Rugby: Tackling in Schools – A Prep School Headmaster’s Perspective

Thursday 3 Mar 2016

By: Matthew King – Headmaster, Brandeston Hall


It’s not the first time that rugby has received this kind of press and just about every area of school life that involves risk will come under scrutiny at some stage.

I want to try and take the positive from this in that, every time the spotlight falls on a sport, just as it did with the tragedy of Philip Hughes just over a year ago, sport gets safer. After the initial  media storm, reason takes over and we tighten up on the laws, reinforce the quality of our coaching and refereeing and improve the equipment we use. I never wore a helmet in my whole cricketing career, even when I played at Chelmsford and Hove for Sussex Young Cricketers, and considering my inability to wield a bat properly or read the line and length of a swiftly delivered ball, that seems utter madness now. But things only changed because of calamity and because impassioned protest raised awareness.

At Brandeston I feel satisfied that we do have outstanding coaching, good quality equipment and rigorously applied rules. I believe we do all we can to address potential danger and minimise its consequences. Risk will never be eliminated but it can always be managed. Sport and injury are destined always to be bedfellows but we cannot run from everything that makes us afraid or turn down a hundred thousand life-affirming opportunities for the one that might end them. Sport, in so many ways, mirrors life and we have to consider the impact on our children if we do sterilise their lives to a point where they never fail, do not recognise danger and lack the resilience to bounce back from misfortune.

I am deeply saddened by some of the things that have taken place on rugby pitches across the nation over the years. The shocking video of 14-year-old Benjamin Robinson, playing on after sustaining concussion but then never making it home to his family, still haunts me. But I am optimistic because I have seen how the lawmakers have responded at adult and junior level and how much more aware we, as schools, now are about concussion – and not just on the sports field. It is one of our most heartening and defining qualities as human beings that we always aim to take something good from disaster. In doing so we evolve and make things safer than they have ever been. Never perfect, just better.

I welcome today’s letter then but hope that the response to it is both constructive and measured.

Matthew King


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