Rugby: a team sport played with an oval ball which can be kicked, carried, and passed from hand to hand. Points are scored by grounding the ball behind the opponents’ goal line (thus scoring a try) or by kicking it between the two posts and over the crossbar of the opponents’ goal.
“You should play rugby,” she said. I laughed. “Seriously, come to practice.” My new friend at the rock climbing gym was trying to convince me to join her on the pitch. I knew almost nothing about rugby. She gave me a brief overview of how to play and continued to pressure me to come to the first practice. The season was just starting, so there would be many new girls joining, and practices would basically be a review of how to play rugby. I eventually gave in and said I would try to make the first practice.
I went home and watched some videos on youtube with my husband. The rules seemed complicated, and I had never played a contact sport. I was certain that I wasn’t going to play, and probably would get injured. My husband had more faith in me. The women practiced the same time as the men, sharing the field. We agreed to go to the first practice together, and then decide whether we wanted to continue playing.
Still not certain I would play, I did decide to get some gear. I bought cleats and a mouth-guard to be safe. At least when I showed up to the first practice I would be prepared.
I arrived at the park for the first practice and met up with my new friend. She introduced me to the girls and the coach. There were a couple other new faces to the team too. I felt better knowing I wasn’t going to be the only one learning something new. Practice was mainly running through drills slowly, learning how to handle the ball, and ended with how to properly tackle.
Tackling. The part I was nervous about. What if I did it wrong and hurt myself, or someone else. Or what if someone hurt me?! Well, she did… but landing on the ground doesn’t hurt when you follow your coaches instructions.
After the first practice, my friend asked if I was going to keep with it. “Sure.” I said, but not really feeling committed. I had fun, but I had a hard time dealing with the full contact of the sport. I played volleyball, and danced. I never had to confront another player. But after a few more practices, I was reminded of how much I missed being a part of a team.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but I started to look forward to practice. I was driving over two hours (round trip) every Tuesday and Thursday to make a hour and a half practice. The first tournament arrived, and I was going to play. There weren’t enough girls from the teams that showed up for a full 15’s match, so we played 10’s. (Which I learned is basically the same as 15’s. The rules change slightly, but coach didn’t have time to teach us new rules. Her method was learn as you go. Go for the ball and the ref will tell you if you did something wrong).
I was given my role as full back. We did our warm up drills, applied Vaseline to our knees, put in our mouth-guards, and the game started. I felt a little lost at first. Where was I supposed to be? I felt myself looking at my coach for guidance, but the other girls on the field pointed and grunted (hard to yell with a mouth-guard in) to me about my position.
Let me tell you, rugby is tough! The game doesn’t stop when the ball hits the ground. There is a lot of strategy involved. You need confidence to commit to a tackle, or to drive through the defensive line.
I had so much adrenaline going I didn’t notice my bloodied knees or bruises until the game was over. We had a small break while our previous and next opponents played. I spoke with my teammates and coach about my role on the field, so by our second game I was feeling more confidant with my position on the field.
After the second game I was exhausted! I also had a new sense of courage. I had played a contact sport! I had pushed through girls and even tackled them. I sat with my teammates laughing about the game and discussing what worked and didn’t for our team strategies.
Once the games concluded, we took a group photo before heading to the social event.
Rugby is a very social sport. I learned that no matter how rough you play, after the game is over everyone will shake hands and then drink some beers together. From my experience, there is always a “social” after a game or tournament. The hosting team will sponsor the event, catering food and drinks. Typically each social has a theme, but not always. There will be games and eventually someone will start singing rugby songs.
As the fall season progressed, I joined up with a second rugby league, Louisiana Lagniappe Women’s Rugby Team. Women from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and recently (2017) Shreveport, all join together to form this D2 team for Louisiana. Practices are held at each cities location, but occasionally group practices are held on weekends so everyone can get used to playing together.
I made two trips to the Baton Rouge group practices. Since there were more girls at practice, I was able to work on my individual skill set as a “back.” (A back is an offensive player, typically lighter and quicker). These practices also let me bond with some of the other girls before joining them in their tournaments.
I may have over committed myself, but I was having too much fun to quit. I was making practices almost twice a week, and driving all across the southern states to join girls in playing rugby.
I began exercising differently. With my husbands help, we crafted new workout routines to improve my performance on the pitch. We incorporated interval training into our workouts, and started heavy lifting for more powerful explosions.
I was reminded of the hours I put in at college for volleyball. I was feeling like an athlete again. I found the recovery time from a rugby game was longer. I am not sure if that has to do with getting older, but my guess is mostly because of the intensity of a contact sport.
I was also over coming my nervousness of tackling. I wanted to make my team proud, and with how fast rugby moves I didn’t have time to worry about my fears. I had to make split decisions on the field, and that momentum was inspiring!
The season ended in December for me in Shreveport, where the Valentines hosted a game against the Dallas Reds. It was a crisp fall day, turning to winter. We lost the game, bruised, some bloodied, but our spirits were not. I was proud of how we played. Every woman was pushing her hardest.
Rugby made me tough, but the women I played with gave me strength. They joined together because of the love for the sport. Even my opponents emboldened me. They welcomed anyone, rugby experience or none. The comradery in rugby is unlike any I have felt before.
I have many memories from just my first season. I made some good friends, and learned more about myself during that first season of rugby. I feel more confidant and capable of tackling problems that come my way. I have found courage to confront the issues that arise in my personal, and work, life. Rugby changed me, and I like it.
The spring season is just starting. As I try and find my routine for 2018, I find that my commitment to rugby may need to change a bit; however, I still want to find time to grow as a rugby player.
What lessons have you learned from sports, or other hobbies?
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