Friday, July 17, 2015

Meeting Ric Suggitt

In a continuation of the previous post, I want to capture quickly the brief moment that I got to talk with Ric Suggitt 1 on 1 at the tail end of our rugby tournament in Glendale, CO. Although it's a small story, it's a very significant one in my life that I believe may have some hidden lessons in there somewhere :-D

When we all entered the Denver 7s Rugby Tournament, all the players at the USA Rugby Academy were placed onto 4 different teams to ensure that everyone got equal playing time [obviously 9 people on a team will get more playing time than 40 people on a team!]. All of the coaches from throughout the week [Emilie, Mac, Richie, and Ric] watched the games from afar and made it explicitly known that they were NOT planning on interfering, simply spectating. We were allowed to approach them with questions about specific game scenarios throughout the day, but weren't allowed to ask "How am I doing?" or vague general questions of that manner.

Ric Suggitt especially made it clear the night before that he would not be doing any coaching or participating in the tournament, he was simply there to watch. Even throughout the day, I was able to easily find all the other coaches and approach them with my game questions....but Ric was like a real life case of Where's Waldo.

He was always kinda in the shadows, behind a telephone pole, pretty removed from the scene in general. I didn't really see him much on the sidelines front and center with the rest of the spectators and coaches. He did a pretty darn good job of hanging in the background and not being easily found.

The day of the Denver 7's tournament was BRUTALLY hot. Everyone was getting burned out. The heat paired with injuries and less oxygen was a huge strain on all the players. Sometimes, it was hard to get a lineup together by the end of the day.

But I'm happy and lucky that I was able to play in every minute of every game. The mental piece can take you so freakin far in rugby. I was ready to collapse, but I knew I would have all the time in the world after the tournament for rest. When else would I get the opportunity to play in front of such a respectable crowd, and receive constructive feedback for it?! So I busted my ass tenfold in all of those games, even if heat exhaustion felt like the real deal in between games. There is an amazing phenomena just short of a miracle in rugby that just makes all the pain go away for me. I'm enjoying myself so much, and my adrenaline is so high, that sometimes I wish I could be out there forever.
And it wasn't just me playing that made the games in the tournament so enjoyable. All of my teammates that were placed on the same team as me were so incredibly positive. We always had something great to say about each other, whether we lost a game by a few points or a landslide. We picked each other back up after mistakes. Our captain [Captain Jack, haha!] was one of the most selfless people I have ever met. While she was a participant at the camp just like us, and loved playing just as much as we all did, many times she sat herself out "so that the coaches could have a good look at us playing." She tried so hard to set us up in the best possible scenarios and positions to be seen in a good light and playing at our best. Her main goal of that day was solely based on everyone else's well being - making sure we were doing okay, reminding us to stay hydrated, etc. One of the greatest and most positive leaders on and off the field!

I know that many times in sevens there are breakaways made by the attacking team that pretty much guarantee a score, there's no stopping them. I've seen teams before tell players to take their foot off the gas and slow down since it's a give. Even if this is a tactic to conserve energy on both the attacking and defensive sides, I just can't sit with it. I don't care if it's viewed as wasting energy, I WILL CHASE DOWN THAT PLAYER UNTIL THEY FIRMLY TOUCH THE BALL DOWN IN THE TRY ZONE. I will give 100% until the play is ruled over. I will never forget this play by Ben Watson, easily one of my favorite sports moments of all time:
I CONSTANTLY remember this moment in my head whenever it seems like all hope is lost. And if you watch the whole video above, Ben Watson says it perfectly: stuff like that doesn't really require requires EFFORT. 

So anyways, I had about a dozen of those Ben Watson-esque chase downs.....except all of them resulted in a try [haha]. I ran as fast as I possibly could to catch up to that person breaking away for the try zone - sometimes I caught up to them, and sometimes I wasn't even close. Either way, there were a few times where people came up to me after the game and said "Holy shit dude.....seeing you chasing me down the field was petrifying."
Even instilling that fear in the opposition, letting them know that there aren't any freebies in this game and they have to earn every damn meter they gain, is a huge win in itself. When you hustle out every last step, you force the other team to do the same. They can't let up for a second. When you play like that for the whole game, then it's almost inevitable that the team who puts in more effort will come out on top. 

