Opinion: mid-winter break in schools and youth rugby could reduce ‘burn-out’

Mid-term breaks, open days, exam preparation and bad weather all contribute to a disjointed fixture programme from January to March

Stewart's Melville defeated Marr College in the semi-final of the Scottish Schools' U18 Cup this season. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Stewart's Melville defeated Marr College in the semi-final of the Scottish Schools' U18 Cup this season. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

FROM a schools and youth rugby point of view, it is perhaps just as well that the horrendous winter storms seen over the past three weekends have occurred in February, a month, which, notwithstanding foul weather, presents a tricky task for fixture organisers.

Number one problem is the different timings and different lengths of half term holidays that can effectively knock out at least two Saturdays from the fixture matrix. Another factor is the the business necessity for some schools to have open days at weekends, further reducing days for active sport. And a third problem at this time of year is school prelims, for which youngsters with concerns about their future directions will quite rightly want to devote time.

Schools like Loretto and Strathallan have avoided this problem for rugby by offering the oval ball game as a one term sport only and indeed there might be merit in looking at a more abbreviated season for all schools, although not necessarily following the September to December format. It could be argued that a mid-winter break and a resumption in March might be a better approach to the game.

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In many ways the school season is already structured as a one term sport. The schools conferences are completed by the end of November while the Scottish Schools Cup competitions are generally scheduled for early December.

The case for a more compact season could be justified on the grounds that those schools still offering extra-curricular rugby have intensified their programmes to the extent that at some independent institutions young players are coached every day and moreover undergo extensive strength and conditioning regimes similar to those followed by elite academy players in the professional milieu. ‘Burn out’ in such circumstances can be a potential consequence but allowing for a winter break could mitigate against this.

Just why rugby should be played for so many months,  often in the worst of conditions, remains a mystery to outsiders, who might note that cricket and athletics are two sports that accept a less lengthy competitive season.

Meanwhile, many schools will shortly start to focus on sevens rugby which starts a week on Saturday. Heriot’s and Dollar should have concluded their fifteens season at Goldenacre last Saturday, but guess what?

The pitch was waterlogged!

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About Alan Lorimer 239 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.


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