"Almost each of us got certain kind of scars either on the leg or face or somewhere else, but that doesn't matter, we just keep going," said one Rugby player with a laugh.
In a study, published in Leisure Studies (April 11, 2015), researchers have found that Rugby offers men a haven of friendship and a way to keep mentally and physically active in their later years. Another major motivator is love of the game.
The study was based on interviews with 15 players from a "golden oldie" Rugby union club in a northern region of Taiwan. Men ranged in age from 54 to 83 years of age. Most of the men continued to work full or part-time.
The research team included Eva (Hui-Ping) Cheng from National Taipei University (New Taipei City, Taiwan), Shane Pegg from the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) and Robert Stebbins from the University of Calgary (Calgary, Canada).
The club, dubbed affectionately the "old boys", was exclusively for players aged 50 years and older and for those who just refuse to quit playing.
The 65-year-old former coach of the Taiwanese national Rugby union team launched the Old Boy's club with a few key members.
Many of the players first met at university. "I've known "Rod" and "Denny" since we played on the varsity Rugby team," one player remarked. "although we are now busy with work, we catch up here on Sunday afternoon."
Most of the men started playing Rugby at the age of 18 and have continued to play the sport for 40, 50 and even 60 years.
As "Mike" remarked "Now we play the game just for fun, not caring about win or lose. Once we can continue to play, we are happy."
The study showed that Rugby held a special place in the lives of a number of the men, providing them with a strong source of personal identity and meaning.
Besides, for these men, Rugby created lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging. As 83-year-old "Sam" put it succinctly, "One day, a Rugby boy, all my life a Rugby man, and yes, no matter how old I am, I will continue to play it!"
In addition to friendship, the players touted the health benefits of playing Rugby. For one thing, it motivated them to keep moving and physically active. It also kept them mentally sharp. As Robert remarked: "It's not just physical effort but the more important thing is you have to use your brain, you have to think about the strategies, it's teamwork."
"Matt" said that he was glad to have played Rugby when he was young noting, "Rugby is a sport that teaches me the spirit of never give up and sportsmanship, it helps me to face life with toughness of mind, and most important of all, the wisdom."
Rugby is a tough sport that demands a high level of skill. To reduce risks of injury, the old boys have implemented certain constraints. For example, players wear different coloured shorts. Players aged 70 to 79 wear yellow, while those aged 80 to 89 wear purple. The adaptive rules extend to forms of tackling. Players over 60 years of age cannot be tackled, for instance.
The study found that players used Rugby to show that they are still able to maintain a sense of control over their bodies and their Rugby skills, rejecting the notion that aging is synonymous with inability.
Commitment to the game
Rugby was first introduced into Taiwan in 1913 by the Japanese. Today, Taiwanese males still engage in Rugby as a leisure activity.
The men in the study played Rugby in the 1970s and '80s, when the game was an important national sport in Taiwan.
"Back then, just those who were good at academics could join the varsity team Rugby union," one 63-year-old participant said, "You gotta keep good grades and fight well in the game . . . we were so proud of ourselves."
Players have retained strong bonds with Japanese players, self-funding trips to Japan for friendly matches, at least once a year.
Looking down the road, the study found players eager to promote the game of Rugby to the wider public, and to pass on their legacy to a younger generation of players.
Today, the old boys use social media to disseminate information about their beloved sport. Periodically, they invite university and high school players to compete with them in social games.