Update – I’ve linked this post to the top page due to its popularity
Yesterday, my son Keith took to the rugby field like he always does every Sunday, full of enthusiasm, energy and ready to be the next Brian O’Driscoll or Sean O’Brien. They were playing away, in Greystones RFC and the format was as it always was, a couple (4 this week) 20 minute games. I wasn’t there, I was on hockey duty with his sister so Maureen was the driver and No.1 supporter.
Nothing untoward happened for the first three games but early in the fourth, Keith clashed with a teammate. Entirely accidental, rugby is a contact sport and these things happen. But this time he didn’t get up for a just a second and when he did it was apparently clear to see he was in a bit of trouble. Almost immediately a large lump appeared on his head and through the tears he was immediately assessed by the match referee.
‘Whats your name’, ‘What day is it’, ‘Whats the score’ – he answered them, but didn’t know the score of the match, nor did he know the score of the previous match he had played in just a few minutes before. Now thats not unusual for a 9yr old in the throws of a rugby match, but any sign of memory impairment along with a head injury is a cause for concern. The referee and Keiths own coach wouldn’t let him play on.
Irish Rugby Union and World Rugby (formally the International Rugby Board) have an ongoing campaign about the dangers of concussion and the dangers of playing on or returning to the game too soon after a concussion. A lot of the publicity around concussion in Ireland has been driven by the parents of Benjamin Robinson, a schoolboy from Carrickfergus Grammar School who tragically died in 2011 from ‘Second Impact Syndrome’ – a condition where a player (in any sport) with undiagnosed concussion either plays on or returns to play before the injury has time to heal. A second impact occurs, the brain swells and the results can be fatal.
I wouldn’t have known about Second Impact Syndrome without hearing Benjamin’s parents, Karen & Peter speak. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I hadn’t read up the information available from World Rugby & the IRFU. I’d heard about the Robinsons story and as a parent and coach it was up to me to learn what I could. I’m in no way comparing Keiths incident to their story, but if he he’d played on or if he was to go on and play next week, who knows…
Keith was withdrawn from the match, sent to the First Aid and as a parent I’m delighted to hear that the full Irish Rugby concussion protocols were implemented. The Clubs welfare officer on duty assessed Keith, monitored him and gave Maureen a copy of the IRFU ‘Safe Rugby’ leaflet with instructions on what to look out for during the coming hours and days.
He has a bump, the lad he clashed with was wearing a scrum cap and if he wasn’t I’d say we’d be minding a considerable wound with many stitches. Later in the day he was tired, but recovered, he still doesn’t know the score of the match and didn’t eat a full dinner as would be normal. Thats enough for me to want to remain cautious. 24hrs on Keith seems fine, well enough to go to school anyway! He’s not impressed with no swimming, supervised lunch time instead of running free in the yard and no soccer training, but thats the price to pay for safety. We are away next weekend, but if we weren’t he would be ‘stood down’ and excused from rugby for at least 2 weeks.
It may seem overly cautious but these are necessary precautions. I can remember playing a match over 20 years ago and while I don’t remember the incident, I do remember getting up from a bang, being unsteady on my feet and thinking I could play at full back for the rest of the match, which for a prop is not a good place to be. Looking back at it now, I was in cuckoo land and should have stopped playing. Rugby is a contact sport and we have become accustomed to the bumps and bruises associated with it. But concussion is a brain injury and should be treated with the seriousness it deserves.
Every parent, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, referee or coach should be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and take control if necessary, because the player mightn’t want to. We all need to recognise and remove if there is any doubt, get yourself a copy or a couple of copies of the IRFU ‘Guide to concussion in rugby’ they’re free. Read the websites below and learn the indicating factors.
5 minutes informing ourselves and missing a game or two might just prevent further tragedy.
* I’d like to thank the coaches and parents from both Greystones RFC and Old Belvedere RFC. They did exactly what I would have hoped and their care and attention to the incident was second to none.
** Update – Keith sat out 12weeks of rugby as a precaution and eventually returned for the last day of his season ‘Parents v Kids’ game! As a parent, knowing how much he loves playing rugby, it was very difficult to remove him but it was the right decision and luckily he understands why it had to happen. I would have no hesitation in allowing him to play rugby, but we all need to be vigilant. It is up to all of us Parents, Coaches, Supporters and especially the rugby administration to keep our players safe.