5 Things Playing Varsity Rugby Taught Me
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Image Description: Me, a Black woman with a ponytail in a purple number 14 jersey on the verge of catching a ball. Another woman in the same purple and yellow Laurier jersey throws the ball backwards to me.
From 3-4 days of training sessions a week (not including game day). Sometimes twice a day, including early mornings before classes, and in the evenings after they ended. Or in between night classes and homework. So sorry for you if you had a job, or were active in other campus clubs or initiatives, like I was. You sacrificed going out Friday nights because every Saturday was Game Day. Or forfeited partying during the week because "early practice in the AM," (if you ever attended university in Waterloo, you know there's something to attend every week night, not just on the weekends). To aggressively annoying beep tests, the yelling and shouting of coaching staff correcting you, to countless laps around the stadium, burpees which I hate to this day, up and down hills, pushups I never learned to do well, and puking out what couldn't keep up (or stay in).
Don't let anyone ever tell you that varsity and club rugby doesn't teach you discipline. Heck, even playing high school rugby taught me a thing or two about discipline. Your work ethic will thank you later. (Disclaimer: in my post rugby years, I'm just trying to rest now, deep rest is being called and invited in more than ever. Do you know what a decade worth of playing that sport does to your mind and body?!).
Two: How to Persevere
More than anything else in life, rugby taught me to persevere. You have others counting on you, selfishness is not an option. Nor is giving up. You wake up when you don't want to. Keep pushing when you'd rather give up. Dig deep when you've got nothing left to give. You push through the bleeding, never mind the tears. You suck it up when an ankle gets twisted or cleats mark and bruise your skin. That black eye? you'll have to sheepishly explain later. Many will think you're in a physically abusive relationship. The bruises just keep coming, even on skin as Black as mine. Who cares what they think, keep your head down and keep playing. That right clavicle bone that popped out, that still to this day never adjusted properly, no big deal! Such is life, man up, keep it pushing, or get off the pitch. Go big or go home!
I was also often the only Black girl on the pitch, never mind my team (see image below for receipts). Trust me, that experience teaches you a thing or two about perseverance, or maybe, endurance. Don't believe them when they say, "not everything is about race," it matters. I know. Still loved rugby regardless, that's how deep the love for the sport was. Everyone deserves such an outlet to release pent up emotions, especially when you're the only Black girl on the team.
The things you learn to endure in rugby, are unnamable. Playing with an injury was common, and often, if not every game. You'll be limping, icing, or on crutches all week, then suddenly, tape holds it all together on Game Day. Chances were, you would probably even injure yourself during practice scrimmage, and still get bandaged up for Game Day. Hot and cold tubs were your best friend. As was massages, epsom salt bathes, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), stretching, and icepacks. Endure! It's part of the game!
Oh, you want to quit? Extra push ups for you. Tired of running? Hmph, an extra lap will do. Think you can sneak in a break when no one's looking? You better get to those jumping jacks. 90 minute games were brutal, regardless of whether you were a front or back (I played both). The body is constantly taking a beating. And your mind has to make quick decisions on the fly. Trust me, you learn a thing or two about endurance. (Disclaimer: I despise the word "endure/endurance," now. I grew too accustomed to enduring too much in life. I don't ever want to endure any more pain, ever (life doesn't work that way, I know, so still suffering). But if I'm honest, I'm off that lifestyle. Might be a Blue Jay (6ix girl), but I still know sh*t's for the birds.
Four: Team Work
While I may not have many friends now, rugby taught me to not only be social, but to be a team player. As the adage goes, "there is no "I" in team." I learned that early. You look out for one another, on and off the pitch. You check in on each others injuries. Meet other people's family members, car pool together, and socialize outside of training and game day. You enjoy team meals, and share special moments during long bus rides. (I hosted many team dinners (potluck style) at my place, as I've always loved cooking for and hosting others).
Rugby is special. Rugby is its own culture. A community on its own. The sisterhood (or brotherhood) that gets built over time is priceless. The bonds and laughter are contagious. The drunken beer-ups, belching, and moments of celebration are absolutely memorable. We wiped each others tears, and offered support when when someone was down. I miss that the most. I made some of my best friends playing the sport. Admired some amazing coaching staff. And always had the best fans and supporters.
Five: How to Throw a Middle Finger to Respectability Politics
There is nothing more freeing than challenging gender norms and gendered scripts that say, "giRl'S cAn'T pLaY sPoRts". HA! Jokes on you! I played a "boy sport" at that, and with no helmet, no extra padding, or anything to cover my private parts or breasts. Just a mouth guard and high sock, maybe, a scrum cap. And let me tell you, it's the best feeling in the world for rebel hearted souls like myself.
Through rugby, I learned early that being a "lady" wasn't always my thing, never my cup of tea. I can perform lady if need be, but at my core, that's not my innate default. I much prefer to channel my aggression on purpose by intentionally tackling people, and getting away with it, because it's part of the culture. (I earned the nickname, "brick wall" in high school). Rugby taught me it was okay for women to "pop a squat" in nature, even when portable potty's were available. Crouch, wasn't just for the "touch and engage", it was what you did when you had to pee. (I'm Ghanaian, and all the world's a urinal for us, so, I fit in quite naturally).
I've never enjoyed beer, so beer-ups weren't really my thing. But singing dirty songs with sexual innuendos was. Trash talk was welcomed and I could curse and be goofy. Awkward and belligerent. Rugby gave me a place to belch how I needed to, without judgement or fear. People even grew to appreciate my burps, which I tend to be quite proud of on a good day when I'm well hydrated.
My boyish warrior spirit landed me in trouble a few times. I was too physical for other sports, but I found home in rugby. I've been sent to the sin bin my fair share, acquiring yellow cards here and there, but never a red. Not that I can think of. I could be queer and unorthodox. I didn't have to fit in the box that demanded that women and girls be a particular type of way. And for that, I'm forever grateful.
Have you ever played rugby? For how long? What are some things that it has taught you about life?
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Until next time, in solidarity.