by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
I have a vivid memory from my very first rugby match in the mid 1980’s. I was a college sophomore standing on the touchline watching my new team, the Quad City Irish, take on Milwaukee in a Midwest premier match. At one point during the contest, one of our flankers caught an errant boot to the head, and suffered a laceration to the scalp. This was well before the implementation of the blood bin, so the player jogged over to near where I was standing, had a white athletic sock taped over the open wound, and carried on.
This was my first exposure to the game, and a dramatic example that rugby teams need to have a medical injury plan in place to be able to look after it’s players. It has been my experience that to this day, some twenty years later, many teams still do not have a plan to deal with medical injuries.
This is the most under serviced aspect of many rugby programs. Having a plan and procedures in place for “what if” injuries is critical to player welfare and cannot be overlooked. A medical injury plan should be a high priority for coaches, players and something parents of players should expect. Rugby is a contact sport and there are inherit dangers involved in playing the game, but these dangers can be prepared for in advance by having even the most basic medical injury plan in place.
When building a medical injury plan, begin with creating a medical file on each player. This player file contains accurate personal contact information on each player, includes the player’s full name and the names and numbers of persons to contact in case of an injury. In the case of high school or youth teams, a completed parent consent form should be included in this file. This information is critical for the coach or team manger to have and access if needed.
The player file typically has a medical history component to it as well. When was the last significant injury to this athlete? Has this player ever suffered a concussion? If so, on what date(s)? Is the player allergic to any medication? Standardized health history forms are available to assist in building a player medical file. As coaches and team administrators, we all have a responsibility to capture this information, and access it if an injury were to occur.
Some teams have experienced success by reaching out to medical professionals in their area when building their medical injury plan. Contacting local medical doctors who cover varsity sport teams in the area puts you in front of individuals who can make an important contribution to your program. Other teams have made headway by approaching certified athletic trainers (ATC) associated with local high school or college sport teams to see if there are any experienced student trainers available to provide coverage to their team.
Yet another avenue to explore is to contact a local physical therapist practice to see if there are any certified athletic trainers (ATC) who might be able to offer some guidance or suggestions when trying to source a medical professional who has expertise in building a medical injury plan.
Ideally, a rugby team would have a medical professional at all matches. If a doctor is not realistic or feasible, don’t give up. Strive to have someone with experience in treating injuries and offering first aid present during your matches. It is important to have proper supplies to administer first aid until that athlete can be transported or seen by a medical professional.
The home team should supply to the visiting team detailed information such as directions to the nearest medical facility and a concise physical address (with nearest cross street) of the match field. Equally as important are dialling instructions to contact local police and emergency medical service providers. In our state of California, cellular phones are not monitored by the 911 networks, but are routed through the California Highway Patrol. Calling 911 for assistance from your cell phone will potentially cause delays in response time.
At a minimum, ice bags, first aid supplies, and accurate player medical files should be on hand for every contest. It doesn’t take much effort to have a first aid kit on the sidelines, just some forethought. For far too long players have been at risk because their team doesn’t have even a basic medical injury plan.
If our game is to grow here in America, we have got to advance this aspect of our rugby programs. A team wouldn’t take the field without uniforms and they should not take the field without a basic medical injury plan in place.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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