I can't help but notice, reading the rugby news sites (Gainline, ERN aka Goff) how much venom is in the comments. What's it all about? Winning - specifically, the lack thereof.
Whether its our MNT or our WNT, age grade or seniors, it's the same. Everyone wants results from our national teams, and if those results don't come the moment we want them, the masses rally with pitchforks and torches, ready to storm the castle.
We complain about money, salaries, resources, etc. We complain about assemblies and foreigners, and boards and grants. We whine about what other countries have, and focus on what we do not.
Well, this is America. So why don't we talk about America - after all that's what this is all about, and we have, quite surely, lost sight of what that means.
Sports, at the international level, are so much more than just demonstrations of skill. Our sports teams reflect our successes and failings as a culture and as a society. Our sports teams reflect our social and political identity. Our sports teams reflect how we live our lives and how we conduct ourselves in the face of adversity.
International athletic competition, at its most base level, is a metaphor for war. It is a way for civilized cultures to test their mettle against each other in a way that doesn't involve loss of life or territory. No where is this clearer than in the most recent Olympic games - one only need look at the medal race between the USA and China to realize - these Americans aren't just competing to see if they are faster, fitter, or can better nail a vault but to demonstrate that athletes don't need to be political prisoners in order to be successful.
It's not just a test of our physical and mental toughness, it's a test of our ability to organize, its a test of our technology, it's a test of our leadership.
If anyone out there thinks that China wasn't sending a message about their organization, technical superiority, and unity of purpose, watch the opening ceremonies again.
Some quick historical reminders of how international sports aren't really about speed, agility, or quickness:
- Adolf Hitler and the 1932 games
- Jessie Owens response to Adolf Hitler and the 1932 games
- USA vs Russia, the Miracle on Ice, during the height of the cold war.
- USA's boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, in protest of Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.
- The massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich games in 1972
- The bombing at the Atlanta games by white supremist Eric Rudolf in 1996
If national sports teams are a reflection of who we are as a nation, what does that reflection look like, for rugby?
I see players, men and women, who reflect a vastly diverse cross section of our population. We have 'foreign born players'? Well, we have foreign born Americans. We have gay and lesbian players? Well, we have and protect that diversity in America.
Our support of womens national teams and programs reflects our commitment to equality and women's rights, our cultural and social diversity reflects our commitment to embrace social and cultural diversity as a country.
But we are losing our @#*(, if I may speak bluntly. So I'm asking everyone out there ... what have YOU, personally, done to help our national team programs - both genders, all age groups? Anything?
What can you do?
Our national team coaches need players to come into the system fit, skilled, smart, and tough. They need to step into their first assembly with skills and smarts. No one coach needs this any more than any other. If we started from scratch with new coaches in every single position, they would still need players who were fit, skilled, smart, and tough. You have the power to make that happen.
How? We need to step out of comfort zones and start learning from each other. We need to start working with each other, not against each other. First and foremost, we need to start asking "How can I help?", and never stop asking.
Go to a coaching clinic. Don't like the material presented? Then get something from the other coaches. Go to someone else's practice. Have someone else run yours. Step out of your silo. Some of the best coaching in our country are at the collegiate level and even at the youth level. Talk to them. Watch them. Ask them what they do. Who cares that you coach superleage and they coach College? I bet you'll still leave the session with something new to try, or a new way to present the information.
Find a coaching partner, who can watch you coach and help you improve. Watch him or her, and help him improve.
Question everything you do. Push yourself.
Volunteer to host camps & events. If funding is a problem for our national teams, let's find ways to use the resources we have, so our men and women and boys and girls don't have to pay for them.
DO SOMETHING. BE PART OF THE SOLUTION.
If we want rugby to be embraced by Americans, American's rugby people need to start embracing rugby. All the way. And that means we all need to start working harder - we need actions, not words, plans instead of just ideas.
We need leadership, and when leaders are identified and chosen, we need to support and trust them, and give them time to build something. We need to support and trust our leaders AND the players the select, their jobs are hard enough as it is without them having to fight a never-ending internal battles.
We need to start treating our national teams, our players and coaches, as the flag bearers for our country. We need to embrace all that is great about being American, and inject that into the heart and soul of every player or coach wearing a jersey or polo - whether they were born here or not. Bottom line, players need to want to play for the USA because they want to represent the USA - not just because it's cool, they get a trip to a foreign country, a few weeks off work, and maybe a pro contract.
We need to practice singing the National Anthem, and when we sing it, we need to sing it with love not just for the game, but for the freedoms and opportunities that being AMERICAN give us. And we need to find away for EVERY player with the desire, heart, and skill to represent America to get there, not just the players who can afford it.
So I'm putting out an open call to everyone coaching rugby out there, and I'm gonna ask ... what are you going to do? What specific, measurable, step are YOU going to take to help? If you're willing to share an idea here, let's see it. No bitching or moaning, no whining. Just action. What are you going to do?