Friday, February 28, 2014

GGLRFC (Greek Goddess Ladies Rugby Football Club)

Soo yesterday at work, one of the boys I work with randomly told me that he thought I was "Athena's daughter because she has blonde hair, grey eyes, and is the goddess of battle strategy." This initially made me think "WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM?!" but then it got me thinking.........

If these mythical women of power were all put on a rugby team, what positions would they play?!

So let's start with Athena: scrumhalf/flyhalf
as described by a random website, "Unlike the war God Ares, she was not known for her brutality and bullying behavior. She was more of a strategist and a diplomat and was called upon to mediate in several disputes and wars amongst the Gods." She seems to be pretty in control yet also a badass.


Atalanta: inside/outside center
she's the goddess of running and was RAISED BY BEARS. a speedy strong bear-raised woman? get 'er in the back line!!!!! NOTE: this picture of her looks A LOT like one of the badass backs on my Stars rugby team......coincidence? I think NAHT!
Hecate: wing
provides protection and strength specifically at crossroads, intersections, and "critical points." I have always thought that the area a wing guards is SUCH a critical point. If there is a weak wing, an opposing team will capitalize on that ALL DAY. they're pretty crucial to cutting off intersections and gaps for opposing teams to get through.
 (and SWEET JESUS...dem' eyes though. anyone who stared me down like that would make me think twice about running at them)
Artemis: flanker
known for independence, confidence, physical strength, and courage. sounds like she would thrive at flying out of a scrum and hitting bitches! one of her "weaknesses" is being impulsive, so that would actually be handy at flanker.
Demeter: eight man
very mother-like; empathic nature and high level of perseverance. Seems like she would hold the pack together pretty well. These features would be good in a leadership role, especially to help the forwards press on and endure.
(...and look at that badass SCYTHE! dayum.)
Eos: second row
first of all, she's actually not just a goddess but also a freakin' TITAN. she also kidnapped four dudes just because she felt like it. she has a lot of passion and strength, both things you really need to be a second row.
Hestia: second row
apparently she's been known as a "forgotten goddess" because of her modesty. very high levels of dedication and "not prone to jealousy." I think many times people forget exactly how DIFFICULT being a second row is; takes a lot of dedication to even learn the position! they also hold together the scrum, so I would want someone who is an essential team player.
Nike: prop
Didn't even know this until right now, but Nike is actually the goddess of victory.....which is what the brand is named after! She is one of the most athletic goddesses and will do anything to win. She was a charioteer that led people into war, which sounds like someone awesome to lead the forwards into a ruck or a scrum!
Themis: hooker
known for balance, justice, and precision. precision would be major in hooking the ball from a scrum, and I would say more balance gives you more precision! the justice she has made her a major decision maker, also beneficial in the scrum and in being a forward.
 nerd level has reached an all time high.
But in thinking about all the amazing and wonderful strengths these rugby positions and these women have makes me appreciate all the teammates I have had that depict all these qualities. Female ruggers, in every position, truly are spectacular people in so many different ways!

Icy like a hockey rink!

Yet another rugby family to add to the list!

