Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What are YOU going to do to help?

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.


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?


Anonymous said...

I have read your article and agree with a large part of it. Unfortunately, you yourself fall into grasping for reasons.
My first wuestion is what does sexuality have to do with it? I have traveled the USA for 16 years being involved in Rugby from Tx to Ma. The ONLY all gay teams I know of are MENS!!! The only people who seem to care which of us are gay or not are those looking for a piece of ass. Also, the teams who are performing at the highest levels are predominately straight!!!
Your accessment of toughness over ability holds no water with the 1000's of women I have personally watched and played with. Granted it seems this sport has become positionist, which is a shame, because it seems more like being on a football team than a rugby team today.
The problem is the same as with women's football. 1. No elite support like the men receive. 2. No money like the men receive.

Even the reasons I got into this game 16yrs ago is now being destroyed: This was the only sport I could find that expected the exact same performance from women as the men gave. Halves are shortened almost all the time. All the ribbing and gutsy play is tamped down. And I won't even begin to talk about tackling!!!!
But perhaps the most damaging, as usual the USA takes a game from another nation or continent and mangles it, disrespects its' traditions and obligations. And then wonders why it is not respected or can not win at that games highest levels.
I am proud to know I learned the game in Boston and with men who gave no quarter and expected my best everyday. It is disgusting that players today do not know "Everyday is Gameday" or "Head Down, Shut Up and PUSH!!"

What do I do the make a difference? I contact USA Rugby all the time. I make sure that new players know this is mud, guts, and blood, that there is no winning, only trys. Once a Rugger Always a Rugger. And I stand up to everyone who tries to reduce this game to whether I like boys or girls...What can you do--pay attention to the ball, the one on the field. And chip in the pot to send our girls to the worlds!

Kevin BMK Sullivan said...

Coach, you're right.

But I see a change coming, soon. I grew up playing Rugby, but my teammates found the game in College, and are now having kids. My son will play Rugby.

I believe in 10 years, we'll have a set of players who grew up in an American Rugby Culture.

I'm sorry for the vitriol you must receive.

Anonymous said...

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.

Wow, cool your jets. Pretty jingoistic.