Rugby is a very inclusive sport. Whether you are a strong, strapping unit or built like a slender greyhound, there is a position on the rugby field for you. But, it’s also a highly competitive sport, and that means, at the higher levels, at least, it’s a young person’s game.
But rugby still attracts older players, some of which are returning after a lengthy layoff, while others are complete novices.
While it is not inconceivable to start playing rugby in your 40s, it’s not something you should rush into. Use the information in this article to decide if you are physically and mentally equipped to start playing rugby when most players have already retired.
Make your transition from spectator (or ex-player) to fully-fledged rugger a little easier by taking these precautions and considerations into account.
While your ultimate goal might be to play rugby, you need to make sure you are fit enough. As the saying goes, get fit to play sport, and don’t play sport to get fit. Playing rugby will improve your fitness, but the risks of injury are higher if you aren’t adequately prepared.
Spend at least a couple of months working on your fitness, including the following:
Not sure where to start? Check out our Old Boys Rugby Training Program, designed specifically for players who are older but not past it!
Some teams are more elitists and serious than others. If you’re a new but older rugger, the last thing you should do it try out for a team who are at the top of their league or that play at a very high level. You’ll quickly find yourself out of your depth.
Instead, seek out a team that caters to a more social style of rugby. They are a) more likely to be welcoming to older beginners, and b) more accepting of your current lack of skill and fitness.
If possible, speak to the coach and explain your circumstances so they can determine if you’re going to be a good fit for the team.
The reason we say that you should get fit for sport, and not play sport to get fit, is that it’s all too easy to push yourself harder than you should because your competitive juices start flowing.
You may have turned up to training thinking, “it’s my first session, so I’m going to take it easy,” but the moment you get the ball in your hands, you’ll probably forget all that and get carried away in the moment.
While your enthusiasm is laudable, you need to try and rein it in a little because, if you don’t, you’ll pay for it tomorrow.
Don’t feel you have to go all-out from the very start of your late-blooming rugby career. That’s a good way to bring things to a premature end. Instead, play conservatively, in practices at least, until you know how your body is going to respond to the stresses and strains of competitive rugby.
It’s a sad fact of life that, as you get older, it takes you longer to recover from intense bouts of physical activity than it used to. Younger players can play hard on Saturday and be ready to train again on Monday. They’re bulletproof!
Older payers will need longer to recover and can’t expect to bounce back as they did in their youthful prime. Plan your training around the concept of trying to achieve more with less. In other words, focus on the quality and not the quantity of your training. You’ll also need to make sure you get enough sleep, keep a lid on stress, and eat healthily too.
Younger players can get away with paying less attention to recovery, but ruggers in their 40s and above cannot.
If you are starting or returning to rugby in your 40s, you need to manage your expectations. While there is no reason that you can’t play and enjoy rugby, the chances are that you’ve left it too late to make it to the pros, or even play at a high amateur level. Recreational and social rugby should be your niche.
Very few young players ever get to play the pros, and many of them are almost bred to play at a high level and have been doing so since they were kids.
Late bloomers have very few of these advantages, and a host of obstacles to overcome, so it’s unlikely you’ll end up playing top-tier rugby.
That said, some players DO achieve great things despite their age. United Arab Emirates player Mark Spencer played internationally despite being 57! This is, however, a Guinness World Record, and is an exception rather than the norm for older players.
The rest of us older players should focus on the enjoyment to be gained from playing, rather than trying to reach the higher echelons of the sport.
Rugby has a reputation for being a tough sport – especially compared to things like football and hockey, where players wear all manner of helmets and pads. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t wear the protective gear allowed to protect yourself from injury.
Consider the following:
You don’t need to wear all this gear or even any of it, but with older bodies being more injury-prone, it makes sense to take some additional precautions. Make sure you buy your protective equipment from a reputable company and that it’s IRB-approved, so it’s legal on the field.
If you are overweight, sedentary, or have any underlying medical condition, and especially if you are over 40, consider getting a medical before you start playing rugby. Age has a horrible way of undermining not just your fitness but your health, too, even if you are unaware of it.
At the very least, get a cardiology exam to make sure the old ticker is up to the demands of rugby. After all, the last thing any of us want it to drop dead of a heart attack during a practice or game.
The reality of rugby is that it is a full-contact sport, and that means serious injuries are possible. If you are a young player with no financial responsibilities, injuries are usually nothing more than a painful inconvenience.
But, if you are an older player, and injury could be financially ruinous because of your familial and financial commitments.
So, before you play rugby, make sure you’ve got the coverage so that, if you do end up hurt, your medical costs and financial commitments are protected.
This may mean speaking to your insurers to make sure you’ve got the right policy. Some insurers view rugby as a high-risk activity, which means it’s exempt and needs to be added as a bolt-on.
Hope for the best but plan for the worst, or so the saying goes. While we hope you never get injured, make sure you are prepared for it so that, should the worst happen, you are protected.
Even if you successfully start or return to playing rugby at the age of 40+, your career is probably not going to be very long. To be blunt, age is against you. The knocks will take more out of you, your fitness and strength will naturally decline, and injuries will take longer to heal.
At some point, you’ll have to make the decision to hang up your boots and retire from the sport.
This doesn’t mean you have to walk away from rugby completely, but you may need to stop playing – for the sake of your long-term health.
Don’t flog a dead horse by playing on past your sell-by date. Instead, give up playing when it’s your choice, rather than being forced to quit by injury or poor performance.
Once your playing days are over, why not make a move into coaching or refereeing? Coaches and refs are always in demand, and doing either will keep you connected to our fantastic sport.
Top-tier rugby is undeniably a young person’s sport, but we can’t all be pros or play for our countries. At the grassroots level, ruggers come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, and also ages. It’s a very accepting sport.
If you are in your 40s and you want to return to or start playing rugby, there is no reason you can’t do it. You may have to hunt around for a suitable team, and you’ll definitely need to work on your fitness before your lace up your boots for the first time, but you can do it, and you won’t be the first or last to do so.
That said, be realistic about the risks, and have reasonable expectations of what you will be able to achieve.
And then go out and enjoy your rugby!
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