They were already family, but nothing brings a team closer together like rolling around in freezing mud together! We came in second out of the whole tournament, which is a major WIN in my eyes even if we didn't claim first because making it to the championship game means we got to play as many games as possibly allowed....and more! It was hysterical how the difference in body temperature and/or perception of frozenness was affected by whether or not you were playing. When I was playing in a game, I literally had no feeling in my body and not a care in the world when it came to being wet or cold. But on the sidelines? HOLY HELL. I was SUCH a baby whenever I had to stand around and wait for us to play again. I'm glad I got to hop into some games, which I not only did to avoid frostbite on the sidelines but also so that I could squeeze in as much rugby as possible!!
It's also AMAZING to compare the difference in my Winterfest playing just from having the Vegas experience alone. In the past, Winterfest has been a JOKE and I have never really done anything significant in it nor even lasted long playing in it. This was the first year where I really actually saw myself do something significant. I noticed myself utilizing special awareness so much more, constantly thinking about where I am on the field, where the gaps are, how close/far away I am from the player next to me, etc. It helped so freakin' much! **It was also so awesome to see my fellow Stars rugby teammates sharing knowledge with the rest of the team that I remember us learning from Vegas. I remember thinking at some points "OH YEAH....I remember that from Vegas...YOU GO GIRL WAY TO SAY THAT!" bahaha
The offloading that happened was like NIGHT AND DAY, not only for me but for the whole team in general! Figuring out that exact moment where I was able to make a an effective/qualitative pass while drawing in a defender was such a major skill to develop. It was also good to know the difference between when this should happen and when it should NOT (since it's not always good to continue shoveling out the ball and sometimes necessary to bring it into contact so the team gets a chance to reset), since sometimes when this tactic starts to prove to be affective it gets used TOO MUCH.
I did also notice a difference in my fitness level, even if it isn't where I would like for it to be yet (not even CLOSE!). A fellow on the men's Stars Rugby team that I met and conversed with in Vegas made a great point that I've never really thought about: If you continue to do the same things, then you will continue to BE THE SAME. If I do the same run at the same speed for the same amount of time and lift the same weights for the same amount of reps every day then I will NEVER move passed those numbers. A lot of times I have found myself saying in workouts "Oh well, not where I want to be at yet, but one step at a time. If I keep doing this then eventually it will get easy and I can move on to the next level." NO! Why should I work towards something being EASY?! It should NEVER be easy! I should be constantly constantly constantly pushing myself to ensure that I am always testing my limits.
I'm not sure if this was due to higher fitness, better awareness, luck, whatever...but I also scored my third or fourth try EVER (bahaha), and it was the first full out BREAKAWAY I've ever had!! I don't even fully remember how it happened (someone told me later that on defense I had ripped the ball out of an opponent's hands and/or somehow recovered their ball), but I somehow or another got hold of the ball and then in a moment suddenly saw myself thinking ".....HOLY SHIT.....THERE'S NO ONE IN FRONT OF ME....HOT DAMN THE TRY ZONE IS RIGHT THERE WITH NO ONE IN MY WAY!!!" I can honestly say I have NEVER EVER said that before bahaha. It was like slow motion running on a breakaway to the try zone, and at one point I felt someone tug on my jersey but luckily a little pat on the head in the form of a stiff arm (BAHAHA) was enough for me to make it to the try zone home free.
This may not sound like a big deal (I'm sure most backs are USED to saying this and probably even expect to, ha ha)....but a major fact about me is I-DO-NOT-SCORE. I just don't!! I'm actually kind of proud of that fact, because my entire rugby career I have constantly thought about in a game how to set someone else up to score. Whether it was through playing a forward position and thinking "Hit that ruck so someone can take the ball and go with it!...hit this banger hard so someone else has fewer defenders to run by and fewer meters to run into the try zone!" or playing scrumhalf and thinking "Who's open and ready for the ball?! Who am I passing to next?! How is everyone's spacing?! What can I do to ensure that everyone else has a better chance of scoring?! How are the backs doing, do we need a banger for them to get ready and set?! How are the forwards doing, are they getting to the rucks quick enough or do they need help?! Can the forwards do another banger or do they need a change of pace?!" I'm constantly thinking about the well being of everyone on the field and never have a moment to think that I may be able to score! This is a strength because rugby is such a team sport that people who don't have at least somewhat of this mindset are not going to make it far. You can't do ANYTHING alone when playing rugby.
BUT, I'm starting to realize that this mindset is a strength TO A POINT. There is a level of this where it can become a fault. If I hadn't been pushing forward in that moment and continued running after breaking through the defense, then that try could have potentially not happened! I don't think I'll suddenly be trying to score all the time now (nor do I plan to have a breakaway like that again any time soon bahaha), but I certainly shouldn't rule it out as much as I used to. It CAN happen! hah.
It's very interesting to notice the difference in workouts of when you are training with people and/or through playing rugby and when you are training by yourself. In comparison....TRAINING BY YOURSELF SUCKS. There's only so many times I can run on a treadmill without thinking for a hot second that I would actually like to do this and put myself out of my misery:

