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Participating in rugby

Participating in rugby

Colour blind players, match officials and coaches can have problems distinguishing between colours both on and off the pitch.

Participating in rugby

Colour blind players, match officials and coaches can have problems distinguishing between colours both on and off the pitch.  

Below is a transcribed clip from the Scottish Rugby Podcast in which colour blind former players Chris Paterson and Mike Blair discuss some of the challenges they have faced due to their condition.  

Chris Paterson: If you are coaching and lay a red cone out [I] can’t see it.. I’m red/green colour blind and I can’t see it. Green/yellow cones confuse me as well.

Interviewer: So if you put that cone [colour] on the grass you can’t see that cone?

Chris Paterson: You have to look really hard and you can’t see it in your peripheral vision and if you run towards that red cone you think someone has moved it.

Mike Blair: If you imagine you put a green cone on the green grass. For me that’s what it’s like putting a red cone on the green grass. You can see it if you really focus on it, but it just blends in.

Notice how the red cones in the image on the right above disappear in the image on the left and also how the green and yellow cones in the right image both appear to be yellow in the image on the left. 

Implications of colour blindness on players – notes for coaches

Coaches will want to be able to identify their colour blind players and to ensure they select appropriate equipment for them. 

Identifying players who might be colour blind is not easy because people with colour blindness tend to hide their condition. Often players, especially younger people, are unaware they have colour blindness. 

"When kicking on the pitch during play, if you can’t tell the kits apart easily it can be difficult to judge who is offside and who is onside. When I played rugby at school, we had six Houses [teams, for playing sport]. The House kit colours were red, green, orange, yellow, blue and purple. My House was Yellow and when we played Orange, I would struggle to focus who was on my team and who was on the other. People need to understand it’s hard to explain something from our perspective when it’s clear to them [but not to those of us who are colour blind]."
Luke W, Youth player (19)
"In school rugby, where I’m a referee, if teams turn up with colours that are hard to tell apart then you can’t stop them playing because you want the kids to have a game, but there should be more awareness that there needs to be better distinction between kit colours."
Paul Mitchell, Sports commentator

Challenges faced by colour blind players 

The greatest challenges for colour blind players in matches are 

  1. Distinguishing between kit colours of  
    • the teams 
    • the teams and the match officials around the pitch 
    • players’ kit ‘disappearing’ against the colour of the pitch/stands at a distance 
  2. following the ball against the pitch/stands 
  3. different types of lighting influencing colour perceptione.g. moving from shade into sunlight, floodlighting 

The greatest challenges for colour blind players in training are: 

  1. Distinguishing between bib colours, as many commonly used colours can all appear to be the same colour 
    • Aim to avoid any combinations of red/green/yellow and orange bibs 
  2. Distinguishing equipment from the pitch/other equipment, for example: 
    • Balls 
    • Cones 
    • Line markings 
    • Corner flags 
  3. Tactical training – distinguishing between team colours on magnetic boards 
  4. Classroom training 
    • Distinguishing between pen colours on whiteboards, e.g. between red and green or red and black 
    • Distinguishing information in graphics, e.g. following a specific player in TV footage replays 
    • Following coloured laser pointers 

Differentiating the colours of equipment

The problems kit clashes can create for colour blind players and match officials during matches are discussed in more detail in the Watching rugby section. 

Equipment, including line markings, flags, training bib colours, training cones/pancakes, post paddings, tackle bags and even the colour of the ball can also cause problems due to the challenges of distinguishing colours from each other (e.g. cones, training bibs) and from the colour of the pitch (e.g. cones, line markings). 

In addition to ensuring equipment can be distinguished easily so that training can be effective as possible, with some equipment it is also important to ensure it is highly visible and cannot be confused with the colour of grass in order to minimise the risk of injuries.

"I’ve had problems previously with visual or spatial awareness fitness work where there’s green grass and a series of cones on the grass. You’re in the middle, the coach shouts a colour [and] you have to bang that colour, quickly get to it and get back. It’s great when they [the cones] are blue or yellow, but when they’re red, orange or green cones on green grass you get ‘Wha are you doing? You’re going to the wrong colour’ from the coaches."
Dave Pearson, Former test referee
"I found out I was colour blind when I was about 15. I usually played in the forwards but around that time for a short period I was playing in the backs and I fancied myself as a kicker. I found with some of the kicking tees that when I was standing back to take a run up, I would struggle to see the exact position of the tee because it would look like the ball was levitating. I didn’t want to kick the plastic or step over it and when playing in a match I wouldn’t be able to choose a tee colour that I could see."
Luke W, Youth Player (19)

Lighting and weather conditions

Lighting and weather conditions can affect how colours are perceived, especially at a distance and under floodlights. World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont and former test referee Dave Pearson discuss challenges of floodlights and dull light on ability to differentiate colours at matches, while below Mike Blair discusses* a situation in an international game at Aberdeen’s ground (Pittodrie) in snowy conditions.

"I was maybe captain at the time, the game was almost in danger of being called off and they said, ‘We’ve managed to sweep most of the pitch, but we’ve had to paint the touch lines so that if a bit of snow does come down, you’ll be able to differentiate between white lines and snow.’ I asked ‘oh, what colour are you putting them?’ He said ‘red.’ I said, ‘that’s not very helpful.’ He said ‘oh, why not?’ I said ‘well, I can’t see red, it’s just a massive open pitch for me.’ We turned up and I was speaking to the groundsman just before we went out and he said ‘are you the one that’s caused these issues?’ I said ‘oh, sorry!’ He said ‘it’s the first game you’re going to have pink touch lines!’ It was brilliant!"
Mike Blair, Edinburgh Rugby head coach

Post-match analysis/ classroom training/ education

In tactical training, classroom sessions and post-match analysis sessions colour blind players might struggle to understand different pen colours on flip charts, magnet colours on tactics boards, following graphics used for post-match analysis and in seeing coloured laser pointers against many background colours. 

