Friday, January 31, 2014

Mission Accomplished?

Yeesh. I didn't get one single millisecond to write on the blog during the trip from how busy we were!...and the fact that the hotel's wifi was virtually impossible to figure out also added to it.

I don't even know where to BEGIN!!! My goodness what an amazing experience. So many thoughts and emotions!
Here's a start:
I am thoroughly able to admit that I was/am by far the WORST player on our team.

...and in that fact right there there lies my advantage and strength.
Although I was kind of expecting to be out of my league, I wasn't expecting to be that bad (ha ha)....I was even called out on dropping passes in kangaroo court, which was a little embarrassing but I wasn't even mad or upset about it because it's TRUE! After the first practice we had together, I was so ashamed of myself that it was pretty difficult to fight back tears. I felt like packing my bags and running away, thinking "WHO AM I KIDDING?!?!?!!?"
But obviously there's absolutely no way that would have ever happened.
This was a test of combating all the negative self talk that I naturally gravitate towards, constantly bashing myself and telling myself that I'm not doing enough or I'm not good enough. After I got out the cry baby thoughts in me, I dedicated myself to paying as close attention to everything around me as possible. There was something new to learn in every interaction of rugby I experienced!
The best way to get better is by playing with people who are better than you.
Everyone raised the bar for me, and gave me a baseline of where I'm at skills and fitness wise to work off of (which is PRETTY DAMN LOW!). I was also pretty emotional at the beginning of the trip when it was sinking in how much I really truly sucked because I couldn't help thinking about everything I sacrificed and worked for in preparation for this tournament. I can honestly say it was really-fucking-hard to come home from 10 hour work days around midnight and still have to put in a full rugby workout. Then the soreness would continue throughout my work day, making me more and more tired, and it just turned into a vicious cycle of exhaustion...and then I randomly found out I have asthma....BLAH BLAH BLAH DOESN'T MATTER AT THIS POINT. spilled milk.
I think a) I started this dedication too late and b) it simply just-wasn't-enough ( I contradicting what I just said above about negative self talk?).

I did carry a notebook around like I said I would, but once again we were all so busy that I rarely found a moment to write down everything I wanted to. I am glad though that I was able to scratch out a few notes here and there.

It's very interesting to look back on the post I wrote before this one (when I was on the plane going to Vegas) and notice how much of what I read about and wrote about played out right in front of my face during practices and tournaments. I very highly underestimated the difference between 7s and 15s - they could practically be two different sports! But both of them are so amazing and unique in their own ways. I think there are things about 7s that I like better than 15s, and vice versa:

I love how fast paced 7s is, which is weird to say as something I like in 7s better than 15s since the game of 15s is also very fast paced. 7s is so fast that I think the extremely high pace of play is what sometimes makes those seemingly short 7 minutes per half feel like an eternity! But the thought processes behind every little step you take on the field during a 7s game is fascinating. The emphasis is definitely put on skill and utilizing everyone on the team to somehow or another break through the defense. Although obviously many breakaways happen on offense, I would say most of the time it seems that offensive tactics in 7s are heavily reliant on utilizing every player on the team so that you can gain access to every possible inch of space on the field. I also like how much 7s capitalizes on using skills of spatial awareness, passing/offloading, one-on-one tackling, and looking for gaps (can also be categorized with spatial awareness I guess). My scrumhalf experience in 15s was useful for passing and offloading, but many of the other skills utilized in 7s were very foreign to me from my lack of experience in the back line and primary experience as a forward. I think the more I play 7s though the more I will enhance my versatility as a player in general. Being able to fully switch between playing 7s and playing 15s will be a true testament to being able to play rugby.

On the other end of the scale though, I missed the higher amount of impact and physical aspect of 15s. This is probably my forward experience talking, but I think in general 15s involves more going into contact and tackling. In 7s many times you try to avoid going into contact in order to get a faster pass off and move the ball out to an open space quickly (I struggled very much with this). I also think that 15s allows players to capitalize more on their own personal strengths since there seems to be more of a variety of positions in general. In the USA Rugby refereeing sevens handbook it says, "Every sevens player is essentially playing the same position." I think that alone is what can make 7s so difficult for many rugby players. I'm also a huge fan of rucking (see the forward coming out in me?); it was very hard not to get sucked into a ruck during 7s since it only requires one person MAX (or no one at all!) to enter a ruck.

