Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Little giant.


I haven't even really been talking about the possibility of this happening because I was so incredibly sure that I wasn't going to make it. I'm so grateful to be a part of the team; there's nothing better than being able to be a part of super competitive rugby! I'm excited to be hit by girls three times my size! I can't wait for even the practice that's coming up in three weeks for this team. But also, three weeks is not a long time away. I have to get into shape fast!! I can't even imagine the amount of qualitative experience this is going to give me. Experience isn't something that you can practice or replace with anything else, and at the same time it's one of the most helpful and useful tools in rugby. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Size doesn't matter.

What a phenomenal weekend of rugby! On Saturday, the team drove 5 hours together to play in a tournament with two other teams. Normally during this time of year we're not really into fantastic weather yet, but we were given blue skies and mid 60s weather with a little bit of a breeze, the perfect weather for rugby. In the morning I tried not to eat a lot, I had a bagel but didn't finish it and a half a cup of coffee. I wanted to be absolutely sure that everything I ate would be digested before playing our two games, so I ate everything I wanted to eat before rugby at 5:30am when we were gearing up to leave. I think I kind of like playing rugby more so on an empty stomach; I feel a little lighter and a little swifter, nothing feels like it's weighing me down.
We won our first game and I'm really glad we did because it was certainly a pick me up that the team needed. I played flanker for most of the game, which I expected because of the minimal feedback I got when I asked to play scrumhalf. But of course I thoroughly enjoyed playing flanker anyway; I would say that I enjoy playing flanker and scrumhalf about the same but for different reasons. I think that as my confidence is growing, I am starting to run the ball harder. I scored two tris in the first game which is EXTREMELY rare for me, because before those two I had only scored one in my entire rugby career. And I scored both at flanker, which is not usually a scoring position. The way I scored both of the tris was also an accomplishment; for the first one, I ran the ball off a banger on about the 5 meter line into three girls playing defense on the goal line. I had to push my way through three tacklers and just barely get the ball to touch the ground. I don't think that is something I normally would have done or even tried to do in the past! The second tri I am really proud of because it involved quick decision making. One of our girls ran the ball and got tackled, but when she went to the ground the ball ended up underneath her. I was preparing to ruck over the ball but saw the other two defenders hesitating to ruck because they couldn't find the ball. When the ball was visible, still no one moved, so I immediately grabbed the ball and dove head first into the tri zone!
But enough about what I did in the game, our whole team played so well together. I really am pleasantly surprised because of how hard it has been to get people to come to practices and such. But I can tell that the tight bonds that exist between us all are still alive and thriving, and it's a major reason why we were so successful. Our pack was so incredibly phenomenal. Our rucks were tough and an absolute powerhouse. Our bangers were crisp and clean and for the most part we seemed pretty organized. Our scrums were also really dominating, but a major thing we need to work on are lineouts. We lost a ton of them to either jumpers not catching the ball, not straight throws (sometimes just a dumb ref's fault), or just sloppy play right afterwards. We have the potential to be great at line outs but we just need to tweak and perfect some things. What's funny is our offloading in the games was a strength and a weakness at the same time. When it was a strength was when we went into tackle and someone was right on our hip to receive a pass, those cases were mostly successful. But when it was ugly, it was uh-gly! I don't know where a large portion of our team got into the habit of throwing passes literally over their heads without looking behind them. It looks like we're throwing out garbage and we don't care where it goes! Those passes really were disgusting, and they've gotta stop, but obviously at times where we didn't make those ridiculous passes we showed how affective our offloading really can be. Our defense was also pretty good considering that we didn't let up any tris in the first game and only led up two in the second game to a team that has always been pretty tough to beat. Overall, I am very satisfied with the way our team did, and I am very optimistic and hopeful for the future.
I am also seeing little developments in myself that I am really happy about. But over this weekend, I think that many of the developments I had were much more psychological than physical, which are just as important. Physical developments are actually probably easier for me than psychological, so this was a big step in the right direction. I tried hard to be a leader and be positive at the same time, and one of the all star coaches that came to watch us even commented on both of those things after our two games! It's really great to realize that I have this inside of me, and I think that this is why rugby is such a great sport. It can bring out the leader and the best qualities in absolutely anyone. Someone could think they're not good at anything and don't have anything to be proud of, and then play one rugby game and realize the true inner strength they contain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bam! feels so good to be yet again rugby sore. We finally got to get a practice outside today and it was a pretty good practice. I'm sure if my ankles weren't in such excruciating pain I would probably complain about how we didn't run that much. But we had two new girls at practice, and I am really really happy with their slow but steady progress. Finally we got into some tackling, something that I was seriously concerned about because none of the new girls have done any tackling before today. Obviously no one could go into a rugby game without knowing anything about tackling or getting hit! But now I am really relieved that they have been at least broken in a little to the idea and basics of tackling and falling. Now I think that the girls will be able to play at least B side in our tournament this coming weekend, which is a really nice feeling because I want them to get into the experience of playing a game as soon as possible. 
But on a more serious note, my ankle was unbearable today at the gym. I went before practice because I have accepted the fact that we are not going to be doing the amounts of running that I would like to and not at the speed I need to anymore. So now I have to make up for it on my own at the gym, and today I did speed intervals. I would go a minute at a light jog and then a minute at a decent sprint pace (probably not all out, but still pretty fast). I think I got about 6 or 7 speed intervals done, and then my ankle couldn't take it anymore. I had to stop the treadmill immediately and I limped all the way back home. Even on our warm up run, which was not that fast (well, I didn't think it was but some others did I guess), I ended up limping for a little bit after. I took off three days of running before today, so I don't know why my ankle is absolutely dying! And, it's the ankle that I have in a brace! My other ankle started to hurt a lot recently as well, so today I ordered another ankle brace for that one too. I hope that it comes before our tournament this weekend because I want to play really well. 
I emailed the coach and other officers asking them if I could play some scrumhalf this weekend, and I'm really not happy with the response. They told me (and constantly told me before, and this was apparently why they didn't want me to play scrumhalf in the fall) that they might vitally need me at flanker, but I'm starting to believe that it may not be true. Are they making up excuses for me to not play scrumhalf? I feel like we have a bunch of flankers; before every game I still get super nervous about how much playing time I'm going to end up getting (even though I started and played the entire game for every game in the fall, and I don't only feel nervous because of the number of flankers we have but for many other reasons too...that's a whole other story, haa....). At the same time, the team is always complaining about the lack of back players we have on the team. Our current scrumhalf used to be a back, so I don't understand why it would be such a big deal to put her at a back position, me at scrumhalf, and one of our other flankers in my least for a little bit?! I don't understand why people would be so opposed to the idea of me playing scrumhalf; I'm a decent runner (I think!), I've practiced a ton of passing and kicking, and I have definitely developed a voice and I'm not afraid to communicate on the field anymore. When I had to go in for a half of a game because our regular scrumhalf got hurt, I got so much good feedback about how I played and I thought I played it pretty well for never having been able to practice it at practices and being thrown into the position in a game. I don't know, I'm not really sure what more I can do at this point. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chalk Talk.

