Rugby in Progress: Concussion Management

Rugby is a unique sport. The laws of the game, the variety of athletes and fan enthusiasm and devotion to the game all contribute to the rugby environment and community. Another one of these unique aspects is that the laws surrounding contact to not change between female and male teams. Rugby is one of the only sports where gender doesn’t impact the laws of the game. This can create worry for parents and guardians, who fear that the contact can be unsafe or unregulated. Sometimes, sadly, this deters kids from enrolling in the sport. But there are many precautions and protocols in place to prevent these injuries, and a recent push for specific focus on concussions.

Players, parents, and coaches learning about the game should be aware of the existing regulations, and elite-level players, medical staff and coaches are setting high standards surrounding the concussions.

World Rugby (previously International Rugby board, IRB) is the acting international governing body for the sport of rugby. Earlier this year the group hosted world-wide discussions about the current policies, issues and future expectations for the sport. You can check out the podcast that covers concussions here.  (#05 Dealing with concussion in rugby).

Many of the points they make help to answer questions about concussions, the current research, and what parents, coaches and staff can do to help prevent concussions and promote athlete recovery. Firstly, it’s nearly impossible to identify every concussion, especially those of a lower level. Symptoms vary by player; and one athlete may experience dizziness, headaches and trouble focusing, while others get drastic changes in emotion. Medical staff and rugby researchers have focused on identifying all possible symptoms of concussions so that medical staff can remove athletes with those symptoms.

Today, the sporting community has come to realize that there’s a responsibility upon the shoulders of athletes to understand the seriousness of concussions and the likelihood of long-term impact without proper rest and recovery. World Rugby emphasizes that concussions need to be understood as an injury to the brain, arguably the most important area of the body. Research shows that young athletes will see worse effects of concussions if they refuse to recover before going back to play. If all athletes are informed about concussions, what symptoms they may experience, and expected recovery times, they will be able to contribute to the medical staff’s observations. Any athlete interested in playing for a long time should be investing in their bodies and their minds, including respecting the effects of concussions.

Professional and elite rugby players across the world are leading the charge by setting a high standard in dealing with concussions. Countries like South Africa, New Zealand, and England have required coaches and referees to renew their certifications every year, including education in updates to concussion research and protocol.  USA Rugby has just launched their concussion management program, “Brains over Brawn”, more details can be found here. International match protocol (for men and women) allow a sub to enter the game for a possibly concussed player, while they have a 10-minute assessment in a tented area of the sidelines. Medical staff assess the scenario and the symptoms, and the athlete has time to confirm them. Previously, the laws allowed for a quick (minute or two) assessment. If the player is deemed to be without concussion, they may reenter the match, and if the medical staff deems a concussion or needs more assessment, they will remain on the sidelines.

This is a great step in the right direction of concussion management. Elite players have time to be honest with their medical staff, the staff have time to identify all symptoms, and the fans see the players and coaches taking concussions seriously. These protocol have already begun to trickle down to club and youth levels in the following months/years. Parents, coaches, fans and players can become informed about the laws surrounding on-field safety by checking out World Rugby’s Player Welfare section.

It’s important for athletes to remain safe, especially youth players. World Rugby and USA Rugby take this seriously, as do rugby players and coaches. It’s on us to take the time to recognize the work and research surrounding concussions and how these are being implemented into our rugby laws.

Get out on the pitch this week, or find a club local to you!
Until next time,

Baylee Annis
UBsports Rugby Ambassador

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