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 (.....am 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.
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.