Saturday, 20 June 2009

Bullrush renaissance?

I actually enjoyed playing bullrush as a kid (even though as a small, weedy and non-competitive kid, I was quite useless at it). At my rural primary school, almost all the children participated. But I also remember the damage it caused: occasional concussions and destroyed clothing were just two of bullrush's more unpleasant side effects.

I get kind of annoyed with people who go on about how soft we've made our kids, giving the ban on bullrush as an example. If you want kids playing unregulated, physical games, you need to a) not complain when kids occasionally break a collar bone or knock out a tooth, or b) be prepared to pay more tax, so schools can employ enough staff to supervise kids as they play.

Having the opportunity for physical play is really important for kids. Maybe I'm a bit boyish in this regard - I grew up with three brothers, and spent a lot of time climbing trees and wrestling, and at times getting up to far more dangerous mischief.

Not all kids want to play the same way my brothers and I did, and nor should they be expected to. But for those kids who need the outlet of rough(ish) physical play, I don't think the answer is to ban it. I certainly don't think the answer is to let them go for it, regardless of the consequences, so they don't go 'soft'. That's a recipe for stupidity, with somewhat homophobic undertones. I remember kids dying from avoidable accidents when I was a child, during dangerous play activities like tunneling in sand dunes (a local child suffocated when the tunnel collapsed), and bouncing on a trampoline without safety pads (another child had his neck broken when he landed between two springs). Even the most gung-ho, don't-let-kids-go-soft parents don't want their children seriously injured or killed, surely?

Last night, Campbell Live featured an item about a school which has reintroduced bullrush. Initially, I prepared myself to cringe at a redneck extravaganza of the 'harden up' variety. But what this school was doing was actually quite sensible. Kids were taught to play bullrush as safely as possible - it was explained how they should tackle in a way that avoided head and neck injuries, and an adult supervised their play. Hopefully, the adult kept the lid on sporadic fights, which were prone to break out in my day, and helped the kids be mindful of the difference between competitiveness and aggression.

The aim of this supervision wasn't to take risk out of the game altogether - and, indeed, the risk is part of the joy of bullrush. The goal was to preserve the fun, but make sure the risks weren't out of proportion to the fun. Skinned knees are a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a good game of bullrush. A spinal injury isn't.

So I take my hat off to the school that's instituted this sensible approach to physical play. I just hope that, if safety-conscious bullrush becomes a widespread phenomenon, we parents of school children appreciate that the time of the teachers needed to supervise is not an endless resource.


Paul said...

But why is it necessary to play this game and not one of the numerous others that involve less risk? Is it because Bullrush is all part of being a New Zealander? Is this all a retro "things were better in my day before all this PC" trip? Because it looks like one to me.

And if you accept games like this one, you have to accept the hierarchy of physicality that comes with it: the big kids rule the school and intellect takes second place to muscle. I had thought we had grown beyond such juvenile attitudes. Clearly I was wrong.

Moz said...

Paul, I don't remember bullrush being the way you describe. There are a variety of strategies that work, and with a little supervision it's easy to stop it being an opportunity for bullying.

I run slowly but I'm fairly smart, and used to quite enjoy bullrush. Especially at Scouts, where the leaders managed an emphasis on fairness that worked quite well.

That said, I do wonder that some parents let their kids play with me at all, the list of injuries that happened near me is quite long. Often of the form "we were doing X and I fell on Moz and broke my collarbone". Note that I was never really hurt in these events :)

AWicken said...

As I recall, bullrush rewarded the small and nippy as much as the large, and those in between would form cabals to protect each other.

The other point being that if it was well run it was fun, simple rules, and all you needed was open ground.

I don't recall any bullrush injuries at my school - playtime rugby on the other hand was diabolical for over-enthusiastic "rucking" (because that's what they did on TV at the time - and probably why I've never been a huge fan of rugby).

I also think that it is _possible_ that banning bullrush was an overreaction to legal interpretations of OSH and liability. They seemed to happen at around the same time, and every so often with new legislation there's a tendency to be well over on the legal side, rather than risking a court case. Now that OSH has a fairly large case record, schools can make closer estimates as to their responsibilities.
It would be ironic if right-wing paranoia at the time actually resulted in one of the current right-wing bugbears, but never mind

Flynn said...

O_o I don't know what kind of bullrush NZ'ers play, but the variant I played in the UK could hardly be considered dangerous enough to warrant supervision, or injuries... ('cept perhaps a twisted ankle from running around)

Anna said...

Bullrush at my NZ school was a pretty rough business - possibly because many of the kids who played also played rugby and brought the tackling element, but not the safety considerations you would expect in a refereed game of rugby. There was a strong culture around rugby too - to the extent that other sports were 'for fags', and the move to eliminate full tackling from rugby for kids under 8(?) was quite strongly opposed (too 'soft'). This 'harden up' stuff no doubt influenced how the kids played bullrush. I don't think anyone in their right mind would advocate a return to that at schools.

Probably, the most common injury was kids running into each other and cracking heads. There was also a tendency for a bunch of kids to 'tackle' (read 'jump on') one kid. But there is also quite a lot of skill to bullrush as well, when it didn't involve crushing people. Being personally useless, I quite liked watching the fast kids weaving through the kids who were trying to catch them. This seemed to be the element of the game that the school on Campbell Live was encouraging.