Ironically enough though, I feel like if I was surrounded by ruggers then I wouldn't have that feeling so much. When I AM running on a treadmill, I always try and picture myself sprinting down the field to make a tackle, or recover a loose ball, or make my way into a ruck. Any and every type of motivation I have when working out has rugby behind it. I know I've mentioned that before, but I CONSTANTLY have to keep mental images of rugby in my head to keep me going. When I get tired during a run, I'll think in my head "It seems easy to stop now.....but in the middle of a game? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT." You don't get the luxury of taking a break when you feel "tired" in a rugby game!
It only proves to me even more that working out is SUCH a major mental thing rather than physical. I'm sure that in a practice or game, I am working out way more than I may be when I'm just training at the gym or going for a run...but I don't feel it AT ALL. It's probably because so many other things are on your mind in practices and games that the LAST thing you're thinking about is how tired you may be! This is probably another reason why it is so important to be playing on a regular basis, because you really are working out/training at the same time without even realizing it!
 This tournament also only solidified the fact that I need to make a change in my life; these tournaments CANNOT be sporadic trips that come along once in a while. Life after that tournament has been UNBAREABLE because it was so incredibly awesome and now I'm back to a mundane life without rugby.
With the incredibly high stress job I have, I really cannot last without a healthy outlet and outside life. This week coming back to work was not only incredibly hard from multiple crises modes we had to go into, but also because it was paired with the realization that I'm going back into this life without rugby in it. again. If this same job was a 9-5 Monday through Friday schedule, then I would be HAPPY AS A CLAM because rugby would always be there for me to utilize after a hard day's work. But it's once again GONE until who knows when. Hopefully I can venture with the Sinners again to DC in April, but that's STILL a long ways away even if it does happen.
One way or another, I need to make rugby a full time thing for ME. I cannot put my whole life into my job (no matter how much I love it) and leave absolutely nothing for myself afterwards. Everyone has tried telling me to look for another outlet but NOPE. There is absolutely NOTHING that can replace rugby. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Not only is the sport itself such a release, but rugby teammates are one of the best support systems you can have. The majority of the people I feel closest to are all the ruggers I have played with....and 99% of them don't even live in the same state as me!
One way or another, I'll figure it out. It's becoming more and more clear that this really is something MANDATORY for my own self care and not just an outside hobby that I have limited access to. It'll come....someday....

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I think this all the time.

I ABsolutely ABhor ABdominal Exercises!!


I dunno why, but no matter how much I try and like ab workouts I just DON'T.
planks? NO.
sit ups? NO.
crunches? fuhgettaboutit.
They make me feel yucky in every way, shape, or form. I feel like barfing and I feel like my stomach is a flabby balloon. I just don't think abs are in the cards for me because I eat basically 24 hours a day and am a Taco Bell fiend....aaaaaand I like nice cold bruschis.

BUT at the same time I know how absolutely insanely VITAL it is to have a strong core in rugby. Your core is where you get all of your power from - it is the main center that your strong arms and strong legs work from! When getting tackled, having a strong core is the best defense for getting back on your legs quicker. It also prevents LOTS of injury, especially in your hips and back which are both places that receive a lot of impact from getting tackled. The core is also like a channel that filters more power and energy into your arms and legs; when tackling having a strong core makes you able to filter that energy into your arms and legs to pump through a tackle and have more of an impact. When reading about the importance of the core on various rugby sources, a point came across where many players may be overemphasizing workouts in some areas and not paying enough attention to core exercises. A player may have very strong arms and legs yet can still find themselves being pushed back and unable to break through a tackle because of a weak core. Having a strong core allows your whole body to be connected and put forth equal amounts of power, so there is no weak spot for someone to hit.

