Monday, December 29, 2014

"The Goat knows what to do..."

Man, I tear up every time I begin to write this post!

I cannot convey how truly amazing my experience...our Tobago was for the Tobago 7s tournament. From the moment I boarded that plane to the moment I landed back in the U.S, everything was a moment that I'll remember forever, and I only hope to continue to build on these opportunities in the future.

Throughout the 9 hours flying to Tobago, I had my rugby playlist on with my eyes closed but watery eyes filled with nerves, excitement, and energy. I had on my rugby shorts and shirt ready to go, assuming that I was going to get off the plane and go right into training.

It never ceases to amaze me how dynamic of a sport rugby is, because there is ALWAYS something new to learn from different players and coaches. We all came from such a variety of places, and everyone brought their own style of play.

It's also so humbling to play at this high level of competition, especially since I'm nowhere near as skilled or experienced as everyone I'm playing with. I can safely admit that I was pretty much out of my league there - with people coming from top colleges, top clubs, and even the Eagles themselves...little 'ol me is a nobody compared to all these incredible players! But that didn't matter; it never really does in rugby. Everyone was on the same level together and nobody treated anyone else better or worse based on where they came from.
 It can be a tough thing to deal with when I feel like I'm on the bottom of the totem pole and have nothing to offer to the team. But I need to work on getting that self conscious thinking out of my head; sometimes if I don't play well, then I assume nobody will want to talk to me...which is bizarro.

Whether someone drops a million passes or misses a million tackles.....working hard with the rest of the team, taking the commitment seriously, and being a positive and motivating teammate in general are all what makes a rugby player worthwhile, no matter what. And I KNOW for a fact that I produced all of those things while playing in Tobago, so there really shouldn't be anything I'm self conscious about or any reason why I didn't deserve to be there. Nerves can make the mind come up with ridiculous thoughts.

The training we had in the beginning of the trip was FANTASTIC - even if we had to squeeze in a lot in just a couple of days with people we primarily had never played with before. Ironically, we did a drill that was extremely similar to one that my hometown  club does regularly - with everyone split into two teams, we played a touch rugby game that allowed forward and backward passing. However, whenever you were touched/tagged, you had to KICK the ball to restart play instead of placing it on the ground, so there was a lot of practice even with receiving kick offs that was tossed into the drill. In order to "score", you had to kick the ball over a soccer net and have one of your teammates cleanly receive it in order for it to count. I was already DRIPPING by the end of this first drill since it was in humid 88 degree weather!

Another drill that I loved involved a small square marked off by cones and two lines formed for offense and defense. We started off with two defenders and three attackers, making our way up to having 3 vs. 4; to begin, each team would run out to the middle of the marked off square at the same time. Then the attacking team would choose a side of the square to run to, and based off which side the attacking team ran to the defending team would have to run to the opposite side. Both teams would turn around and then play touch, however the attacking team didn't have to wait for the defense to begin, so the longer it took for the defense to reach the opposite side and get situated the more space the attacking team gained uncontested. Again, this was a simple drill, but still involved a lot of quick thinking and quick decision making.

For tackling practice, it was great to break down every little aspect of  a tackle and gradually build up to the full tackle motion. In pairs we started as small as practicing the cheek-to-cheek positioning and getting your shoulder into the hit first. We continued to add more and more elements into it, such as the wrap and the drive, before finishing the full tackle. I think this is so vitally important to practicing tackling because in game situations there's (obviously) no time to think about all these steps, so sheer muscle memory and repetition are what ensures you will tackle the right way because that is how it all becomes natural.

I was also introduced to the phenomena of a blow out - literally never heard of it before this tournament but it's EXACTLY what I need for game prep. It's a quick but intense amount of sprinting to literally "blow out" your lungs and warm them up. Especially in tournament play, people say the first game is always the hardest since you're not as loose and you're still knocking out the kinks. Personally, I'm one of those people that practically needs to run a 5k before I feel warmed up for a game. In our warm ups, we prefaced everything we needed to work on with a timed 2 minutes of sprinting. THEN when we began running lines and practicing game play, I felt like I was running at pace. I'm really glad that I was introduced to this simple yet effective strategy, has literally answered my pregame prayers!!

After all our trainings and games, we were also encouraged to go in the pool as a cool down (I guess literally to cool down since it was friggin' hot but also to relieve our muscles/joints). Sometimes I felt as if the swimming was making me MORE tired, since in a way it was more exercise, but it really did make a major difference in how I felt later! I'm not sure yet how to incorporate this back home, but we're a hop, skip, and a jump away from the ocean so there's quite a lot of water for all of us to tread in here!!

