If you’re a sports fan, you won’t have been short of entertainment in the early part of this year. There was some impressive tennis in Australia, some stunning ice-capades at the Winter Olympics, and a bit closer to home – rugby! The Six Nations Championship has provided us with absorbing viewing of late. Both the men’s and women’s teams have put on a terrific display and hopefully inspired younger players to aim high. Who knows, perhaps the next generation of rugby stars are just waiting for their turn under Murrayfield’s dazzling lights.
My little boy, James, is still only two years old…too young, you might think, to begin kicking that funny-shaped ball around. But that’s where Rugby Nippers steps in. Rugby Nippers is an exciting local rugby programme for boys and girls in Perthshire aged from two to seven years old. Teaching children the fundamental skills of rugby, classes are designed to be fun and engaging, led by experienced coaches who radiate their enthusiasm for the sport.
It’s impossible not to get caught up in the sheer fun of these classes, but crucially, the kids are learning and developing new skills at the same time. Now, I’m not really expecting James to play for his country anytime soon. But Rugby Nippers classes provide great exercise in a social environment, and I was keen to give them a ‘try’ (sorry). We signed up for Teeny Nippers, a forty-five minute weekly class for two-year-olds. The group size is kept small and the children start learning the basics – passing, catching, kicking and running. Oh yes, and that old chestnut: how to listen to instructions!
James and I went along to our first class not entirely sure what to expect – would there be toddler rucks, mauls and scrums? But we were quickly immersed in a relaxed, welcoming environment, and our coach introduced a dinosaur and animal theme to kick things off.
Soon the children were taking giant steps (like a T-rex), holding a rugby ball high in the air (stretching upwards like a diplodocus), and running as quickly as they could manage (like a sabre-toothed tiger). Mimicking a stegosaurus required us to move around the hall on hands and feet, and when I say ‘us’, I should clarify that Rugby Nippers invites parents and grandparents to participate!
Next up is a series of manageable challenges, laid out on the hall floor, for the children to attempt. They must weave in and out of small cones, pick their way among big hoops, jump over a low bar, and step over a high bar. The kids charge about with enthusiasm. Our coach provides encouragement and guidance, and five minutes later all concerned are rosy-cheeked and bubbling over with energy.
The class gathers together for regular instructions, and these are straightforward and appropriate for this age group. Tasks are often explained with reference to colour (the rugby balls are red or yellow) and the children are engaged by language they can understand. We stop every so often for a quick rest and to re-hydrate.
We move on to an exercise where a ‘tail’ is pinned on to each child, and their responsible grown-up must chase them around the hall, until the tail is successfully grabbed and removed. Roles are then reversed and it is the adults’ turn to be pursued. Now, I’m not sure if our class is typical of a group of pre-schoolers, or if our offspring are eating one too many Weetabix for breakfast, but by this stage, levels of excitement and exuberance are through the roof!
It’s impossible not to get caught up in the sheer fun of these classes, but crucially, the kids are learning and developing new skills at the same time. The classes are carefully structured around the basic building-blocks of rugby. Each activity is geared towards improving the children’s balance, co-ordination and agility, and they are given plenty of time to practice their ball skills.
James is now much more willing to sit down and listen (something I expect his future teachers might appreciate!) and his ability to kick, pass and catch a ball has greatly improved. Good behaviour is valued and Rugby Nippers aims to foster a team spirit – there is no pushing or shoving.
At the end of each class the children are undoubtedly in need of a little calming down, and some quiet time resting under a brightly coloured parachute helps achieve this. We finish with high-fives all round, and then James and I toddle off home. The fact that all this exercise makes him conk out for a two-hour sleep-athon afterwards is just a small bonus (disclaimer: I cannot guarantee naps for every child!)
James and I adore Rugby Nippers and we’re signing up for more. There is a range of classes for two to seven-year olds in Perth, Scone, Kinross and Auchterarder. After-school classes are available. You can even book a Rugby Nippers party! If the Six Nations has left you feeling inspired, check out Rugby Nippers here http://www.rugbynippers.co.uk.
Classes are inexpensive, last thirty minutes, and younger ones can just drop in.
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