Children play rugby from the age of four

ROCHESTER, NY — Kids across the country are busy at the rugby stadium. The world-famous sport is one of the oldest sports in the world and the fastest-growing sport in the entire country, according to a 2018 study by Global Sport Matters. And there are many reasons for that.

“When I was very small, I wrestled,” says 12-year-old Gwen Kirsch. “But that wasn't my thing. Then I started playing rugby and I really enjoyed that because I like running.”

“Mud and blood” is the motto of these players aged 4 and over.

“This is a sport for everyone, no matter how big or small,” says Joe Kirsch, Fairport Rugby Club's coach for the girls' team, junior team and Aardvarks team. “You know, anyone can do this contact that we introduce at this level if they're willing to learn.”

What you need to know

  • Children from four years old play rugby
  • Rugby rules vary by level to keep them suitable for different age groups.
  • Fairport Rugby Club has several families who help build a stronger bond in the stands

But most importantly, Kirsch is his daughter's modified trainer.

“People always say to me, 'Isn't that so dangerous?'” he said. “And I've had my 12-year-old daughter play, who weighs 80 pounds, and she's fine. So it's a safe sport. The rules are age-appropriate and keep it safe. And to make it fun at that level, you know, what would be appropriate for her athletic ability and experience.”

Although the bloody part of the team motto leaks through every now and then.

“Quite a few bloody noses,” his daughter laughed.

“I started a rugby team here in Fairport 23 years ago when I first got a teaching job in Fairport,” Kirsch said. “And during the interview, the principal asked me why I had a black eye. And I said I had been to a rugby game. And he said, 'Maybe you could start a team out here.'”

Fairport Rugby Clubs teach children teamwork, strategy and community.

“Many of the coaches are fathers or mothers and they help out,” Kirsch explained. “So we have three generations of rugby players who are involved in the program. And it's not really a popular sport in many areas. And sometimes word of mouth gets you further.”

Meet the Kaseman family.

“My parents met through playing,” explained 8-year-old Lauren Kaseman. “My older brother plays rugby on a senior team. And my sister plays on the modified. And I have a little brother, but he's not old enough yet. He's only 4, so.”

“My wife was one of the girls' head coaches when I was coaching the JV boys team, and that's how we met,” said her father and assistant rugby coach Mike Kaseman. “And then we're married now. And now three of our four kids play rugby. Except the little one. The main thing my wife and I share is this passion for Ruby. As far as coaching, which is why we both got involved, to help kids, [and] to introduce them to the sport. Because we think it's a fantastic sport. We're happy to see more children playing. And we want the sport to grow even further and the trend to continue for the next generations.”

Kaseman is the father of three rugby players of different ages, levels and teams.

“It's great to have my kids involved,” Baseman said. “And they've grown as individuals, you know, as part of a team. It's a great moment for our family when we can throw the ball around as a family. And it's great that my oldest son is a leader and is in our family. He gets along well with the other kids and shows them how to pass and kick and stuff. So it's great to see everyone come together and do something that we all enjoy.”

The sport is a family-friendly community that has expanded the families of many players.

“The mod’s coach has a daughter, she’s really nice,” Baseman said of Cherry’s middle child.

“I've known Lauren, I would say, her whole life. I remember her birth. I played rugby,” the 12-year-old replied.

“Rugby is a great community,” Kaseman said. “If you play rugby, you probably know it. And for those who don't know, if you've played rugby and you wear rugby shorts almost everywhere you go, people will come up to you, talk about rugby and just say hello. It's a big family.”

“A lot of them have lifelong friendships,” Kirsch said. “I've been to several rugby weddings. My wedding was attended by a lot of rugby players. You see that all the time. The general rule for adults is you don't get married in the fall because none of your teammates are going. You have games that weekend. Through a sport like this, you form bonds. It's a lot about teamwork. It's not enough to have one superstar win the games for you. Everyone has to work together. And I think that really helps build camaraderie, especially because it's such a physical sport. And when I say camaraderie, I don't just mean your team at every single level of rugby.”

“Yeah, I mean, my dad is old, but he still plays and still has a lot of fun,” laughed Kirsch’s daughter.

It is a sport for everyone, but each level is specifically designed with age-appropriate rules. Little Kaseman's flag team does not tackle, but the technique is taught at a later age.

“I struggle a little bit with tackling sometimes, but I also think you don't really have to be super tall. You don't have to be super short. You don't have to be tall. You don't have to be short,” explained Kirsch's daughter. “There's kind of a place where anybody can do anything, and I think it's a little hard for me to get over my fear of tackling. But now that I'm over that, I think it's getting better and easier.”

“I never play against [my siblings] because I don't yet have the tackling technique down properly, but I'm working on it,” laughed the 8-year-old.

“I think a lot of them really like the tackling aspect,” Kirsch said. “When they get a good tackle, it feels really good to them. It's kind of a release, I think, and especially these kids have to sit in school for eight hours all day. Maybe they come home and they're on their phones or other devices. And now they get this kind of adrenaline rush and endorphin release in their system. And it just feels great.”

Kirsch says he is happy that his children have the opportunity to learn a sport that he himself would have liked to have started earlier.

“I played three sports in high school and football was one of them. I saw a lot more bad injuries in my years of football, you know, in my four years of playing football, than I did in my 26 years of playing rugby,” he explained. “Nowadays, they can start at eight and work their way to the top. I didn't get to start until I was 19.”

All players agree that the sport has also taught them a lot about camaraderie and teamwork.

“From what you see there all the way up to the international level, after every competition, the host team always has a social where they have food and you talk to your opponents,” Kirsch said. “And whatever happens on the field, you just leave it on the field. And I think that's something really special about rugby. And it's so fun when you're younger, seeing these kids talking to each other who maybe went to the same high school together or the same college together at some point and played on the same all-star team together at some point. Especially for the younger age groups, sitting on the sidelines during games and talking to the other coaches. And we cheer on the players on both teams when we see a great play or a great tackle. [or] see a good run. So, you know, when you see that, everybody cheers.”

“Rugby is really a game of respect,” his daughter said. “After the game, we're all friends with the other teams. It's just really fun and we make a lot of friends. I've known some of the other girls on the other teams longer than my own teammates because we really talk to them and stuff.”

This will help build the future of sport faster.

“I want to be either a professional rugby player or a professional cheerleader,” laughed the 8-year-old.