Play Hard, Play Safe. What you need to know this Season!
There was a time when an injury received on the rugby field was seen as a badge of courage. These days, we’re much more sensible about the need to keep injuries out of the game.
This isn’t a sign that players have ‘gone soft’. If anything, the opposite is true - especially in the professional arena, where players now play more games, train harder and play longer seasons than ever before.
But you don’t have to be a professional to see why avoiding injury makes good sense. An injury always comes at a cost – to both you and the team.
For instance, an injury will often require ongoing treatment, time off work and, depending on its severity, it may permanently affect your on-field ability and long-term health and enjoyment of life.
If you can’t play because of injury, your team’s cohesion, strategies and morale can all be affected too.
The good news is, there are plenty of things you can do to keep safe on the field, and avoid injury. The ten-point plan below will help you prevent and manage injuries, and ultimately enjoy a longer and more enjoyable season.
1. PRE-SEASON SCREENING
It’s a good idea for the coach to screen every player before the season starts, to measure individual fitness levels and identify any personal or physical factors that may make a player prone to injury.
Every team member should be asked if they:
• have any known medical conditions
• are taking any drugs
• have had any previous injuries.
A conditioning programme targeting individual weaknesses can then be formed, and advice given on lifestyle changes that may be necessary to enhance fitness and wellbeing.
2. WARM-UP AND COOL-DOWN
Warm-ups and cool-downs are important parts of any game.
A warm-up gradually prepares your body for physical activity, helping to boost performance and reduce the risk of pulled muscles.
A cool-down helps to remove lactic acid (the waste that forms in your muscles during exercise) enabling you to recover from the game more quickly.
Spend at least 15 minutes warming up, doing:
• aerobic exercise (eg, slow jogging, cycling etc)
• game-specific movements (eg, short sprints, agility drills, scrummaging etc)
• dynamic stretching (ie, moving, not still stretches).
Cool down for at least 10 minutes, focusing on aerobic exercise and static stretches (these involve holding a muscle in a lengthened position for at least 15-30 seconds, to help it relax after a hard game).
3. PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
Try to start training well before the season starts, so you’re fully fit for your first game.
Build up your training gradually, and focus on activities that will help you in your particular role on the field. For example, if you’re a winger, don’t just go for long-distance runs, as this won’t help you sharpen the speed that’s necessary for your position.
A typical conditioning programme comprises activities such as:
• resistance training, to build strength and power
• interval training, to build aerobic capacity and speed
• stretching, to improve flexibility
• prolonged activity, to build endurance
• balancing exercises, to enhance proprioception (body awareness).
Practise the techniques your coach shows you. They’re designed not only to make you a better player, but also a safer player.
By learning the right techniques early on, you can avoid developing bad or unsafe habits that are hard to correct later.
5. FAIR PLAY
Many rules have a safety element to them, so playing by the rules will help you and opposing players avoid injury.
Besides, a game ‘won’ by cheating won’t give anywhere near the same level of satisfaction as a game won on merit.
6. PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
Wearing protective equipment such as mouthguards, headgear, chest padding and bracing can all help you avoid injury.
Note that headgear is designed to prevent cuts to the scalp and ears – it is NOT designed to prevent concussion.
Bracing provides extra support to a previously injured area, but should not be used to help you get back to play before you’re fully recovered.
For more information on how to play better and more safely, visit www.rugbysmart.co.nz.
While you’re online, check out ‘SmartTips’ – these are wallet cards with training and safety information you can customise and print out for the whole team. Go to www.acc.co.nz/injury-prevention/sport-safety/smart-tips.