New Zealand Community Rugby Players’ Perspectives and Experiences of Concussion and Its Management: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Costa Lindow, Rodrigo Ruben
Walters, Simon
Badenhorst, Marelise
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Master of Sport, Exercise and Health
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Auckland University of Technology

This qualitative descriptive study explores the concussion experience of community rugby players in New Zealand (NZ). Concussion is an incredibly complex injury. When not adequately managed, a concussion can result in profound short and long-term consequences for the individual. Contact sports, such as rugby union, have recently received increased media attention due to the sport’s high concussion incidence – and its correlated potential to develop neurological disfunction. In order to address this issue, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) launched a concussion management pathway (CMP), which forms part of a national initiative to better support concussion in community rugby. This study forms part of this nationwide initiative. It aims to provide a voice to community rugby players so as to obtain an insight into their concussion experience - as influenced by NZR’s CMP. While there is increasingly more research focused on addressing the issue of concussion in rugby union, few have focused on obtaining players’ perspectives of the experience, and none to date have exclusively focused on players’ perception of the CMP. Participants of this study consisted of 36 community rugby players in NZ. Data was gathered through individual interviews. Thematic analysis was utilised to analyse the data and resulted in the identification of four dominant themes: symptomatic experience, the role of a dedicated concussion management pathway in the player’s experience, the significant influence of the role of the coach and the physiotherapist, and the general NZ rugby culture and the mind-set of the NZ rugby player. The study found that the concussion experience can be physically and mentally challenging and has no clear beginning or end. The CMP, as a provider of support, was significantly well received and appreciated. At times, the sport’s collective cultural values, in which the group is viewed as being bigger than the individual, made it difficult for players to exert positive concussion management behaviour; thus suggesting that improving concussion management requires initiatives to apply a holistic and contextual understanding of the sport. The significant success of the CMP in relatively short time highlights how important having a dedicated concussion management support system is for players’ overall experience and welfare. This study suggests that it is essential for the current support to continue to improve, and grow, so that all community rugby participants are, in the near future, as supported as possible.

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