After all this friggin' chasing, from game one to the final game, I even had a breakaway in the last game where karma sort of caught up to me! I broke free of the defensive line, dead tired, and made it down to about the 5 meter line before I was pummeled by two defensive players jumping on my back. Side note: it was SO FRUSTRATING and propels me forward to keep doing sprints, no matter how much I hate them, because dat sucked. After the play was over, I  already knew that I could've avoided that ending if I had made a cut back in, a quick side step, or even just a little form of hesitation to throw off the defense. I was just bolting in a straight line, which made me an easy target for the defense to zone in on and tackle.

When all was said and done at the end of our final game, I walked off with my head high amongst my teammates even though we had lost, because everyone put all they had on the line to finish on a high note. I knew I had given every ounce of effort I had [and I'm sure everyone else could tell too - I  was a hot hair was all over the place, I was sweating like a pig, and I looked like a tomato]. Emilie and Ric came up to me and congratulated me on a great game - "You played so well!" That's all you can really ask for to hear from a coach, when they confirm you did a great job and truly mean it.

I stood on the sidelines smiling, watching some other Atavus teams play. I was happy that I just got in so much valuable game experience with some great players and great competition. I was sitting on cloud nine, already pumped for when the next time would be that I would get to step back on the field.

In my own personal bubble of happiness and excitement, I didn't even notice Ric Suggitt walk up next to me.

He broke his own rule.

He stood next to me and said calmly, "You like to run, eh?"

I practically had a heart attack. It was like having Bill Belichick walk up to me. But I didn't want to appear starstruck, so I just blurted out with a goofy smile on my face, "Oh yeah! There are no freebies in rugby!"
He laughed, and then gave me a GREAT piece of affirming advice:
"Keep on runnin'....that's the most fun part. And it makes everybody else tired."

YES! THERE IT IS! THE USA RUGBY COACH HAD THE SAME THOUGHT PROCESS I DID! I couldn't believe it! If I don't get any farther in my rugby career ever, I will be happy remembering that moment - because clearly he recognized my effort and how valuable hard work is.

He continued on by saying, "I thought you had that try there near the end....but there's not much more you can do with two girls on yeh."
I agreed with him, and commented how I knew right away that I should've attempted to be a little more evasive while running for that try.
He gave me another piece of advice that's once again so simple yet a great visual to use:
"You know, I always tell the girls [on the USA team] this: when you're runnin' with the ball, run like the Germans are shootin' at yeh." And he made some movements with his hands to demonstrate running at angles and changing directions, as if you're making yourself a difficult target for someone to hit. I LOVE THAT!

I then pointed over to my Rudy autobiography sitting next to my rugby gear, and said "I really appreciated the Rudy clip you showed last night. Rudy is one of my greatest inspirations."

Ric saw my book, smiled, and said "Oh you're a Rudy fan, eh? Well if you like him then you'll also like Reggie Ho. Have you heard of the 30 for 30 series? [I HAVE AND I LOVE THEM] There's a great one on Reggie Ho, another Notre Dame guy. And another great one is about Bill Parcells - a real tear jerker! I think you'll like 'em both, check 'em out sometime."

I scribbled down the names immediately, PUMPED for some more inspiration to research and pumped over the inspiration that was happening for me right there! Later on when we were all leaving for the airport, Ric said to me in passing "Good to see yeh again, keep on runnin'." Just to solidify the already incredible day I had.

...well I'm lucky that I had such a fun and successful day, because when I got to the Denver airport I found out that United Airlines wasn't checking in passengers anymore [45 minutes in advance with no lines in security?!?!!] I had missed my flight and was stuck at the Denver airport until the following day. It's safe to say that was a real BUMMER AND A HALF. I had to stay in the airport overnight still in my rugby shorts [went to the airport straight from the field], no shower, and covered in sweat and soot from playing hours of rugby on a hot and humid summer day. I also had to sleep on the hard airport floor............WORST BACK PAIN EVAH.

However, at one point when I was about to actually lose my mind, I pulled out my rugby notebook and looked over the names I had scribbled down from Ric's suggestions for more inspiration. I grabbed my little tablet and looked them up...the 30 for 30 videos were right there in the top Google searches!

I watched them both and they were just as great as Ric had described. I'm so glad he referred  me to them, because before that I had never even heard the names whispered....yet they are both pretty phenomenal people.