Here are some more specific notes about 7s that I took from practices/games during select few times in Vegas:

  • On offense, communication is key. Players should be in an "arrowhead" formation so that players are steep enough to receive a pass at full speed and also in support of the ball carrier. Here's a good visual of this that I found from the Better Rugby Coaching website:
  • A play on offense used off of a scrum called the "3 channel" involves utilizing the weak side prop instead of the hooker for ball possession. When the ball is entered into the scrum, the weak side prop hooks the ball to the other side for the scrumhalf to pick and go. This is usually only done when it seems that the scrumhalf is able to beat the opposing scrumhalf to the ball (or else obviously this could screw the offense over). It is also important for the weak side prop to keep the ball inside the scrum/inside her/his legs so that the offensive scrumhalf can have more of an ability to play the ball instead of the opposing scrumhalf.
  • A useful pass on offense is when a player is able to get a pop pass off of a tackle. It's very handy since the player has already drawn in a defender and left more of a possibility for a gap in the field. Getting this off right definitely involves a lot of communication to ensure that it's done at the right time and with a player there to support it. This can also create a gap on either side of the tackled player since many defenders often gravitate outside to other players that the ball could be passed to, thus leaving a wide open channel for someone to plow through off of a pop pass (pretty much like a banger/crash ball).
  • After passing to another teammate it is essential to FOLLOW the teammate by about 7 meters in order to stay in support and be prepared to receive another quick pass if needed. Many times after passing the ball this doesn't occur and leaves that player virtually useless on offense since they will be in front of the ball possession can potentially cause a forward pass. Especially in 7s, offense changes directions very quickly.
  • The jockey style defense in sevens involves shepherding the offense into a corner where they are limited on their options to offload and move forward. Defenders should gravitate/push the offense over to the sideline in the direction that the ball is being passed, almost avoiding contact. The defenders on the strong side/in the direction that the ball is being passed should set up in a steep formation that brings the offense out to the sideline. The three defenders that are on the weak side/away from ball play should set up in a flat line.
This isn't the greatest of visuals depicting a jockey style defense, but it does show the angle that the defenders set themselves up in to direct offense's ball play into the sideline, hence where the ruck occurs in the picture. I would almost say that the "attacking end" of the diagram shows a jockey defense a little better. Normally the defenders on the weak side would match up with those weak side offenders in a flat line.
  • On defense, there must ALWAYS be a player in the fullback/sweeper position. This position is very important for a jockey style defense to be successful because they can close off the sideline for an offender to break through. It cuts off the offense from two different angles, so the sweeper can prevent the offender from making a breakaway and the angled defender can prevent a quick pass.
  • When defending off of a scrum, the hooker should become the sweeper. The ball usually goes out to the offense quickly so the players in the scrum can potentially become on the weak side, thus needing to designate someone to take the sweeper position.
.......and ice baths are one of the biggest love/hate experiences a rugger can have:

Rugby doesn't take a vacation or a break - every minute of every day can contribute somehow or another to improving your rugby game. And I had to question myself a lot if I felt like I could put in that level of dedication and if I wanted to. There were sometimes where I thought, "...maybe it isn't worth it....maybe I'm not strong enough...." but now after everything is said and done and I'm back into the real world, I couldn't be more sure about anything else in the world. It IS worth it.
Although I'm not the biggest, nor the fastest, nor the strongest, nor the "est" of anything at all (bahaha), I will never ever ever ever give up. I'll get knocked on my ass a hundred times, drop a thousand passes, miss a kajillion tackles, but I'll still get myself back up and TRY AGAIN. EVERY TIME. I can have people from all over telling me it's not plausible, that there's no way I can do it nor do I have the ability to accomplish my rugby goals, but I will push on. No matter what. I'll be ramming into all of these road blocks over and over and over again until finally I break through.
I keep telling myself something my sister told me when I was beyond exhaustion trying to train for Vegas: "You have a lot of will power." That's really the basis of being good at anything. And while talking with two of my teammates on the bus ride home, one of them pointed out that "confidence is really what you need the most in order to play rugby."
I would finally like to thank everyone that made this experience possible:
  • My fellow dedicated alumni college rugger, Cara. Without her asking me to hop into a tournament and sequentially getting me into the Vegas loop, I would still be in the dark.
  • My coaches, Eyal and Liz. Dedicated beyond belief and working so hard amongst the team and behind the scenes.
  • My teammates. An inspiration forever and welcoming/supportive bunch. Fucking up on the rugby field over and over and still being accepted by everyone on the team is a big deal!
  • My sister. Not only has she become my personal nutritionist ("EGG WHITES? WHY DON'T YOU JUST COOK UP SOME AIR! FUCK EGG WHITES."), but she really is my rock and puts everything into real terms for me. When my mind runs wild she lassos it back into reality, ha ha.
  • My Chicago family: Franky, Alison, Dan, and Christina. Genuinely caring about updates in my pursuit of high level rugby and actually being interested in hearing about it. It really is appreciated and refreshing, since many people can't tolerate how long I can talk about rugby!
  • My grandparents. Papa Joe first of all introduced rugby into my life as a child, but he has been so beyond supportive. I've had many people be against me playing rugby, but they have been revved up for me the whole time. They donated to the team whilst also figuring out how to watch rugby on TV simply because they knew how special it is to me!
  • My parents. It's not easy being a parent and watching your child play a sport that you have witnessed break her wrist, sprain her shoulders and ankles countless times, and shatter her collarbone (I'll never forget SCREAMING at the top of my lungs into the phone when I was strapped into the worst pain I've ever experienced....sorry mom!). While they may not totally agree with my decision, they stay supportive and strong for me knowing that I'm truly happy.