This Saturday we were supposed to have rugby practice, but the weather was to the point of being unbearable even for ruggers (yeah...that means it had to be pretty bad). I think if we had more permission and control over the practice fields we could have played, but we just would have been in huge trouble for tearing up the fields with our cleats or sneakers because of how muddy the turf was. 
So instead, we had a chalk talk. Although it seemed a little amateur and I think it would have been way more beneficial for new players, it did honestly provoke some thought in me. Like the big rugby practice I went to a few weeks ago, it covered a ton of things I already knew but sometimes unconsciously don't remember in a game situation. So I think these things are good to remember and review on a regular basis, so they stick during game time. I want to answer some of the questions on my own, so I can really give a more elaborate and personal answer than the one worded responses we were giving at the chalk talk:

What is Rugby?
Rugby is a family (some people laughed at me when I said that even though I was completely serious). It is a sport that brings out the inner personal strength, leader, and team player in everyone. It's a sport that makes everyone who plays it feel special and important because every person involved in a rugby team on and off the field matters. There are no egos in (good) rugby, and everyone looks out for one another (hence, one reason why it's like a family). It's also a culture and a lifestyle; once you get engulfed and into the ways of rugby you can never leave it. The people and the sport are incredibly addicting. It welcomes every single individual with open arms. Unlike other sports that require specific body types or a cookie cutter requirement of a human being to enjoy and be involved in the sport, rugby takes any individual with a huge heart and a huge amount of effort. It's a sport that pushes your every limit for the entire 80 minutes of play in a game. It can cause you to realize the true potential of physical and mental strength you never even knew you could possibly have. And in rugby, you're never alone :)

