course, I can’t watch them do Math, either. You see: you be the comedian, alright?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      [rimshot]
      I wrote this earlier in the week. Abby didn’t see it beforehand. She had an away game yesterday that I missed. She came home and told me she had been hit and “you know, like a chair?”
      “You mean, folded in two?”
      “Yeah.”
      Heard her back crack, wind knocked out of her. But she was one of the coach’s players of the game and she got Skittles! And they won. So a great day.
      Sigh…

  5. Tez says:

    The girl behind Abby on the right is a big girl. I’m glad she is on the same team as Abby.

  6. Paul says:

    That is an awesome action shot of Abby, Ross. Man that girl running on the far right of the photo must outweigh Abby at least 2:1 and maybe more. I know very little about rugby, not even the rules. I do know that it is world renowned for roughness (that’s being politically correct -violence, would be a more honest word). They all have funny mouth expressions – i suppose they are wearing mouth guards. I am allergic to sports where you have to have protection from having your teeth shoved down your throat.. I prefer a more sedate exercise, a gentleman’s game like badminton or croquet, La Di Dah.

    I sometimes ramble, I know, but I feel obliged to mention that in my estimation combining sharp, pointed throwing weapons with vast quantities of alcohol has never made a lot of sense to me. And yet it is a very popular pass-time – perhaps , like rugby, it is the sure knowledge that something very bad is guaranteed to eventually happen that keeps one on the edge of the seat, waiting with bated breath. One of the most embarrassing moments in my life occurred around just such a set of circumstances. A friend and I were trucking in Newfoundland when we got laid over in a very small village that consisted of a motel with a bar, a gas station and exactly 5 houses. It was at a cross roads and our dispatch would not know which road we should take to reload until the morning, so we settled in to drown our sorrows. The bar had only one group of women playing darts and drinking. They were all about our age – 20’s at time – and they were getting louder by the minute. Elroy and I were also playing darts at an adjacent board when one of the women came over with the fur coat of her friend. She explained that to was her friend’s birthday and she had received the coat as a gift. While her friend was in the washroom, she wanted one of us to put on the fur coat and see how long it took for her friend to notice when she came back out. The other women were all laughing at this conversation and I had had enough to drink that I was enjoying the attention, so I put on the fur coat. Well, the first one out of the back room was not the woman but the bar owner and his first words were: “What the F**K are you doing with the fur coat I just gave my wife for her birthday?!” It went downhill from there, as i am sure you can imagine. 😀

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ha! Sucker!
      Great story, as bar stories usually are.
      Thanks, Paul.

      • Paul says:

        Yeah, it took me a while before the little, teeny, weeny light flashed on in my brain that I had been set up – and good. Ha! Oh, the indiscretions of youth – now if only I had gotten smarter, it would not have been for naught.

  7. pieterk515 says:

    You got me at rugby…
    What a fantastic sport. Dude plays flyhalf and I scream like a girl on crack at every game he plays. We have to keep the Wife restrained every time someone makes a tackle on Dude. It’s a lovely sport. And then when it’s over we switch on the TV to watch some more…with friends off course.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      North Americans are either behind the times or ahead of them when it comes to rugby. Either way, most of us are flummoxed.

      • pieterk515 says:

        Flummoxed…It sounds like one of the injuries a player might get after an illegal high tackle.
        Southern hemisphere guys are definitely, compulsively in love with the game, some might consider us fanatics…but we are never, never flummo….whatever.

      • pieterk515 says:

        “Flummoxed is an adjective that is used to describe someone who is bewildered or perplexed…”

        Oh. Well why didn’t you use that in the first place? Thanks Google.

        Ross, ya speak a da Englis very good.

    • Rucking English says:

      I imagine he gets tackled quite a bit at flyhalf, but he also gets to be a playmaker! Eightman, Flyhalf, and Scrumhalf are my favorite positions for that exact reason! My mother watched only one of my college games because she couldn’t stand it and she watched through her hands.

  8. Carrie Rubin says:

    I wasn’t thrilled my son played football, but despite my spewing of concussion facts to my son and husband, I was outnumbered. Luckily he made it through his four years of high school football without injury. You’ve got some tough girls there. I wish them an injury-free rugby future!

  9. I love clogging – especially the little hats you have to wear. And without the feather, I would feel naked. 🙂

  10. Dina Honour says:

    Rugby sounds like a metaphor for growing up. No padding, lots of bruises, and the only way you make it to the end of the whistle is determination, grit and those dollops of blind faith mixed with stupidity required to get to the other side of the field…and yet something they all will look back fondly on in later years. Crazy kids. :-).

  11. Ned's Blog says:

    I’ve watched rugby live while taking photos for the paper twice. Both times it was like photographing an angry mob that squirts out a player from time to time, like an old Warner Bros. cartoon. As a father, knowing your daughter can handle herself in rugby has to give you some peace of mind. It’s a TOUGH sport. Tougher than NFL football in my opinion.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll just wait here for the hate mail to come in…

  12. ksbeth says:

    may the scrum be with you.

  13. Rugby is my favorite sport to watch. I did play for about ten minutes once, a guy flipped over the top of the ruck and “accidentally” kicked a guy standing next to me in the nose. Blood…lots of blood, and that was it for me, I left the field and went back to the couch.

  14. prior says:

    really enjoyed this post (came here form Jill’s blog) and well, great action shot of your daughter. Also, when it comes to darts (and billiards) well we call it “aiming juice” – anyhow, with sports – all sports – I think it comes down to having culture of safety and mindfulness – and sadly we had a neighbor’s son die while playing in a baseball tournament down in Florida. The heat combined with whatever he had going on with his body at the time- was a toxic mix for his body and he passed out- and was not reached in time to rescue. So in addition to being careful of contact damage – I think we need to watch the heat factor and just stay in tune with how our athletes are doing. 🙂

  15. Elyse says:

    My son played — whatever that position is that is in the front. Jacob is a sturdy guy, but it was hell to watch. Like watching a speeding car heading towards a cliff. Fortunately, he decided in college that all the rugby players were jerks, and gave it up. Normally, I don’t like it when he generalizes, but it kept him safe, so …

  16. Rugby is a fantastic game. If the U.S. ever catches on in a big way, the NFL will be in deep trouble, because it’s a vastly superior, more entertaining, game. Having said that, I understand your reservations. (That’s putting it mildly.) I just saw an old friend who tried playing for fun in college. He said that it was all big, bruising bullies who couldn’t make it on the football team and wanted to take it out on everyone else. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and never played again. But don’t let that bother you!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s still high school at this point, and girls, so it’s cool. So far…
      If North Americans haven’t been able to manage relatively simple soccer, there’s little hope for arcane rugby, I’m afraid.

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