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Study: Rugby: A Haven of Friendship for Middle-aged Men


Rugby is tough. And playing rugby at any age above 35 is tougher.

But every day, middle-age men across North America "sprint" down a grassy field doing lineouts and scrums. Why?

In a new paper published in Leisure Studies (December 11, 2012), researchers have found that rugby offers men a haven of friendship in the middle years, and beyond. Two further motivators include love of the game and self-actualization.

The research was led by Erwei Dong, an assistant professor in the department of health, physical education and leisure studies at the University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, U.S.A.

The study was based on interviews with a small group of amateur rugby players from a rugby club in the Southeast United States. Men ranged in age from 35 to 52 years of age.


Researchers said men talked about team bonding and the sense of belonging to a network of friends. They also mentioned their friendship with competitors.

"Bob," a 35-year-old front desk clerk, explained:

Rugby is a ruffian sport played by gentlemen. You can see this in the way two teams beat the hell out of each other, then after the game, sit around and have a beer together, as if they were old friends.

Also, participants said rugby offered opportunities to meet players from other parts of the world. "I have three friends now," remarked one participant. "One’s South African, one’s Australian and one’s from England."

One player summed up what rugby meant to him this way:

Rugby has been a second family. In a club, you have men of all ages, which can bring you drinking buddies, mentors, teachers, students and brothers. It is somewhat of a fraternity, where the members are of any age . . . rugby has given me people to ask for help and give help to.

Love of the game

The players described rugby as a enjoyable game that demanded time and a high level of skill.

Said "Scott":

We practice Tuesday and Thursday nights together . . . get together on Saturday morning as well . . . travel sometimes pretty good distances to play an 80-minute game because we need to improve our skills.

The men claimed that love of the game helped them to cope with fear of injuries. "I have already suffered a serious injury that required nine months of physical therapy," remarked one participant. "And I am still playing."

For many, just participating in the game was a source of pride. For example, "Kent," 49, had played amateur rugby for more than three decades. He talked about playing at all the levels: collegiate, club, union, regional and Old Boys.


Also, the study found that men experienced psychological fulfillment in their life through rugby.

"Nick" explained:

It’s been a life of total abundance, you know everybody does everything they can to their fullest . . . they play with abundance, they drink with the same thing . . . everything they do is in total . . . just to the max and that’s why I love going on tour with rugby people.

Finally, players said the game kept them mentally sharp. "Rugby not only teaches loyalty, but also endurance, toughness of mind and spirit," one participant remarked. "It also makes you think on your feet."

Editor’s note: For more about male friendship, check out our interview with Geoffrey Greif, author of Buddy System at AHB March/April 2010.