Why is rugby in Europe so much better than rugby in the United States? it necessarily better? My friend is actually studying abroad in Ireland right now and playing rugby for their women's team, and they apparently LOVE her and think she is phenomenal at rugby (which isn't a shocker, but she's from the United States and wasn't necessarily worse than them...or I wouldn't imagine her being worse because she's so good!). I guess I'm not one to fully answer this question because I have unfortunately not watched much professional rugby around the world nor learned much about the history of rugby around the world. But if I were to make an educated guess I would think that at least one reason why rugby seems to be better (or is better) in Europe is simply because it is more popular in those countries. I would think that in those countries where it is so popular, they probably have more athletes who play the sport, live it, and absolutely love it. And this has also been occurring in these countries for years and years, a milestone more than the United States where rugby is still relatively new. Not to say that the players who play in the United States don't play, live, and love rugby (I'm sure myself and many others here in the States are prime examples of them), but I'm guessing that there are countries who have a much larger population of these players and begin developing these players at an extremely young age. This leads into another general reason why rugby in the United States might not be as good as the rugby in Europe; it is certainly not a generally played sport at a young age. There are hardly any high school teams (until college not only did I barely know what rugby was, but I had no idea it existed for women) and virtually no training or playing for any age younger than that. A major component of being good at rugby is having experience in playing the game. That is why the younger you start the better. I wish every day that I was able to begin playing rugby at a younger age because I already feel like I have an incredible amount to catch up on!

How do you win a rugby game?
I think the number one way to win a rugby game is to perform every single play and act in the sport as a team. No one should ever be doing anything by themselves, whether it is running the ball, rucking, firing on defense, etc. Also, a major component of winning games is ball possession. This includes good rucking, good defense, and continuous play when on offense. As the team I play on has learned the hard way, you can play good defense all day but if you don't maintain ball possession in the end then it doesn't even mean anything. We would hold a team at the tri line forever, but because we could never seem to get our own ball possession it didn't even matter. Communication in a team is also vital. It's connected to the idea that you win games by doing things as a team, but that cannot occur without communication. Every single person on the field has to be consistently talking with one other through giving direction and assisting one another. I think the more connected a team is in every little thing that happens on a field, the more things are going to turn out right for them. It builds trust in a team (also necessary), so that more plays can work and more successful defense can occur. You also win a rugby game by fully being focused and 100% prepared for anything during the entire 80 minutes of a match. Endurance physically and mentally comes in here; there is no time for slacking or laying off in rugby no matter how much you're winning by. And this leads into one of the most important factors to winning a game: fitness. I think the most fit rugby team is almost always the team that comes out on top. There is no substitution, no excuse, and no reason why every rugby team shouldn't be fit. But the ones that pay attention to it the most and utilize it as a weapon as much as possible will be more successful, in my opinion. 

What are your goals for the upcoming season?
(Even though it's already almost halfway through the season...but I won't even get into that...) I would like to reach my highest potential as a player possible in order to benefit the team. I would like to be able to support absolutely anyone when they need it, and that is why I work so hard on my fitness. I want to always be able to do my job to the greatest ability I can, but I would also like to be able to help anyone when they make any sort of mistake. If someone misses a tackle and the person is on a breakaway, I want to be able to hunt that person down and annihilate them before scoring a tri so the person on our team doesn't feel bad about missing the tackle. I want to be able to support anyone when they're making a good run on offense; I would never want anyone to be penalized or not receive the benefit of making a breakaway just because they get tackled by someone and the other team ends up with the ball from no one supporting them (I think that's always been something that absolutely kills me, watching someone make such a sweet play and then having to lose the gain because the rest of the team decided to take a break or couldn't keep up). Basically, I want to aid the team as much as I possibly can. I think that a major way I could aid the team more is by working on speaking up more. I would like to play scrumhalf, so obviously a loud voice is mandatory, but I know that in general speaking up and talking more really helps the team (and it's an important life skill to have, ha). I also really hope that I can bring this team together, and cause people to feel a loving family bond that I have always had in my heart for this team. 