Reggie Ho: watch the video here
Teensy little guy with not much natural athletic ability who wants to play for one of the greatest college football programs in the country [...sound familiar?]. Just add on top of that HE'S IN MED SCHOOL. What I found so fascinating about Reggie Ho's story is how he combined physical and mental efforts to develop talent and make it onto the Notre Dame team as a kicker. He didn't know SQUAT about kicking! But he researched and took notes on all the different aspects of the skill - even what geometry is behind it - so that he could fully understand what goes into developing kicking skills. He also never made excuses for not practicing. No field? No problem, let's just practice kicking in a parking lot! He also made some pretty clutch kicks for Notre Dame in some big games!

Bill Parcells/John Tuggel: 

You think you have excuses with being tired, having a demanding job, or carrying a lot on your plate? Try playing in the NFL and being diagnosed with cancer. Holy cannoli. But what stands out the most to me is how his attitude NEVER CHANGES throughout that entire video. Even though his health is rapidly dwindling, and things are getting harder and harder for him, he never seems to fade as a person. And he still gave his 110% throughout it all even though he was just considered a "Lowesman Trophy" [the last pick in the NFL]. He wasn't a star or winning MVP or gaining any fame or glory - he was doing it because he LOVED it. You HAVE to love it in order to be able to put in that level of effort and hard work under that amount of stress. Ric said that a lot too - "No excuses! No excuses!" Don't excuse yourself and you'll never lose your effort.

So anyways, I wrote Ric a letter saying thanks for the great referrals and what I thought of each of them. I hope he gets it, but either way I'm grateful for what was so huge to me and probably so little to him. Baby steps. Take your little gains and moments of appreciation when you get them. And always look for more ways to grow :)

Lessons from Ric Suggitt

Going a little backwards here with my debrief of my time with Atavus in Denver, CO last week.....
I'm starting with the end.

There's a lot to be learned from Ric Suggitt, head coach of the USA Women's 7s team. What a motivational human being. I'm very lucky to have been able to hear him speak and spend some time with him!

He came to us late on Friday night [our last night of training], fresh off a plane. But his energy and enthusiasm didn't show what exhaustion he was probably feeling underneath. Talk about a busy guy! Right after spending the end of camp with us he flew out to Canada for the Super Sevens tournament. Air travel and being in different time zones is NOT an easy task.

 The majority of the notes that I took during Ric Suggitt's talk are direct quotes, because he nails so many things right on the head. I paired them with photos from the trip, so I can always remember to apply them to my rugby career and associate them with with positive rugby memories.

The USA Rugby team categorizes the talent they look for into four different categories:
Game Play

Ric said that you can teach anyone fitness, fundamentals, and game play, but you CAN'T teach anyone an attitude. That comes from yourself, and no one else.  And if you have a positive attitude, then you'll be able to go so much farther in the other categories! That's basically where it all starts and ends.
A montage of movie clips was shown to depict the different things that make a good attitude:
Be explosive.
Face your fears.
Don't waste your talent.
Over Achieve.
HEART! It's your heart, play with it.
Play smart.
Play with Passion.
I haven't mentioned this yet, but every single morning and evening I had been reading Rudy Reuttiger's autobiography. By far the most inspirational book I have ever read. I marked down different pages and starred different paragraphs on passages that were specifically motivating - I felt like I was marking down every other page! 
....anyways, one of the movie clips that Ric showed that night was from the movie Rudy. I straight up cried.
Some of the girls who had seen me carrying the book around and reading it said to me after, "Hey! Your guy Rudy was up there!" The next day, Emilie Bydwell also came up to me and said "Hey! Did you see Rudy shown last night?!" 
I cannot think of a better human being to be associated with.

Related to the importance of attitude in an athlete, when you're looking at doing ANYTHING in a positive light you're going to do it better. It's science.
Even when you're conquering fears, doing it with a smile on your face makes everything that much easier. Especially in rugby, any player or coach can attest to the importance of being able to conquer your fears. You can't go in for a tackle with fear in your eyes, or you're going to get knocked on your ass and/or injured. When you're able to work on your fears, you gain confidence and technique. FEAR more than anything can be detrimental to someone's rugby abilities. I have wondered why some people are so naturally good at rugby without seemingly putting any work into it nor doing any conditioning for it.....although everyone needs hard work in order to make it far in rugby, confidence alone can also make you improve in leaps and bounds. 
And it can even be a fake-it-until-you-make-it scenario: even if you're afraid or nervous [it's natural], PUT A SMILE ON YOUR FACE AND COME DO YOUR JOB. I am my toughest critic, by far. It can be hard for me to fight my own inner negativity because I strive for perfection and the best I can do. But just having a quick reality check by putting a smile on my face does wonders. It reminds me WHY I put so much time and effort into this sport, because in the end it makes me happy. And NOTHING can touch that. 

