Should children play rugby?

Sunday morning and I’m cheering as my ten year old son launches himself at the legs of a small boy.  ‘Fantastic.  Lovely,’ I sigh contentedly as the other child eats mud.

James started playing rugby when he was seven and my initial reaction was one of horror.  Was it right to teach young boys such a brutal and dangerous game?  But after three years of standing in muddy fields (both at school matches and at his local club) my preconceptions have been kicked into touch.  Rugby is, quite simply, a superb game for children (yes, girls can play too), fostering a huge variety of physical, psychological and social skills.  ‘It’s rugby’s blend of elements that makes it so unique,’ says Simon Mills of the Rugby Football Union. ‘As well as strength and endurance, you can develop speed and agility.  It teaches discipline, sportsmanship and respect for others plus the ability to work as part of a team and to lead one.’

When James and his friends started playing, they were a raggle-taggle pack hurtling from one end of the pitch to the other.  If one got the ball he would hang onto it for dear life.  Yet now you can see the beginnings of a beautiful game.  As they break from the scrum, a boy starts to run with the ball.  Others close in and he glances swiftly from side to side and seamlessly passes it to the girl shadowing him.  On again, down the line, flies the ball as the children dodge and feint.  It’s like a fast-moving game of chess, as much intellect and strategy as brute force.

However there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a very physical game.  In this age of razor tight health and safety isn’t rugby simply too dangerous for children?  ‘Yes, the game is highly physical and that is one of its huge attractions,’ says Mills.  ‘But the contact element is introduced gradually in a safe and structured way over a number of years.’

Nick Folland, former headmaster of Blundell’s Preparatory School in Devon, teaches both rugby and football and, while loving both games, thinks rugby is actually safer for this young age group.

‘At this level of rugby we don’t get many injuries,’ he says. ‘They go down and bounce back.’  He feels that the sheer physicality of rugby is actually its major selling point.  ‘Rugby gives boys, in particular, a safe outlet for their natural boisterousness:  they get to run off steam and any aggression; they learn to keep control of their emotions when the going gets tough.  Plus they overcome fear.  It’s very healthy.’

The RFU estimate that around two million children are playing rugby in schools and clubs in England alone and, contrary to popular belief, it is not the sole preserve of posh public schoolboys.  ‘You wouldn’t get far with that argument in rugby’s blue-collar heartlands in the East Midlands and the South-West,’ says Simon Mills who points out that it’s played in around 10,000 state schools and that local clubs up and down the country are teaching rugby to children from all walks of life.

Tom Gliddon coaches the under-10s at Minehead in West Somerset.  ‘We have a vast cross section of the community here,’ he says. ‘I love rugby because it is so inclusive, not just socially but physically too.  It’s not just for the fastest or fittest child: whatever size or shape you are, there’s a place for you. I’ve heard of mini football clubs where children have been told they’re too fat or unfit to play.  That would never happen with rugby.’

Discipline is tight on the pitch and in the club-house afterwards when the children change into shirts and club ties for their after-match tea. ‘It instils self-discipline and camaraderie,’ explains Gliddon.   It’s a far cry from football’s yob culture and you have to wonder whether if rugby were played in every school, we might have less social problems on the streets?  Gliddon smiles and shrugs. ‘It certainly couldn’t do any harm.’

Nick Folland goes one step further.  ‘Personally I think society would be  better if all schools could play competitive sport – full stop.  But rugby has a great ethos with good manners ingrained in it from the very top level right the way down.’

‘Above all else it’s huge fun,’ insists Simon Mills.  ‘Players enjoy themselves on and off the pitch and make friends for life.’ Watching James come off the pitch, his arms slung round two team-mates and a broad grin plastered over his mud-splattered face, it’s hard to disagree.

My verdict?  I think rugby is a great sport for boys in particular – I do think it instils discipline and gives them an outlet for natural aggression.  Girls can love it too but, if playing in mixed teams, do have to be prepared to get stuck in (incidentally some of the best players I’ve seen at this young age range tend to be girls!).

Top tip?  Get a really good gum shield.  Cheap ones cost just a few pounds but it’s worth shelling out for one tailor-made for your child’s mouth.  We use Opro and have been pretty impressed.

For more information on rugby in the community log onto (England); (Wales); (Scotland) – or contact your local club (most will have junior schemes).

What do YOU think?  Should young children play rugby?

