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It has been a long heated discussion as to whether junior rugby players should play rugby according to weight or age categories in South Africa, much like in Australia and New Zealand. According to Mike Lambert (2010), the size of the players, their mental maturity, late development and the risk of injury are points that should be scrutinized when making a decision as to whether or not junior boys should play rugby according to weight or age.
World Rugby, author unknown (2013) says that introducing weight guidelines into junior rugby would restrict players from finding the position that is most suited to them as well as the need to take into account the development in the player. Whereas Lambert (2010) argues that smaller players or late developers who possess large amounts of talent may be overlooked due to their size and thus cause them to go looking for satisfaction in sports that do not require size, therefore losing a potentially valuable player. The chances of a possible injury are lowered greatly when boys play with boys who are of a similar weight, it is like this throughout all age groups.
Lambert (2010) states that a mismatch in size may be seen as unfair competition and can also be interpreted as a rise in injuries. Lambert (2010) mentions research done in New Zealand where it was concluded that having a larger body mass is a risk factor of receiving an injury but in another research article the same results were not found in a test conducted with American football. Lambert (2010) and World Rugby (2013) both mention that there is no circumstantial evidence to support the fact that a player’s size could increase or decrease the chances of getting injured. TJ Gabbett (2002) wrote that research has shown that a number of junior rugby injuries progress significantly from 5.3 per 1000 playing hours among ages six to twelve to fourteen. 9 per 1000 hours at the age of thirteen, as the boy’s bodies and mental components such as competitiveness develop so does their aggression thus causing the rise in injuries among their age group and making the chance of an injury much higher.
As Lambert (2010) points out that the early development of a player has a lot of advantages compared to the late development of a player with regards to rugby. During puberty and pre-puberty Lambert (2010) states, there is a wide range of sizes and weights among the boys, some boys will develop much earlier than their peers. This carries psychological and physical repercussions for the boys that develop later. Lambert (2010) provides us with an example: a ten-year-old boy that is large for his age may be the same size as an average thirteen-year-old, despite being 20 kilograms heavier than another boy in his age group. This boy would have an advantage over the smaller boy due to his strength and size, both important things on a rugby field, despite the difference in age and psychological development. World Rugby (2013), says in a similar example, that an older boy may have 10% body fat compared to a younger boy with 30% body fat and although they are the same weight, the older boy with less body fat and more muscle will immediately have an advantage over the younger boy with more body fat. World Rugby (2013) states that during puberty there is a decrease in fat and a large increase in your muscle mass, meaning that boys who have already started developing will have an advantage over late bloomers.
According to Lambert (2010), motor skills play a very important role in the weight versus age discussion. In a study which looked at U13, U16, U18 and U19 rugby players at a club in Australia, they looked at the player’s general weight and height, as well as looking at their rugby-specific skills and concluded that the rate of development of size and skill are dissociated from one another. Whereas Gabbett (2002) states that the development of the player’s bodies and skills directly correlate with one another and believes that the coaches of all age groups should be working on developing the two together.
South Africa follows age guidelines and Australia and New-Zealand follow weight guidelines. Lambert (2010) compares the South African, Australian and New Zealand models of junior rugby and he finds that because South Africa has a much larger population than Australia and New Zealand they have a lot more boys playing junior rugby, however, there is a large amount that stop playing rugby and this is possibly due to the fact that the smaller players don’t often get recognized in their age categories. New Zealand, despite having weight categories is very similar to South Africa and has a large drop from pre-teen rugby to senior rugby but Australia is the opposite, where we see only a few pre-teens taking part in rugby and a much larger amount of men taking part in the senior rugby. Lambert (2010) suggests that this is perhaps because the model has been designed to develop and manage the player’s talents much more efficiently. He also states that because New Zealand and Australia don’t have the same numbers that South Africa does they are much more careful with how they manage their talent. He refers to the South African model as “survival of the fittest”, but if there is ever a shortage of junior players the model would fail due to there being a lack of talent to choose from. World Rugby (2013) compares the rugby model in New Zealand to American Football. The weight guidelines that the two countries follow are very similar.
Lambert (2010) considers a psychological factor that needs to be looked at which is, the impact that not being able to succeed in rugby may have on a late-developing child. As World Rugby (2013) mentions boys may fall into a bad habit of dieting or eating excessively to go up or down into certain weight categories, he says that the Rugby Unions of Australia and New-Zealand make conscious efforts to create awareness of these situations for parents and possibly prevent them from happening. Lambert (2010) says that if a player lacks anything in a certain category of rugby and does not have an intuitive coach to help fix any of the skills that may be lacking could cause a lowered self-esteem and may even cause the player to leave the sport altogether, because they don’t feel as if they are good enough for the sport. World Rugby (2013) moves on to state that extreme competitiveness, parental and peer pressure as well as low self-esteem, all have potentially harmful consequences and need to be handled properly and with caution. As World Rugby (2013) says, parents or peers can easily influence a young child and there are a lot of things that could motivate or demotivate a child to carry on with rugby or sport in general.
In conclusion, Lambert (2010) believes that weight categories should be implemented in South Africa just as they are in Australia and New-Zealand, allowing smaller players to excel at the game, whereas World Rugby (2013) believes that splitting children into age categories is the most efficient way of developing children into talented rugby players. They believe that the weight categories don’t consider the physical and mental development of a child enough. Gabbett (2002) mentions how with either age or weight categories we will see an increase in the capabilities of the junior rugby players.
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