If you wear protective equipment, you can greatly reduce the odds of getting injured on the field.
Wearing protective equipment doesn’t mean you’re ‘soft’ – it’s just good common sense. Why get an injury that could force you to leave the field early, and let your team down, if you can avoid it?
Here are some guidelines about what equipment’s available, and how to use it.
No mouthguard, no play
You only get one set of adult teeth – so it’s a good idea to hold onto them!
Wearing a mouthguard is a proven way to protect against dental injuries, as well as injuries to the lips, mouth and tongue. It can also reduce the risk of fracturing your jaw.
In New Zealand, mouthguards are compulsory wearing at matches from NPC level down. That means the ref can send players from the field if they run out without a mouthguard. This law applies to all rugby played in New Zealand, excluding international competitions.
You may see the odd player in a Super 14 or test match who doesn’t appear to be wearing a mouthguard – this is because these games are controlled by International Rugby Board (IRB) law, under which mouthguard use isn’t compulsory.
But if you’re in any doubt about how effective mouthguards are, consider this. Since mouthguards were made compulsory in New Zealand, ACC dental claims for rugby injuries have fallen by well over 50%.
Mouthguard use during practices is optional, although it is strongly encouraged.
As a coach, you can help promote player safety by making the big call – “no mouthguard, no play”.
To get the best protection from your mouthguard, make sure it’s the right size and ideally, replace it every season.
Padded equipment and headgear
Headgear and padded equipment such as breast/chest pads can help reduce certain injuries on the field, but there is some misunderstanding about just what they protect you from.
Headgear is a great way to reduce serious cuts to the scalp and ears, and this is what it’s designed for. Some people wear headgear thinking it’s going to protect them against concussion, but this isn’t what it’s made for, and there’s no evidence it does this.
Concussion can lead to serious head injury, so if anyone on the field is showing signs of being concussed, it’s important they stop play immediately. If you’re a coach, you can order ‘concussion cards’ (through the ‘RugbySmart’ website) to give to any player who’s taken a knock to the head. These list the signs of concussion and the process to follow if you think you may be concussed.
Shoulder and chest pads are another effective way to prevent injuries. They’re good at helping you avoid cuts, lacerations and minor bruising, but they’re not designed to prevent more serious injuries.
Bracing and taping
Bracing and taping are mostly used when a player is returning to play following an injury.
Their main aim is to provide additional support, and to safeguard against further injury to the affected area. However, they should never be used to help you get back to play before you’re fully recovered.
It’s important not to become too dependent on bracing. In other words, don’t use it to make up for a lack of muscle strength. Instead, work on strengthening the weaker area in the gym, etc.
Play by the rules, play safely
Finally, don’t take risks you wouldn’t normally take just because you’re wearing protective equipment. While this equipment can help reduce the risk of injury, it can’t make you invincible.
Instead, focus on playing hard, but playing safely and playing by the rules of the game. That’s your best bet for a long and enjoyable season.
Check it out at www.rugbysmart.co.nz.
When you’re online, also check out ‘SmartTips’. These are wallet cards containing a range of training and safety information that you can print out for the whole team. Go to www.acc.co.nz/injury-prevention/sport-safety/smart-tips.