SO WHAT A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION. I KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THE DANG CORE IS BUT I CAN'T STAND NOR CAN I EVEN COMPLETE CORE EXERCISES!!!! UGH. I've been trying to stick to the Insanity core workouts because having a big dude yell at me sometimes pushes me through a little more. But that darn gut gets in the way and I'm left always falling short!

Somehow or another, I need to figure it out. As much as I hate core exercises and feel like I go nowhere with them, I have to keep trying. Hopefully reminding myself of the dire importance of the core for rugby will help me pay more attention to it. Reminding myself of anything being important for rugby usually makes me more dedicated :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Myself and Many Other Women Ruggers in a Nutshell:

...I literally experienced every one of these things in Vegas during the 7s tournament. Spent about 15 minutes in a dress because I felt so weird and switched it out for a Bruins t-shirt, trucker hat, and jeans when we went out to a super fancy club.

.....but the best part about it was NO ONE CARED. because ruggers are awesome.

Moving Forward

WHAT WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT our Stars 7s rugby team is headed to AUSTRALIA?!?!?! What unbelievable news!!!! Fundraising and training warp into hyper speed.

Rugby is turning into more and more of a lifestyle. Although I already spend every hour of every day thinking about rugby, when I get to play it next, etc. I'm starting to consider more serious life choices around it. I have been taking my diet and exercise routines much more seriously, which means increases in BOTH (eat more amounts of healthy foods and work out more intensely!). But deep down I know there is no substitution for simply gaining experience through practices and games. Any amount of exercise cannot replace that. Sooo eventually that means I'm going to have to consider a career change, because as a social worker that does not get home from work until about midnight every single day I am extremely limited in my options of rugby playing. BUT at the same time when looking at the freakin' economy and job market we're in right now it's a very difficult choice to give up a job I absolutely love and get paid well for. Quite risky.

IN THE MEAN TIME, shipping myself off to these random tournaments is a good way to keep myself in the rugby loop and continuing to make connections. Next weekend I'm going to Winterfest 7s in Buffalo!!! Obviously not even close to serious rugby playing but is rugby. And I actually think of it as a great training exercise because running and tackling in a million layers and through tons of snow is even more difficult than it sounds!

It's also been great incorporating rugby into my work with at risk youth. I just recently found out that IIAA (Illinois Inter-Agency Athletic Association), a league that the guys play basketball in and take VERY seriously, also has a FLAG RUGBY LEAGUE!!! There's a few road blocks to starting a team for this, such as the fact that the flag rugby tournament is held in the same time period that all the programs do a required therapeutic one-week camping trip, but I would really like to make this happen. I contacted the higher ups and am pursuing time to rent out the soccer building for some clinics.
When researching the rules and regulations of flag rugby, I give it a little more props. I'm such a fan of contact that normally my mind says "LAAAAAAAME NOT FUN" when thinking about flag rugby......and especially since I was practically ejected from flag football when accidentally being too aggressive in high school. They have some interesting rules that really make it as close to the real game as possible, such as having only TWO SECONDS to either place the ball or pass it after having your flag pulled (aka getting tackled). The traditions of respect and good sportsmanship are also upheld, which is a major struggle for many of the youth I work with. It's just such a major opportunity for a healthy outlet!!!

My biggest obstacle in rugby definitely continues to be my low level of self-confidence. I know that I work so incredibly hard and have infinite amounts of motivation and dedication, but for some reason I just never seem to think that I will ever actually be considered one of the better players. I always kind of expect myself to be on the bottom of the totem pole.............why?
It's been driving me so crazy that I've even started researching some sports psychology; I just came across a book called Focused for Rugby by Adam Nicholls and Jon Callard. The excerpts I found from these writers were already so inspiring that I just ordered the book! They raise some great points about improving confidence. A major problem that I indulge in that they identified is,
"Don't judge yourself in relation to how other players are doing."
I am SO guilty of this. I either put a lot of pressure on myself if I am one of the better players on the team (and evidently put a lot of guilt and blame on myself if something goes wrong), or hide in the background if I'm one of the weaker players on the team. Sometimes if I feel like an underdog this actually empowers me and I do better, because no one is expecting me to succeed and I like proving everyone wrong (in that sense). But I should not feel better or worse about my ability based on the skill level of the other players on my team. I need to focus solely on self improvement and what is MY personal best and what I specifically need to work on.