I could honestly go on and on and on and on about the entire experience, but what I primarily want to remember and take away from this are two things that our coach said to us the day before the tournament began:

"Remember why you're here."
I even went to full lengths to make sure I kept all these reasons in my head by creating this in my rugby journal (PFFT...yes....I have a rugby journal AND a rugby blog...):

- gain more experience
- compete at a high level
- move forward in my rugby career
- work towards my personal goals
- "There is a reason why you were all CHOSEN to be here": a little different of an interpretation of "remember why you're here," but equally as important...especially for someone like me with confidence issues. Although I continually think of myself as an "underdog" or "out of my league," part of me really needs to cut that out and consider myself an equal. I worked just as hard to get there as everyone else did, and earned the same right and privilege to be on the Stars rugby team. I'm not a charity case and I wasn't chosen out of pity. I'm a teammate - not a superstar, not a water girl...just a positive and supportive teammate.
- eliminate the "off season"
- be a student of the game, leave my ego at the door
- learn new skills and tactics
- meet new people!
- experience Tobago
- see people from different countries/cultures play rugby
- overcome my fears and doubts
- develop more confidence in myself
- keep on improving
- don't become static
- learn from mistakes and accept that they happen

"Remember why you play rugby."
.............I don't even know if I can attempt to begin this one.
But even thinking back to all the prep and work I put into getting ready for this tournament shows why I consider rugby a career and the most important thing in my life. Rugby always puts my best foot forward and brings out all the good in me. It DEMANDS discipline and self control in every aspect of life and makes me a better person. It surrounds me with a supportive bunch that give me the largest family in the universe, and family members that I haven't even met yet. Whenever I'm doing something for rugby, I feel great. Nothing motivates me more. I wouldn't be able to run that extra mile, lift that extra weight, skip out on that drink or ( least try to) limit my Taco Bell intake if it weren't for rugby. It embraces my talents and always leaves room for improvement. It fuels my inner and outer strength and gives me the confidence to do anything. And most of all, it reminds me to stick up for myself and that I am worth a whole lot more...I am not to be taken for granted or taken advantage of because not only can I hold my own ground, but I also have a HUGE support system to pick me up when I fall. stop: #VEGAS

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What really matters

Unbelievable. This couldn't have come at a better timing than now.
At my rugby banquet last night, my team voted for me to win the Love of the Game award...I could've died and went to heaven right there.

With this big tournament in Trinidad coming up and my dreams and goals for my rugby career growing exponentially, the pressure is high right now. I'm putting in a lot of hard work, and as much as it's worth's also really freakin' hard. I'm pretty nervous to be playing at such a high level next week, and I basically just don't wanna get my ass handed to me on a silver platter.

But just like the spirit of this award....I need to remember what all of this is really about and why I continue to do it. I'm not trying to become the next big rugby star or break every record in the book, nor do I expect either of those things to ever happen. The real thing that keeps me going is the sheer LOVE OF THE GAME.

The people you meet from playing with different teams and against different teams are all so unique and spectacular in their own ways. While there are many uniform ways to hit baseball or shoot a foul shot, rugby playing has so much variety and there's something new to learn from everyone you play with. And this learning experience is always SO MUCH FUN because as a whole rugby players embrace each other as family. While we may even be enemies on the field, in the end we all love the game together and enjoy sharing the competition of it with one another. We even celebrate this after the game with some beverages and chats!

Rugby also is constantly putting your best foot forward. It accepts you for who you are and brings out every strength you possess mentally and physically. Many times, people don't even realize their own potential and strength until they engage in rugby....and I am one of them. There's always room for improvement but also always room for recognizing your own progress and successes. Every time you play in a practice or a game, you leave the field a better player than you were before. And you can forgive yourself for making mistakes, because you have a supportive team surrounding you that will help you through it and also help you improve from it.....and maybe even laugh about it later :) **Turner, remember when I friggin' tried to punt the ball out of a lineout and punted it into your face by accident? THAT WAS A BAD CHOICE.**

So whatever level you're playing at or how far along you are in your rugby career, just continue to enjoy the ride. You're already living the dream by being part of this worldwide family that loves you, and by expending your energy to become your best self and support your teammates.

THANK YOU, NSWR, for reminding me of this. It's always true, but ambition can sometimes blind people. No matter what happens in this tournament next week, I know I'll be with a team that will keep me moving forward and I'll be returning home to a team that supports every step I take. It just can't get any better than this!