When Trying to Help Actually Hurts

Concussion is serious business.

The Australian Sports commission says;

“There is growing concern in Australia and internationally about the incidence of sport-related concussion and potential health ramifications for athletes.”

This concern is not a local issue, but is being tackled head on by organisations around the world. In a balance between trying to avoid liability and actually looking after player welfare, The Rugby Football Union (England’s version of Rugby Australia) has implemented a trial to lower the height of tackles.

“Our two main objectives were to determine whether, through law change, the height of the tackle can actually be reduced and if a reduction in the height of the tackle then leads to a reduction in concussion risk.”https://www.bbc.com/sport/rugby-union/47000468

The rationale being, if we can keep players away from the head, there may be less incidents of concussion. That was certainly the hope for the trial, but as is nearly always the case, these things are more complex than first thought.

On the one hand, the trials we successful in reducing the height of the tackle. There was a 25% reduction in tackles above the armpit and a 41% reduction in contacts with the head or neck. Which, if the only metric, would have been a raging success.

However, the other main objective was to lower concussion risk. And concussions rose during the trial by 67%. The very safeguard designed to protect, instead brought harm. Whilst there was a drastic reduction in ‘high tackle’ occurrences, head to head contact (head clash) increased, with more players seeking to bend at the waist to avoid the tackle, or exploit the new law and gain a penalty.

I’m please to see that the trial has been abandoned, with tackle heights again being raised to the point of the shoulder. Although this would have to be so frustrating for Rugby administrators.

The key to any sports success at grassroots level is the ‘Mum test’. If mum isn’t happy, the kid doesn’t get to play. Statistical analysis of injuries to many seam surplus to requirement, but not to mum’s figuring out which sport their child will participate in. Sorting concussion is something we need do if the quality of our sport is to be improved (or even maintained).

But the thing that fascinates me is, in a desire to reduce the number of concussions, the RFU have actually manufactured more concussions. We can not be too hard on them, the trial was done in good faith, seeking to address an important issue. But often in these precise circumstances, the only option is to abandon the trial, and seek another option.

It’s seams for the time being it’s back to the drawing board for World Rugby.

All too often, what is good for us, is actually counter-intuitive. If presented with the options of heightening or lowering tackle lines for ‘safety’, 99% of us will say lower, without blinking. It seams like a no brainer. Alas.

Yet as a pastor, I am all too aware of the counter-intuitive nature of what is good. The number of conversations I have with men and women who are pursuing good in all the wrong places consistently reminds me about the complexities of life. Often the things we add to our life to try and fix it, bring more heartache, loss and frustration. It just doesn’t seam to make sense to those who I speak with.

There has to be a better story, one that doesn’t end in heart break. One in which as you count the cost and it all adds up.

Jesus calls his followers to a counter intuitive life;

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” – Jesus in Matthew 16:25

It’s so counter-intuitive but its the only way to life. Jesus consistently though his life predicted his death as the only path to eternal life. A message that was consistently scoffed at by people at the time, and even today.

Even his closest mates tried to convince him he was crazy (maybe even concussed). But Jesus understood the path to life, and followed it, even if it felt counter-intuitive.

I do struggle when confronted with the results of the concussion trial. It was supposed to help, why did it cause harm? It’s a reminder of the limits of my human intellect. I don’t know everything, it’s quite painful to be reminded.

Each day we make thousands of decisions, seemingly insignificant, that have a much bigger impact that we might think. Life is infinitely more complex that we give it credit for.

We need to tackle life carefully.

Or risk an eternal concussion.


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