...and thanks to anyone who reads this ish! That right there is support in my pursuit.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"I got a full 40 minutes."

....literally. That is how much sleep I got last night.

Luckily on the plane I knocked out for a little bit but now it's time for more important things. I know that once I get off this plane things are going to be pretty hectic and busy, so now is the time to study up and mentally prepare myself as much as possible.

To start off, I found this great article about the difference between 7s and 15s; it's written by Mike Friday, a former Wasps rugby player and coach who has had some World Cup appearances. What's interesting is that I may have underestimated all this time the incredibly high level of smarts used in 7s. Not to say that 15s doesn't also require many tactics, but it makes sense that you need to amplify your awareness of the field, your teammates, your opponents, and of rugby in general because you have more responsibilities. It's also interesting to think about the pressure and the fulfillment that can come from playing 7s; with the heightened amount of individual responsibility, you accomplish many more things without necessarily being "hidden among the crowd," yet at the same time a single mistake can be extremely costly.
But I especially like how the article talks a lot about what you can take away from 7s and bring back into 15s. I'm not sure if this is as true the other way around. There are probably many things in 15s that you can learn and put to use in 7s, but I like the idea that 7s forces you to really capitalize on knowing the basics, such as passing, tackling, and spatial awareness, which will take you a long way when playing 15s.

Personally, I have always been a major contender for defense. Playing defense has almost always been my top priority while playing rugby. In many sports it's been said that "defense is the best offense," and I abide by that philosophy. I would rather make a billion tackles rather than score a billion tries. I think, though, defense is also what sounds the most unnerving for me in the upcoming tournament. One-on-one tackling, especially with highly experienced players, is very difficult! It also becomes more difficult when these experienced players know when and where to go and change directions in order to throw off a tackler. With more space to roam, offenders can get more creative with the ways they get by a tackler.

Brushing up on the legit rules of 7s rugby via reading the USA Rugby Refereeing Sevens Handbook also poses some interesting thoughts. They start out from the get go of identifying some of the main differences between 7s and 15s, which is obviously just as important to a referee as it is to a player or coach, and one point they make is that players have "speed, speed, and more speed...every sevens player is essentially playing the same position," which makes sense as to why 7s can be used so much in 15s. They also have a chart showing the varying fitness requirements in both games, and both charts are pretty much inverted. 15s rugby is about 75% medium speed and 25% maximum speed, whereas 7s is 75% maximum speed and 25% medium speed. I guess this inversion also makes sense when you look at the major differences in game time....can you imagine running at your own personal MAXIMUM speed for 60 out of the 80 minutes of a 15s game?!?! I mean, 15s doesn't really require that anyway but it's still a mind boggling thought. But with these charts, the handbook also provided a really great likey quotes:
"If you are not physically fit, you will not be mentally fit!"




...I'm freaking out.

I keep trying to remind myself of my main goals for this tournament so that I don't get too nervous:

  1. Create this into as much of a learning experience as possible. I plan on this trip being primarily an absorption of training, skills, tactics, what-have-you for rugby. I need to stay as sponge-like as possible for information. Note pad and pen everywhere I go!!! (ironically, I almost always forget the note pad on site and end up resorting to writing on my arm, my sock, a napkin...)
  2. Meet and connect with rugby players from all over the nation and world, who will all have something to offer in my quest to learn as much about rugby as possible.
  3. Pay close attention to ways that I can keep up training/practicing in the aftermath of the tournament, so that everything I gain from the trip isn't lost within the month.
  4. Maintain/build on self confidence and belief in myself while playing, since this is one of the single most important skills you need in order to be an effective rugger in the first place!
  5. On that note.....NOT beat myself up and/or be my worst enemy when I screw up or make mistakes. And in order to ensure that this happens remind myself CONSTANTLY of the goals listed above.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pretty much says it all.