This is a great phrase to help keep that smile on your face: it reminds you to FREAKIN' HAVE FUN. ENJOY YOURSELF. RUGBY IS A F-U-N SPORT. Unfortunately it's not like golf or tennis or bowling, sports that you can physically do for almost eternal periods of time. Unfortunately....
UGH....I can barely get it out....
We will all get to an age where we can't play rugby anymore.
So every damn millisecond that you get on that field is a blessing and a privilege. Even if you feel tired from work or the pressures of life and "don't feel like" dragging your butt to practice, DO IT BECAUSE IT'S FUN. Someday, you're gonna wish more than anything in the world you could go back in time and have just one more rugby practice, or just one more minute on the pitch. I know I will. 
**let the sappy tearz begin.**

Although it's such a simple sentence, this can be digested in so many ways. Putting intention behind your actions, and thinking before doing, goes a long way. This can be implemented into many different contexts. 
For example, I have been struggling to increase my speed - I have been trying to go for runs and time them to see if I can get my average mile down, however in sprints I still seemed to burn out immediately. 
But when I approached my crossfit coaches asking for help on specifically speed, they pointed me in a whole different direction. I was doing the completely wrong workouts, and my sprinting ability lied asleep the whole time. They introduced me to the concept of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, something I had never heard of before. But learning the difference between the two was what made me learn how blind I've been to real speed workouts! 
Fast twitch muscle fibers specifically give you a major boost for a short period of time, hence why they are useful for sprints. They're also useful for sprints because they can activate and fire off energy at the drop of a hat. But while they're able to give you that initial boost immediately, they also tend to burn out quicker. 
Slow twitch muscle fibers are more concerned with efficiency rather than power. They fire more slowly so they can convert oxygen into fuel for a longer period of time, hence why they are good for long distances. They last longer but they're not stronger. 
The muscle fiber types we possess are primarily left up to genetics; and the amount of a certain type of fiber you're born with has been proven to influence what type of sports you play. A sports medicine study showed that sprinters possess 80% fast twitch fibers and marathon runners possess 80% slow twitch fibers. It's still up to discretion whether or not training can change your fiber types, typical nature vs. nurture argument.
HOWEVER, me trying to go on long distance runs just to see if I can increase my mile time does NOTHING for sprints. I'm just activating my slow twitch muscle fibers over and over again and strengthening them instead of activating my fast twitch fibers! 
So moral of the story: I need to start doing more workouts with the undivided INTENTION of increasing speed. Quality over quantity. Specifically do sprints that I only exert myself on during the actual sprint. It's a beehotch, but it works. Over the past weekend I scored two breakaway tries in one of our sevens tournaments, and I've only scored like 4 tries in my whole life period!
....don't tell my club team, or else I'll have to shoot the boot (none of them have realized yet that it's the first time I've scored on this team). This will be a funny test to see if anyone on my team actually reads this ;)
Another way that Ric taught us a lesson about intention was through "selective attention tests" that you can find all over youtube: 
These can apply to rugby in many ways; if you're running with the ball and only looking at the defender in front of you, then you may miss out on gaps that are wide, or a potential overload that's occurring, or a number of other options you may have. That's one of the beautiful things about rugby - you need to be able to look a few steps ahead sometimes rather than just what you're currently presented with.

I have NEVER seen it more present in any other sport than I have in rugby. 
If you put the time in, if you never give up, then you WILL be rewarded and see the results. 
It may not be right away, but as long as you keep at it then you'll see your hard work pay off. There are absolutely NO SHORTCUTS in rugby. The best players give it 110% every day. They also treat their fellow teammates the way they would want to be treated, that's what makes rugby players in general some of the greatest people you'll ever meet! You can't work alone, so you better get along with the people that you need to lend you a helping hand and support you on a breakaway!