Here is a great table they made in the book that is useful for identifying your own rugby goals:

**but they also reiterate that these goals need to be ATTAINABLE; while it is great to reach for the stars, writing down concrete goals that can be accomplished in an established time frame is more practical and effective

Self acceptance in general is another thing I struggle with. But it is also an identified trait they use as something that builds confidence in rugby. I have too much criticism and not enough praise. I guess this is partially because I always want to be keeping myself in check and never slack off; I want to always remind myself that there is something I can be doing better and something I can be working on. But of course, there is a line to draw for this before it becomes unhealthy and destructing. I have profusely crossed this line. I need to start telling myself that even if I mess up, it will not matter as long as I don't give up. Another great quote that they mention in their writing is
"Remember that you will always have a second chance."
There will always be that second chance as long as I stick with it. So no matter how many times I drop a pass or miss a tackle, as long as I keep playing and keep working at it, then there will be another opportunity for me to fix those mistakes.

I try my best to manage this on and off the field, but I also have my slip ups now and then. Even when you don't have an ounce of self confidence in your body, you need to FAKE IT. Sometimes, even faking having self confidence can eventually develop real self confidence! But it really does make a difference to the opponent. If you appear confident, then you make your opponent feel unsure and second guess themselves. If you DON'T appear confident, then you are putting an extremely large neon bedazzled target on yourself that is going to make everyone aim for you. It's like a pack of lions pouncing on the one gazelle that seems to second guess their ability to survive ( far?). Here's an interesting picture in Focused for Rugby about nonverbal cues you can give depicting self confidence or insecurity:
I also studied this a lot in my Communications major, and it's really interesting to find out all the little things you may not even realize you're doing but portray a lot of what you're feeling. When you make a mistake and look at the ground, this can be a major signal of shame. Keeping your eyes up and acting like the mistake didn't phase you gives the message that you're moving forward and not dwelling on it. Even the way you walk during breaks in game play can give off vibes. Slouching and sulking give away low self confidence levels, and walking with your shoulders back and torso forward are signs of feeling capable. You can really pin down the major indicators to eye contact and posture. Overall these signs of self confidence all revolve in appearing to move forward and focus on progression, rather than second guessing.

I'm feeling good by actually following through with physical therapy this time, and even doing the exercises/stretches they ask me to do on a daily basis. Hopefully this will add to my self confidence, as injuries can have quite a lasting effect on how much I believe I'm capable of. Having these chronic Achilles issues has really been like having a handicap on my training; I'll be running and feel fine but my ankles will slowly be giving out. It's frustrating to want to keep going but having a weight around my feet keeping me back!!! But all I can do is stick with the healing process, and continue it throughout my training (even after physical therapy ends).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My mom when she watches rugby:

Passing the Torch

FINALLY, the boys I work with in a therapeutic group home have gotten a taste of rugby.