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash


  1. I think all children should play rugby, I played it at my predominantly male boarding school (300 boys, 40 girls) from age 7 onwards and loved it. My kids school didn’t play Rugby, the ‘elf and safety mob had been there first. They play plenty of other competitive sports though, even joining adult leagues to get games by the time they were at senior school.

    Completely agree with Nick Folland’s comment about all schools should be made to play competitive sport. This idea that children suffer because there are winners and losers is nonsense. It’s life! The sooner kids learn to accept that, the happier they will be as adults too.

    As for the danger aspects, I stuck both my two on horses age 3, encouraged them to 3 day event, and generally enjoy all aspects of the sport. They had a few bad tumbled and falls, but they got back on again. I am convinced it taught them huge amounts about themselves and responsibility too; most sport does. I believe Horse riding is more dangerous statistically than Boxing, or Motor Racing. It bugs me no end that if we went along with all the namby pamby do gooders, our kids would live in hermetically sealed bubbles, and we would become a nation of wimps!

    Feel a rant coming on, so I’ll leave it there.

  2. Zoe, rant away – I am with you all the way. Yes, it’s often scary letting our children do *dangerous* sports (or pretty well anything nowadays) but where is life without a bit of danger? Yup, I agree totally that competitive sport is vital for teaching children that life isn’t always fair and that there aren’t prizes for all, once you leave school and hit the hard world out there. Boost their self-esteem, make sure they know they;re loved and valued JUST AS THEY ARE -but don’t pull the wool over their eyes. No child can be good at everything and, if we try to foster that belief, we breed monsters (IMHO)…..

  3. Hi Jane. I too spend Sunday mornings at junior rugby matches (one Under 7 and the other U9) and since the eldest started tackling this season, have been more aware of the physicality of the game(The youngest plays the non-contact tag rugby.) They are more prone to injury when tackling of course, but we cannot wrap them in cotton wool and my two would be lost without rugby. Everything in our family revolves around the game. If they didn’t play rugby, they’d probably do something else equally or more dangerous – they are boys after all. I do agree about the girls though Jane. One of the U9’s is a beautfiul girl who is a real asset to the team. She gets right in there and has no fear. Yes, I worry that they might get hurt, but at the same time I am so proud of their prowess on the rugby field and really admire their commitment to being part of a team. Incidentally, my eldest is going on a mini Scarlets training camp this evening after school. They are so lucky to be given such fantastic opportunities.

  4. No children to comment about but in general prefer Rugby to Football. I will watch the one and steer clear from the other – too boring. Apart from the odd cabbage ear in the main Rugby players are far hukier and way more sexy than namby pamby footballers! Those thigh muscles Ohhh!!

  5. Children have to play all the games to have active mind. But the precautions are also necessary to remain away from any accident. Protection is necessary so the mouth guards is a device placed inside the mouth and covers the teeth and gums. Athletes playing contact sports frequently use mouth guards to prevent injury to the mouth and jaw area.

  6. I dont think rugby is that much of a safe game…

  7. Although..


    Rugby is a fast moving sport that involves lots of physical contact. Mostly boys play rugby in their backyards, on grounds and even in their school sports fields! I strongly oppose that rugby is a safe sport because it is aggressive. Aggression is a horrifying thing since it hurts the people who play it.
    Paragraph 1:

    First of all, rugby has lots of violent behaviour as stated above. It involves tackling which is extremely risky. Tackling can possibly lead to blood and ghastly injuries. Because of the contact that is made during playing the game, protective gear is to be worn at all times. One who does not wear them can get hurt easily. Some protective kit include: boots, shoulder pads, head guard, head guard, etc.

  8. My eight year old loves playing rugby – l’ve bought him the shoulder pads, mouthguard, head guard and thats it. He is dressed by the door waiting to go when it’s game day. He thoroughly enjoys it.
    Of course l worry l’m his mother but l played competitive sport and know how it tests you and the qualities it develops in you cross over into other areas of your life.
    To be honest he injured himself in the school playground whilst playing- playground stuff not rugby- leaping and accidentally clashing kneecaps- do you not send him out to play at playtime…we can’t wrap our children in cotton wool as much as we’d sometimes like to as parents.

  9. All my children play rugby. They love it. My youngest ( a girl of 10) enjoys playing in a mixed team. It’s given her a strength, confidence, camaraderie and determination which many girls her age simply do not have.

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