Q1. What was it that got you involved in RugbySafe and supporting player welfare?

I’m a physiotherapist by background and I started volunteering at my local rugby club (S&L RFC) in 2006 as a way to develop my clinical skills when new physiotherapy was in short supply.  I assessed player injuries and performed the pitchside first aid role for 2-3 years before being invited to act as physiotherapist for the East Midlands Under 16 side.

As this developed, I began to look after the U-17’s, U-18’s and Midlands U-18’S. During this time, I became aware of how important it is to look after, guide and educate players, coaches and parents about all issues of player welfare. The prime focus was to ensure that players were sufficiently conditioned to play rugby as well as recognise that they needed to rest (young people play a lot of different sports and if good, play too much during the developmental years). I used to run fitness testing sessions as a way to highlight areas for work.

I moved to Kettering RFC in 2011 and went along to an evening session on HEADCASE presented by Mike England. This really opened my eyes about raising awareness of head injury in community rugby and I decided to try and improve this at the club.

Initially, I ran a presentation with senior coaches and players, but soon realised I needed to start with the mini-junior and colt level players. Here I ran sessions raising awareness using HEADCASE material to improve how we recognise concussion. It was important to reinforce the message that if SUSPECTED, we must remove players and signpost people to the return to play protocol.

I found that parents of U-9’s (first season involving contact) were very receptive.  Parents who were rightly nervous about their children going into contact, were reassured that as a club we were on top of things and that the welfare of the player always came first. Interest grew and more sessions were delivered to different age groups.

The message spread and I found the culture slowly changing as coaches were proud to say we took player welfare seriously. Senior players on match days started to look out for their mates and players even came up to me to say, ‘I don’t feel right’ and removed themselves. Awareness had improved.

Q2. Tell us about your CB/Club etc. and what you are doing to improve player welfare?

Once you start, there is so much you can do.

  1. Campaign for getting an AED and encourage junior players going around during festivals to collect donations. It worked for us. We got the AED and cabinet.
  2. Introduce a standardised warm-up for senior players based on the FIFA 11+ model. This reduced soft tissue injuries (i.e. I noticed I was less busy). Funny thing is this is now ACTIVATE… so we were slightly ahead of the curve for a while.
  3. Ask all suspected concussed players to complete HEADCASE training to constantly raise awareness of head injury. All players got used to why we went through the RTP protocol.
  4. Create a letter that parents of younger players can take to school to support them with staying off PE. Parents found this very helpful.
  5. Position a player education board near the changing rooms and post different topics on it i.e. energy drinks and how much sugar they contain, what to do if you have a simple injury e.g. dead leg etc.
  6. Sign-post players to your local sports performance facility so they can get advice on S&C etc.

Q3. What’s the most rewarding thing about your role?

Knowing I’ve protected a player from either themselves or outside pressures to seek the right advice, complete rehabilitation properly and return in a graduated manner.

From my own experience I want players to enjoy playing the game for a long time but also be able to go to work on a Monday.

Q4. Tell us a bit about the photo or video that reflects the work you are doing to promote RugbySafe best practice?

This is a video that I presented which gives you a useful insight into how we approach player welfare at Kettering RFC.

Q5. Do you have any tips for other CB/Club etc. trying to improve player welfare standards?

Here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Get together, communicate with the committee. Set-out your ground rules.
  2. Raise awareness of these throughout the club with short presentations etc.
  3. Get people on the EFARU course so you have a greater standard of trained first aiders.
  4. Get all players to do HEADCASE as mandatory for playing.
  5. Get all parents to come to short presentation sessions on HEADCASE
  6. Use Activate – it really is a no-brainer
  7. Don’t be afraid to withdraw players from play, the individual must always come first before the game in my opinion….
  8. Get involved with CRISP
  9. Use injury report forms to pinpoint age-groups needing a bit of support
  10. Get tackling technique incorporated into every training session, even if it is only 10mins.