I just got back from another extended stay in Djibouti to do my usual stint, coaching the club for the rugby season with Waweru. Last summer I managed to train a bit with some of the boys in July in August while I was here, and it was great, but due to the teachers strike in September, our plan for a tournament up country was foiled!
This year presented us with a new major challenge. It seems the Kenya secondary schools sports association (KSSSA) has decided to change the schedules around, moving 15s rugby to the first term and 7s to the second. This poses three major problems for us.
First of all, fifteens is quite a complex game, and this means that our district championships are this week, just over a month after the students report to school. It really doesn't allow for us to prepare the boys technically sufficiently for the tournament. I'm not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but at Malindi High, where the intake comes from mainly rural areas, some of the kids tend to report late. For one, the form ones only started reporting this week. Uninformed rugby players are dangerous rugby players. This increases the risk of injury. On some level, having the 7s before the 15s championship worked because the rules are a lot simpler and you could get away with managing fewer players at the beginning and the others could catch up while watching the senior players play. The situation has been made worse now by the addition of an extra tier to the championships. I suppose as a result of the constitution, we now have to compete in the "County" Championships after winning (Munguakipenda) the districts, then we move to the provincials and the nationals. In past years we tended to play the 7s districts in early - mid March and then played the provincials end of March. Now we are having to play our first and seminal 15s tournament in mid February!
Secondly and most importantly, the boys can not possibly be physically prepared for the games in time with this new schedule. Rugby is a very physically demanding sport, and is physical preparation is vitally important, without sufficient preparation, you risk serious injury. My biggest nightmare is not my team, which is made up of students that luckily I've had the honour of coaching over the last years and have had good habits instilled in them, but the other teams, who being slightly less organized, will probably have had a couple of weeks to bring the form fours up to speed. Physically unprepared players are dangerous to themselves and to the opponents they face, and I am sincerely worried for my players this week.
Finally, I really don't understand the logic in playing rugby during this time of year in Kenya!! It is the hottest and driest, and the most likely to cause injury. Rugby (except maybe in north america which has arguably the worst rugby in the world) is usually played during the coolest and wettest periods. When you play in full summer, the quality of the pitch deteriorates (in this part of kenya it tends to be sand and thorns!), the risk of dehydration increases and the risk of serious injury, especially concussions is multiplied. For this reason alone, I would urge the KSSSA and anyone vaguely concerned for the well being of young rugby players in Kenya to push the 15s tournaments to May-June-July, the wettest and coolest months throughout Kenya. Ideally, the Nationals could be played at the end of July, with the provincials mid July and the Districts and County tournaments being held in June. This would give much more time for the players to prepare, and have them playing in the period when it is safest to play rugby. High school rugby is already plagued in Kenya by lack of equipment, many teams we meet don't have proper equipment, regularly players play (as often documented in my blog) without boots, certainly without mouth guards (I don't believe I've ever seen one on the coast) and often with trees growing in the pitch and dangerous fences in the end zone. I see no need to further put players health at risk by having them play unprepared during the most physically challenging season.
I sincerely hope that we manage to change this, as I believe strongly as educators and coaches, that the students wellbeing should be our formost concern. I would appreciate assistance in lobbying for this, so please contact me through the blog if you can assist!