I wish I could remember the other questions, but I'm a tad exhausted at the moment. But on a final note, I received such a wonderful rugby compliment today and I just have to say how much it truly meant to me. It's been tough for me to see my own progress this season not just because we've only played in one tournament and practices have been dismal, but everything that has been going on with the team has been really degrading. Whenever someone doesn't want to come to practice or when things don't work out with the rugby team, I take it as a personal blow. I consider these people my friends, and I consider rugby like hanging out because I enjoy it so much (well, it's fun and relaxing and like free time for me because I love it so much....but I obviously don't slack off and not work hard). 
But anyways, today I went to the Saint Patrick's Day parade held downtown, and tons of people come to it. We staked out a spot that ended up being next to some women on the city's women's rugby team, so here and there we chatted with them. One of the women was talking about how she had nicknames on her college team and a different team she played on, but never on the team she plays here. So I told her I only had one nickname, which is Big Blue, and she said, "Big Blue....that sounds really familiar....hold on, let me think about it....oh! You went to the rugby tryouts, didn't you?" and I told her that I did and she said, "Oh I've heard of you! You did a good job, a really really good job." And it was the best thing to hear. There was even one time where my friend jokingly told me I was bad at rugby, and I haven't been able to get the words out of my head since. But hearing that compliment today really meant a lot to me. I don't even know if she meant it as much as it meant to me, or if she was even remembering the right person, but even the thought of being good at rugby gives me hope.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And it's not just a game.

I don't think I am really a fan of the collectivistic running our team seems to be so eager to start a trend of now. First of all, we never have practices and no one follows the work out schedule I made, so any time we're doing something rugby related together is very valuable. Second, in rugby everyone is not supposed to run the same pace. Ideally that is a good thought, that everyone on the team can run at a hard and fast pace, but because rugby is a sport for so many different diverse people that pace varies from person to person. That's why the sport has different positions in the first place; the flankers and the scrumhalf along with other positions have their spot specifically because they are fast sprinters. There are other positions though that require other skills. I personally play flanker and I am dying to play scrumhalf, so obviously my work out plan requires me to work on my own personal level of speed and endurance. That is not necessarily going to be the same level as other positions on the team. 
I like to push myself to run as fast as I can, and I like to keep track of every run I go on by timing it to see my averages and my progress. But running as a team seems to unfortunately hold me back by a ton, and it seems to be hurting me. I don't want to lose what I've been trying to work for. I would believe that team running would be beneficial if it was just a warm up or if we did something during the run that caused us to bond together, such as talking with one another or passing a ball around. But we didn't do any of that on our team run because everyone else was still extremely tired and unable to do anything else. I personally felt like I was taking a walk in the park, and when we were done with the almost 2 mile run I felt like I had done absolutely nothing. I wasn't breathing hard in the least bit when other people felt like they were dying. As much as it's not fair to force someone to run harder than they may be able to or want to, I think it's just as much not fair to make someone slow down for no reason and not do their best. The way I think team runs should be is that people should run at their own personal best pace, and work from there to get to their own highest potential. So now, I have to go on my own runs first at my own pace to make sure I can keep progressing, and then I have to go back and do the team run. It's tough because I am extremely busy every single day, and it's hard for me to find the time to regularly do this. 
It's very important to me to do my best in rugby, and it's not just to win or to be the best or to look good or anything like that. It's extremely personal. I am naturally a person that does not speak up as often as I'd like to. I try to be a very agreeable person and make everyone around me happy and smiling. So I seem to be very soft and light, which for the most part I am. I am a very happy, loving, and friendly person by nature. But the mistake that so many people make is that they believe I am weak or stupid. And so-many-people make this mistake all-the-time.
Rugby is one of the only places where I can quiet all those thoughts. It is one of the only places where I am able to speak up for myself (not literally, but in the form of play) and actually control certain aspects that are uncontrollable in my daily life. I bring all of my voice and strength to every rugby practice and rugby game that some people do not realize exist inside of me. In rugby I can let out in such a healthy way all of the aggression and frustration I experience in life and constantly suppress on a daily basis. I always come out of rugby feeling fresh and anew, feeling like I can handle anything else life has to offer me with a smile on my face because I was able to make a hard tackle or run the ball hard or somehow push all my limits in order to get the job done. Rugby is like therapy for me, a medicine that heals any sort of pain I feel in life (and I mean that in the emotional pain sense....obviously not the physical pain, ha!) and fulfills any sort of mental and physical necessity I am missing. And I hope that everyone else who plays rugby and loves the sport feels the same way. I wish that everyone on my team felt the same way so they would understand more where I'm coming from sometimes when I want to push myself to do my best. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sometimes it feels like the world's on my shoulders.

