For the Players
For the game

Head Over Heart

November 20th, 2012

Following a number of repeated concussions, former RPA Player Rep and Leeds Carnegie lock, Jonathan Pendlebury, was this summer forced to retire from professional rugby on medical advice.

He is currently working towards an RFU L3 Coaching Award and, with the help of an education grant from Restart, he is also studying for a Sports Coaching & Development Degree. In this interview, Jonathan talks about how he came to terms with his forced retirement and what the future holds.

How hard was it making the decision to retire from professional rugby?

It was and it wasn’t. I desperately wanted to play, but I knew with the amount of concussions I’d suffered and from advice I’d been given that my future health was at serious risk, so there was no decision to be made in the end, I knew I had to retire.

Was it something you’d known would happen or did it come as a surprise?

I think all players know retirement is going to come at some point, I just hoped it wouldn’t come as soon as it did. I got a huge knock on my head in the final game of the season, the doctor came on to the field and I told him I was fine, then at half-time I began feeling sick and I was replaced. It was after that game the doctor said he wanted to see me in his office first thing the next morning; I knew exactly what he was going to say.

You’ve now taken on the role of Assistant Academy Manager at Leeds, how did that job come about?

Last season, as part of my playing contract, I had an involvement with the academy, taking sessions when I could and mentoring players. Chris Gibson (Leeds Director of Rugby) was aware of my situation and, after discussions with the team doctor, he offered me the chance to come on board full-time.

How have you found the transition from playing to coaching?

It’s very different; I’m looking after 18-25 year old lads and coaching them through various sessions, but when you’re playing you just think about your individual role within a team. As a player everything is planned out for you, but now my day doesn’t have that level of structure, which is a big change.

How has retirement impacted on you personally?

It’s been very hard, I’m still coming to terms with it and I obviously feel it a lot more now the season has started. I miss training every day and playing on a weekend, but I definitely think it would have been a lot harder if I wasn’t still involved in rugby. I’m lucky; some lads don’t have anything to move on to and don’t have a focus, so I’m extremely fortunate in that sense.

Your retirement was based on medical advice, how aware do you think players and clubs are of the dangers of repeated concussions?

In all honesty I don’t think they are. You hear stories of coaches asking: “Is he fit? Can you get him fit for the weekend?” and that’s because they don’t fully understand the condition. We just don’t know enough about concussion or the long-term effects. I knew it was a problem for me, and some of the things I’ve seen and read have frightened me. To be honest, that’s the only time I’ve been worried about coming back from an injury. We just need to know more about it and how it will affect players in the future.