"There's a moment:
The moment you step onto the pitch.
Bills, relationships, work, all the day's troubles just fade away.
The cool air stretches my lungs.
The smell of wet grass fills my nostrils.
My senses are heightened.
There is no place I'd rather be.
No place I feel more alive.
The itch is my home. My team. My family.
My team is more than just a group of individuals.
It's an organism.
A living, breathing entity that can delive a symphony of beauty, athleticism and violence.
When we are together, we are amazing.
We desire victory.
We yearn for it.
We fight for it.
Yet, as much as we desire the domination of our opponents, the sweetest moments arrive when we stand opposite our equals.
They give us nothing.
Every scrum is a war.
The backs are covered with a blanket of humanity.
We give them nothing.
Every hit is an opportunity to deliver punishment, an opportunity to weaken the body that stands against us.
They give as good as they get.
Eighty minutes seems like a lifetime.
There are many times when I am exhausted, where we are exhausted.
Victory is sweet, but short lived.
We've been on the other side.
We hug our opponents, those who have battered us for 80 minutes, punished us for 80 minutes, tested everything we had inside us.
We celebrate them, not our victory.
For without them, this glorious moment, this chance to test our worth, would not exist.
If you aren't a rugger it's hard to understand push through the sweat and the blood and the pain and we grow stronger.
Hard to understand what it'slike to walk into work with a black eye and bruises covering my legs and arms.
Hard to understand why I keep playing, through the tears, breaks, and surgeries.
I don't get paid.
I may never see a test match.
There are no fans screaming my name.
but the magic of this game, this game that I love so much, is that I don't need any of that.
Because rugby is a sport.
Rugby is brutal.
Right when you think you have it all figured out it knocks you down again and again.
But you fight and after a while you realize something that most people never will.
No matter how hard you hit me, no matter how many times you knock me down, I'm going to get up.
Just one more time.
I will never quit.
There are two choices in life: live quiet, safe and timid and go quietly inot that great beyond.
Or challenge yourself at every turn, tasting fear, pain, setbacks, sweet victory, as well as bitter defeat.
My choice is simple.

Friday, January 17, 2014

flow. not the good kind.

 But I've literally just bulldozered into a huge wall of health issues:
  •  I'm not out of the running yet for a mono-stricken rugger
  •  just found out yesterday, while at the doctor seeing if I have mono, that I randomly have ASTHMA?!
  • sequentially after finding out I have asthma my body decided to hang ten on the "crimson wave," aaaaaand my body literally feels like this:
Should be fully "back on land" just as I'm arriving in Vegas, but THAT'S CUTTING IT PRETTY DAMN CLOSE.
I feel like a sloth that just ate another sloth and put on cement shoes. This is TERRIBLE! It's like my womanhood is naturally trying to make me to everything I am animatedly NOT trying to do in order to prep for the tournament:
1. be a lazy sack o' potatoes in bed all day
2. eat chocolate LIKE IT'S MY JOB
3. have a SUBSTANTIAL lack of endurance while working out
Luckily I haven't caved in to chowing down on complete crap, but I'm still less productive than a lump on a log. DAMMIT!!!
I don't want to lose all the fitness I've worked so hard for in these next few days; I feel like they're so crucial! But luckily I was able to DRAG myself through the Chicago arctic tundra once again to make it to the gym. It definitely wasn't my best performance (I couldn't believe how quickly it took me to be absolutely out of breath/exhausted on the treadmill....SCARY), but it's especially frustrating that this stupid female bodily function is totally out of my control. I'm hoping that the next few days I'm still able to keep up the fitness, even if it feels like I'm running with a sack of flour on my back, and then feel totally lightened once I'm at the tournament and free of this stupid time of the month bull crap.
I also don't know a DAMN thing about asthma....I was pretty shocked when my doctor was running tests on me for mono and then said, "You know what? You definitely have asthma!" and prescribed me an inhaler. It's also an "as needed" inhaler, so she told me that I should use it "whenever I feel out of breath, and not go skimpy on it." But whenever I feel out of breath working out or even anywhere I have just told myself that I'm just tired or out of shape. I have NEVER EVER EVER thought any of that could be remotely attributed to asthma. So now what?! On the treadmill today, of course I felt out of breath because I was pushing myself and my body is in sluggish mode. But does that necessarily mean I puff it out (ha ha) via inhaler? I don't want the inhaler to turn into a crutch, and the minute I have trouble breathing start telling myself "WHOOP! INHALER TIME." And I don't want asthma to be an excuse for not being in shape and/or not having enough endurance. But then again, if my doctor prescribed it and really told me not to hold back when I need it...BLAAAH what do I do?! What is really considered a time where I "need" it?!
This is kind of turning into a "sounds like a personal problem to me" post that has nothing to do with rugby. But I will relate it back to rugby with this: where the heck would I be right now if I wasn't playing for this team and rugby wasn't a part of my life? I'd be sitting in my bed feeling saggy, shitty, and the absolute lowest of the low of energy levels while eating everything and everything under the sun that is terrible for you...and thus contributing to how nasty I feel. But instead, RUGBY got me out of bed and trekked me to the gym. RUGBY kept me on that treadmill and made me do "one more set of reps." That's because all of these things have such a deeper meaning to me when connected to rugby. Without rugby, they have NO meaning and are rendered useless. And rugby rewards my hard work by naturally making me feel happier, healthier, and more energetic. My body is my shining armor for rugby, and the more good and care that I put into it the stronger it will be against my foes (sweet Jesus....I've been reading too much Game of Thrones). These really aren't "chores" anymore or tasks that I feel like I "have" to do in order to be healthy and/or lose weight. It's like my ritual sacrifice to the rugby gods, asking them to bring me strength and agility by giving them all I've got and then seeing the rewards out on the rugby pitch. It's really AMAZING and fascinating!!!
Phew, that last little rant just pumped me up and pumped out some of the whiney lazy PMS-ridden me.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Final Stretch