I literally just cannot contain how excited I am!!!
Ever since I returned to work from Vegas clad in my uniform and a fat lip, the word has spread like wildfire amongst the youth and staff. I'm really glad it did, because through one of my youth talking about it in the cafeteria, another female kitchen staff heard him and reached out to me! She is a major rugby fan and has been watching it for years! We're also on the same agenda - get these boys a rugby ball ASAP!!!
It's so refreshing and revamps my motivation to try and get rugby into the group home. Many many people here practically shun the idea when I bring it up because all they think in their head is "VIOLENCE!!! NO WAY." It seems like a bunch of hot-headed anger management issue boys from the South Side would not mix with rugby, but on the contrary I think they would be the best for it. In Vegas I found out through discussion with a Canadian Men's rugby player that when rugby was introduced into an area in Canada with a high crime rate, crime dropped 40%! I don't think that's a coincidence.
Rugby has got to be one of the greatest forms of anger management I have ever witnessed. Not only is rugby a healthy outlet for anger and aggression, but you also need to learn how to harness and control it. And the greatest part of all involves the morals behind the sport - respect for everyone on and off the field. After someone kicks the crap out of you on the field, you become friends afterwards (...usually. I won't generalize). You need to respect your peers and authoritative figures (that's a big one for the guys I work with). There's no if's, and's, or but's when it comes to what your coach says. And arguing with the ref? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. Even not calling the ref "ser" can result in some form of penalty! Cursing in any way, shape, or form at someone can also cause a penalty. Rugby really capitalizes on controlling your anger physically and mentally!
I think rugby is also the ultimate team sport, thus no one can be down on themselves nor can anyone put themselves above everyone else. If there is someone on your team that you do not utilize, then you're screwed. No one can be left alone or ignored. On the other hand, basketball is practically a means of survival here at the group home; when you're good at it, (almost) no one messes with you. When you're schooled, you're the weakest link and thus a much higher potential to be picked on. I think this is because while basketball can be a great team sport, it still leaves much room for someone to steal the spotlight. There is also a lot of potential for basketball to turn into a heirerarchy that leaves many people feeling left out or useless (i.e. picking teams).  
SOOOO anyways (that was a tiny rant...have to cut myself off while I still can):
Yesterday I brought my rugby ball into work. After the guys played basketball together in the gym they exclaimed, "Let's play rugby!" Of  course to them that meant football at first, and they basically just wanted to hit each other, but slowly we worked our way up to actually playing touch in the gym!
The first step was teaching them how to pass. They were pretty fixated on getting the spin pass down, but eventually they became open to trying pop passes and just working on getting passes off quickly and accurately. They also enjoyed learning about different kicks, especially the drop kick. was HILARIOUS, like watching a bunch of Charlie Browns:

The continuously could not wrap their head around why you can't throw a rugby ball overhand like in football, and my main point to them was that technically you can but it's just simply not practical! By the time you have your arm raised and ready to throw (if you even make it to that point) you're plowed flat onto your back. We set up in the formation of a back line and practiced getting quick passes off while continuing to run forward. This is when they started getting antsy to play, we we just dove right into it.
There were only 4 boys, but we were still able to get a 3 vs. 2 game going. Ironically, at first I had no idea if we were even going to be able to pull off playing an actual game with only 5 people but now I think this could be a fantastic form of scrimmaging! Because there are so many fewer players, spacing and support were crucial. I guess this is also why 7s involves so much spacing and support, because there are simply fewer people to depend on.
It took the guys a little while to remember that they can't throw forward, but once they continuously kept getting penalties for it they were able to turn it around (literally and figuratively!). They kept running into the problem of someone passing it backwards yet not following their pass/immediately getting steep, thus forcing them to throw it forward or get tagged. But once they got the hang of it, I was AMAZED at how well they were able to draw a defender in and create a gap for another player. What I also like about the touch aspect for the guys is that they seriously need to rely on their other teammates because they can't bulldozer through the defense. Once they are out of space, they have to pass it off!
Overall, I am more than pleased, impressed, and satisfied with the results.
...and this is only the beginning! I had to tear the guys out of the gym because it was getting late. They were all in such great moods for the remainder of the night and so much more pleasant with each other (when ironically earlier in the day they had some major issues with each other and couldn't stop arguing!). I hope this spark continues to grow. RUGBY PLAYERS IN CHICAGO: hopefully someday we can ban together and start a touch rugby clinic (touch to start with...) for these guys, then maybe even a league! can dream.