School term is only a matter of days away. Soon, all the youngsters will be back in class, corralled against their wishes so that us adults can have a few spare hours of peace between their whinging about going to school in the morning and coming home like a bull in a china shop in the afternoon.
Start of term is also when the sports teachers at schools dust off the plastic cones, wash the uniforms, pump up the ball and stick the whistle through the dishwasher because ladies and gentlemen, parents of all the ages, that time of scraped knees, blood noses and incandescent rage is closing in again. It’s…..school sports sign-up time!
I still forget how annoying it must have been for my parents, and especially my dad, to have to drag me along to some of the games and stand out in the rain while I ineffectually took to the field and did my best to keep up. How hard it also must have been for him to see me playing AFL instead of the sport he grew up with and the sport I should have been playing. Even me playing at school at lunch-time didn’t end well for them (an incident ending with my left leg in a cast).
Thankfully, for them mostly, I gave up school sports somewhat. I played a bit outside of school. Kanga cricket here and there when I was about 6 or 7 (I was more dangerous with a bat to other people rather than to the ball), and I played more cricket on Saturdays in high school and after I left school, but never took it seriously. Also played a bit of volleyball (despite my abysmal height for the game), represented my school, but it was never something I was involved with heavily. I never quite understood why sport was played so intensely. Then I came back to playing the sport that had been ingrained in me since I was a kid.
Rugby re-awoke that fire and passion. But apart from wishing I had played it all through my younger days in order to be better at it and have more vision as a player on the pitch, I wish I had played it for the amazing qualities it can give a kid and to a young person.
I have no idea whether it’s a battle in a parent’s mind about what sport their child should play, or whether they let the child choose for themselves. I know parents who have made their child take part in netball or swimming because that’s what they did and it’s what they want their kids to do, but I also know that my parents never forced me to participate in a sport, maybe which in hindsight they ought to have done?
At any rate, coming to the rugby field relatively late for a new, eager player, when taking to the field with some of the younger guys and I see their innate sense of tactics and movement, it makes me feel somewhat lethargic and stupid. All the knowledge a player has of the game, along with the desire to play it hard and spectacularly well, comes in the younger years in the age grades.
Which brings me to the crux of my article: get your kids to play rugby. It’s too rough? Buy them headgear, get them a custom mouthguard, teach them to run faster than all the other kids, whatever. You don’t have the time? Get another parent to pick your kid up to and from training. Or get another, older sibling to do it. If you have multiple kids, you can always use them as unpaid help.
Ok, all that was maybe a bit erratic and over-the-top. But with all due gravity, I can’t imagine a better sport for kids to be playing than rugby. Just from what I have learned in the past year I am indebted to the sport for life.
Rugby teaches humility and confidence at the same time. It teaches you that whatever your own strengths, your opposite number will do his best to counter them, or he may be better at them than you are. If you cannot beat him, it forces you to accept that, but also to try again and again to get around him and beat him using only your belief in yourself and your abilities.
Rugby teaches vision, intelligence, and cunning. It teaches that strength alone is not enough to dominate a physical encounter, that when playing any situation either in the game or outside of it, you need to play intelligently to find a crack in the defense and open them up just at the right moment. It teaches that sometimes a side-step or swerve is a better option than using purely physical strength to run over your opponent Lomu-style.
Finally, rugby teaches camaraderie and respect. It teaches you not only how to work as a team player and your place within the team, but it gives you a chance to be a part of a group as close as brothers and to find your place within it. It teaches you to respect not only your team-mates but the opposition (whether players or supporters) and how hard they battle as well. It instills a sense of value as your team-mates rely on you, but also trust as you rely on them as well.
Although I can’t actually go out and slap some boots on your kids’ feet and show them how to spiral pass, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to take my kids (when I have them) out someday and show them how to side-step and flick pass.
Not only does having kids involved in the game give them the values which we want to see in them all along, but it supports our clubs and our game! Numbers of kids wanting to play rugby has seen a dramatic increase in my club in the past few years and it’s great to go along to a home game on family days and see the little kids run around and having great fun with their smaller version of the game. It shows just how important the clubs are to the community and how much of a place they are for families to be at and be a part of. The clubs are more than just sporting clubs; they’re also social clubs.
Rugby is so much more than just a brutes running into one another. It’s so nuanced in it’s play and allows for so much expression and movement that I can’t imagine not allowing my kids to play or stopping anyone elses. From all that rugby has taught me I think we would find our kids better prepared for all the harsh realities of life if those values of strength, intelligence, integrity and respect were given to them through our great game.
*Heading into his second year as a player for Palmyra Rugby Union Club in Perth, this weekly blog series is an insight into a young, and new, player’s mind. Names have been omitted for writer’s own safety during tackling drills.