The one month mark has passed.

All I have to say is......
I cannot convey how eternally grateful I am to have rugby in my life. In so many ways, it shapes who I am and how I run my life. There is a quote about how rugby requires "focus on and off the field...discipline in every part of your life" (...OKAY OKAY FINE IT'S ANOTHER QUOTE FROM FOREVER STRONG. SUE ME!). But rugby puts meaning into so many different parts of my life that would otherwise seem mundane! Because I have been actively participating in sports since I was able to walk on two feet, I'm not very used to exercising without an end goal and/or without a team. One could argue that weight loss or being generally fit are considered end goals of exercising, but those things don't exactly stick in my head when attempting to motivate myself to go the extra mile in a work out.
"Go the extra mile so you can fit into those jeans!!" ......nah.
But it's literally science that exercise makes you happier, so if rugby motivates me to exercise more then there's no way I can't be happier!!!
And there are VERY few, if little to none, things that can motivate me to give up junky food....primarily Taco Bell. I have been a Taco Bell fiend my entire life. I used to ask for it instead of a birthday cake when I was little! And especially after going to college in Buffalo, NY...BIG BLUE WANT WINGEY (multiple Tommy Boy references, lovin' it!). I used to be notorious on my college team for my nomming.
SOO anyways, maintaining a genuinely healthy diet in order to perform my best for rugby is also quite a feat. I have a major emphasis on healthy because throughout my life I have gone through quite a crazy rollercoaster of negative eating habits....whether I was eating too much or too little.
I have my sister to thank a lot for truly figuring out what exactly the right healthy diet is for a rugby player. It's obviously very unique! My sister is a Public Health major in college, but she has also just become my personal nutritionist. And she puts it in real terms that I can understand, such as:
I'm obviously not against egg whites or anything nor do I think they're necessarily bad, but in terms of getting the nutrition I need in order to fuel my firey passion for rugby (and it's a wildfire, lemme tell yeh) SHE'S RIGHT! Where's da energy?! The introduction of more nuts, beans, hummus, and whole grains has been quite a welcoming one. I really do feel more energetic and generally happier! Although I will obviously NEVAAAAAH be able to give up junky foods (ESPECIALLY Taco Bell), I certainly don't feel like I'll be reaching for them anytime soon.
....easier said than done until Taco Bell is put in front of my face.
But even just looking at some greasier/junkier foods makes me feel lethargic, and evidently makes me wanna run in the opposite direction because lethargy has no place in a rugby agenda!!!
Bottom line: rugby makes me feel lighter and happier, in so many ways.

Friday, January 3, 2014

"If you want easy go play lacrosse or football or... join the Marines."

I love this quote. From the almighty rugby film Forever Strong. Read about Coach Larry Gelwix sometime if you ever get a chance; he's a pretty inspirational dude.