Mike Blair: “[With] analysis stuff we do after a game, we’d have a graph with maybe three different colours showing various ball carries, tackles, clear-outs in red, green or yellow, and I’d say, ‘You have three things but only two colours’ and I’d sit there shaking my head thinking how unprofessional they were, then I’d get corrected … ‘Mike, there are three colours in the chart’ but I couldn’t see them.”

Chris Paterson: "The other thing and you’re the same as we’ve spoken about this, it’s a nightmare! You know the laser pointer you get? Coaches and players are using the laser pointer and I can’t see the dot, I can’t see the red dot, [I’ve] got no idea where it is!”   

Mike Blair: "The amount of times I’ve been using it and pointing at the screen and I’ll go for three or four seconds and apologise ‘Sorry guys, the pen’s not working’ and they say, ‘It’s all over the screen!’ I can’t pick it up.”  

(from the Scottish Rugby Podcast)

Educational resources 

Similarly online, digital and printed educational resources often may have inaccessible elements which can mean information is difficult to understand. For more information on the impact of colour blindness in mainstream education refer to Colour Blind Awareness.  

Top tips when selecting training equipment

Inevitably, because rugby pitches and training grounds tend to be green grass, red and orange equipment will be an issue. While not a solution for all challenges, a simple place to start would be to avoid using red and orange against green. 

  • BibsChoosing the right combination of bib colours is extremely important as the only reason to wear bibs is to distinguish between teams. Apply the same rules to bib colours as to kit colours. The safest combinations are mid-blue v yellow or white. Bib colour combinations to avoid: 
    • Bright green v yellow or orange 
    • Orange v yellow 
    • Red v green 
    • Blue v purple v pink
  • Balls: Most rugby ball designs have a large percentage of white surface area and should not be an issue. Avoid single colour balls as these can be difficult to spot against grass and stands. 
  • Training cones: Avoid red, green, orange, pink, dark grey against grass/artificial pitches. These colours can all potentially ‘disappear’ against green and brown surfaces. The best colours to use are blue, white and bright yellow. 
  • Line markings: Usually the most appropriate line marking colour for grass or artificial green pitches is white. Some other colours such as yellow and light blue might be visible. Whether or not a colour can be seen by colour blind players depends upon the contrast between the line colour and the pitch colour. Lighting can also influence the contrast between line markings and the pitch. World Rugby now strongly recommends that red line markings are not used on green surfaces. For more information on coloured line markings and artificial pitches refer to Further guidance and resources. 
  • ‘Classroom’ training and other educational resourcesUsing different colours on a whiteboard or coloured graphics can also cause confusion. Use blue or black pens against white surfaces as first-choice colours, avoid red pens in contrast to black/green/orange. If you need to use several colours try to distinguish between the colours in other ways, for example using shapes, underlining, dotted lines, cross hatching, circling, etc. Avoid coloured laser pointers, use a mouse arrow or similar instead. Select tactics boards with white surfaces and as well as colours, use different shapes for different teams. Avoid green ‘pitch’ backgrounds and red and orange magnets. 
"‘You go over there on the red pitch with the other group’. We’ve got a brand new, very expensive 4G pitch. It still smells new, it’s not muddy. I’m coaching our newly-created girls’ section. My fellow coach, let’s call him Jack, is running this part of the session. The problem is that I can’t see a red pitch at all, let alone take the girls to stand on it! I ask them. They can see it. One in 12 men and one in 200 women will join me in not being able to see the pitch markings. Rugby is 15-a-side. Every men’s or boys’ team will have at least one colour blind player and we’ve spent thousands [of pounds] on a pitch which has various colour markings, some of which eight per cent of the club’s male members can’t see. We’ve got new bibs too. They are light green and orange. I can’t tell the difference between them much of the time, especially when the light is variable. We train under lights, on muddy pitches every week! When I coach, I only use one team in bibs, the others play in shirts. It’s the only way that I can tell who’s who!"
Simon Cole, Lifelong rugby fan/part-time girls' rugby grassroots coach

Always assume there will be at least one colour blind person in each team. In all-female teams there may not be a player with colour blindness in your team but there could be one in your opponents’ team, so it is still important to take colour blindness into account in the women’s game and adopt the same inclusive techniques for all players.

Colour blindness can affect everyone in your team because if colour blind players are not properly supported then they cannot perform to their best. This may be to the detriment of the performance of the team as a whole. Also, all players can be at risk of injury where team kit colours clash because colour blind players can inadvertently make mistakes, for example when making tackles.

"I would often judge the offside wrong – because you don’t focus on the faces. I could easily think I’d got one of my teammates in front of me and I was onside then find I was in an offside position. Commentators will mock someone who crosses the line into an illegal position, but I’ve had that problem myself caused by my colour blindness."
Luke W, Youth player (19)

Avoiding potential kit clashes is essential due to the risk of injury to players, for example in a line-break situation where a colour blind player may run for what they believe to be a gap but finds themselves isolated and unexpectedly being tackled.

Effective strategies when coaching players with CVD

  • Ensure kits colours for matches are not ‘colour blind’ kit clashes 
  • In training use blue v yellow or white bibs as first choice, avoid combinations of red, green, yellow and orange 
  • Ensure line markings are white or yellow as first choice, avoid red 
  • Avoid orange and red training cones and equipment against grass 
  • In tactical training use blue v white or yellow magnets  
  • When using coloured pens on flip charts and white boards, distinguish between teams using different shapes for opposing teams, e.g. triangles v circles