I really hope that the email I sent out to the team helped. This is what it said:

I just wanted to address how extremely disappointed I am in the team right now. I'm not really mad....but I'm more so extremely sad and upset. 

Obviously, it's not mandatory to play rugby and when you're on the team you're obviously not forced to go to practices, games, and other work outs or events. But I guess I just really thought that people would WANT to go to these things out of the sheer desire to have fun and work hard. I have always thought of us as such a knit tight family, a team bond like no other. I absolutely refuse to believe that this team doesn't embody the love, the ambition, and the skill that Canisius Women's Rugby always has had for rugby and all the other people on the team. But right now, I am just so incredibly disheartened. 

At the rugby camp today, literally only 5 people (including myself) came. I sent out an email earlier this week saying how fantastic it would be to make it to this rugby camp that was held only 15 minutes away from us (and it really was phenomenal). I also stated in that email for everyone to please email me back about whether you were coming or not. I literally got ZERO emails. Not one. And this is mainly what I'm upset about. 

I mean obviously people are busy and can't make every single thing we have for rugby, but if you cannot make something TELL ME OR A DIFFERENT OFFICER IF YOU CAN'T AND WHY. I talked to some people in person or through text or something, but there were some people, A LOT of people, that literally fell off the face of the Earth and did not tell me a single thing. Many of you....I have absolutely no idea where you were today. 

It was extremely embarrassing to show up to a camp with only 5 girls from a school 15 minutes away while schools drove hours in ridiculous snow conditions to have WAY more players go to the camp. We only have 2 practices scheduled for the rest of the semester (one already done), so any sort of 
time we can get to play rugby somewhere should be considered an absolute blessing....especially one that is local! And the camp was in no way overly strenuous, we were in a gym and had such a super great time. It wasn't so much about fitness as it was learning about different skills, and the coaches there were phenomenal in breaking every little thing down for you, helping every single person to their specific needs, and making sure every question and issue was attended to full heartedly. For people old and new to rugby, this was seriously a treat to attend. 

I took notes on a paper towel during the camp (seriously) of things that were reviewed and new points that sometimes people forget and need to remember while playing rugby. I typed them up and attached them to this email. Please read them and just keep them in the back of your brain when you're playing! 

Going to these things should not be considered a chore or something that you haaaaaave to go to, you should WANT to go to it. No one can make you do any of this, but instead you should WANT to. We're all such good friends, and we all love each other and always have a blast when we're together that we should be super excited to play a sport we love with the people we love! How can it get any better than that?! 

So to just finish this off, please just try and think about how much you truly love rugby and the people on this team. Remember how much fun we have, and how fulfilling it always is to either finish a practice together, learn something new, make a good move, achieve a personal goal, have a team behind you and supporting you when you need it, and all the other things you have loved and enjoyed about this team. Do not take it for granted, and please keep it all alive with your own personal effort, love, and ambition. 

Love you all, but I am still incredibly sad. 

Big Blue 

So we had another practice after the email was sent out, and there were 10 people that showed up. I mean, it's not a lot, but it's more than 5 and at least it's enough to run a back line and do some plays or something. This Saturday, we had a practice at Delaware Park, and although it was just the officers and one other person, a new girl came which was very exciting! We ran 3 miles, and then we did a little passing and practiced a few line outs. I wish we could've done more though; I was even prepared when I got the infamous question from people, "What would you want to practice? I can't think of any drills we could do." I had a bunch of drills lined up for them and I was ready to do them. Oh well, one step at a time I guess. I just wish we could take those steps a little faster!