These thoughts are to help and inspire people like you and me to reach higher and strive for greater things, to stand for a cause more noble than self serving, seeing the good in others and seeking it for their sake. I unashamedly weave my faith, biblical insight and life experiences into a sporting context to illustrate my personal journey to this point - I hope in a small way, I can help you on your journey to being all you were intended to be....

There are now over 50 posts to check out, tweet, link to facebook or google+ Please feel free to share a link BUT If you use any of the illustrations please acknowledge the source as Phil Manchester, Bradford, England. You can follow me on twitter @philmanchester

Friday, 30 September 2011

The 16th Man

It was a hard game. We were up against a tough team from South Wales. I took the ball into contact and we set up a rolling maul. Noticing we were close to the touchline, I looked down through the mass of legs to locate the whitewash. To my amazement, I saw a pair of brown, highly polished, reinforced toe-cap combat boots, on the end of legs wearing jeans!

Eventually, the maul was dragged into touch and as we broke away to form the lineout, I could see the boots belonged to one of our lads, sidelined by injury. He had got so fired up with our drive up field, that he couldn't help himself and piled into the maul to add his weight to our forward momentum.

Looking back it was very funny, especially as the referee was totally unaware of where our extra power had come from.

I'm sure we've all experienced situations in life sometimes, when a bit of momentum would be really helpful, an added bit of strength from somewhere or someone. But the reality is, often we have to face things or tough them out alone.

Sometimes, players will say the encouragement of a big crowd can be like having an extra man. I heard a seasonsed international player recently talknig about how they had a special call when an injection of momentum was required or spirits where flagging. On the call, everyone had to sprint everwhere for the next 5 mins. Whilst I'm not advocating running around workshops, offices, school rooms or shopping malls - if it works for you...go for it. However, there is another dimension worth considering when you feel the need for an injection of momentum or need some impetus to keep you going. Remember, God is for you. God is on your side.

The bible has some interesting advice: "draw near to God and he will draw near to you" - if we are prepared to accept the possibility that God is for us, then just as my injured team mate couldn't help but get involved in our forward drive, God wants to encourage you and get involved in helping you make headway.

Who knows how he will show up; maybe through a pair of highly polished, brown boots or through a helping hand, perhaps through a word of encouragement, or a "keep going", from someone already on the journey. Perhaps through a reminder of the strength and resolve you have within you. I don't know. But I do know, if we are ready, so is he.

Blessed are the Referees for they shall be called...

Who would be a referee? My uncle Jim was a football (soccer) referee. Even when he wasn't on a pitch, he was still a referee. We once found him in the middle of town directing traffic. Oh yes. Raised hand to halt the flow, whilst waving drive on (play on, play on) with the other. If we hadn't rescued him, he may have booked a driver and a cyclist following a touchline, sorry roadside altercation.

There was something in him that just kicked in when he saw that order was required where there was chaos. He was like it in life. When he saw someone in need, he didn't stop, then ask for permission to help; he just helped.

By all accounts uncle Jim was one of a rare breed; a players referee. He knew the rules, understood the game, could assess the spirit in which any game was being played and adapt his approach to the game to keep it flowing.

The best games to play in and the best games to watch are the ones that flow. They can be tough physically and emotionally draining, but it takes great skill to judge the mood and interpret the laws of the game to keep a match at a great tempo.

Not all games are like that and certainly not all referees are like Jim. I don't think I'm the only one who has been walked back 10 metres in a rugby match,for questioning a referee, or has been carded for dissent. Equally, I don't think I'm the only one who has stood on a touchline or in a stand or been sat in front of a TV and questioned a referee's sight, parentage, intake of pies or asked whose side he was on. Referees the world over seem to have a knack for generating emotion in players and spectators alike.

As a man of faith, I am intrigued by the words of Jesus, recorded by a man called Matthew. He wroted that Jesus said "blessed are the peacemakers". I have often thought about what this means. Do I have to go around stepping in wherever I can see there is a problem so that I can bring peace? Do I have to be like a one man United Nations mission? Do I have to deliberately look for trouble so I can bring peace?

I know there are times when unless we intervene nothing will change. But the more I've thought about this in the daily context of my own life, I've concluded that the best peacemakers are like the best referees - they create the conditions in which peace thrives, rather than intervening, blowing a whistle to stop play because something has happened. The greatest referees and the greatest peacemakers are those who help things to flow: with a quiet word here or there, a supportive comment, a word to the wise...

As a husband, a dad, a friend or a colleague am I someone who has to be constantly blowing the whistle because I need to make peace break out, or, am I a peace maker who knows how to create and maintain the conditions to keep life flowing. I wonder which one Jesus was thinking about..

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Possession and Position

You have to have the ball to score points!

But, possession alone is not enough. You also have to be in a position to score a try, knock the ball in the back of the net, shoot a hoop or make a touchdown...

Recent games in the 2011 Rugby World Cup have illustrated the point that dominance in possession doesn't always translate into points.

I read the following from a BBC correspondent recently "...impressive in defence with the pack (rugby forwards) completely dominating, but there was an alarming lack of attacking thrust"...( BBC Sport, Sept 15th 2011). In other words you can be in possession for almost the entire duration of a game and still let the other side nick it at the end.

It is possible to lull yourself into a false sense of security if you focus only on one aspect of this combinational duo. We've seen possession alone doesn't give you any points. Similarly, you can be standing totally unmarked, with the try line in front of you, but without the ball, making that dream score is simply aspirational. You can run through phase after phase, in all manner of sports, but unless you cross the "gain line" at best you're moving sideways, but all the time you're expending energy going nowhere.

I doubt if I'm alone in discovering that life can be like this at times. I think I've grabbed a hold of it, by the "scruff of the neck" spending time and effort trying to make things happen, or force things along, only to discover I've made little progress - that can be really soul destroying. I think I have possession, but my position hasnt changed.

The bible has some very sound advice here "where's the profit in someone gaining everything, but in the process, missing the mark totally on who he was meant to become" (Matt 16.26)

We can do it relationally too - going around the same old loop to come back to the same position and sadly, taking up a position, can be very damaging to close relationships - particularly if no-one is prepared to back-down.

However, there is another dimension to winning that sits alongside possession and position - its perspective.

As a man with a faith I learned that the bible insight is true when it says that I can be "seated above with Christ" - it sounds a bit strange as I cant physically do that, - but the key, I've learned, is about perspective. If I sit somewhere, I'm taking the time to stop. If I stop and that place is with Christ, I can reflect on things from his view point; that bigger picture perspective that I often times can't see.

Elevation changes perspective,
perspective changes vision and
vision enables us to see things differently
and make both tactical and yes, the relational adjustments we need.

I may have all the possession, I may be in the perfect position, but have I got the perception to lift my head, lift my vision, lift my thinking? Possession and position are components of a winning team; they're also components of a winning life...especially if we allow God to help us with a new perspective.

Friday, 16 September 2011

What happens when you run into the posts?

When I first started playing competitive rugby, our boots wouldn't have been out of place in a coal mine. The shirts we wore had such long collars that when you turned them up they virtually covered the back of your head. We didn't have body armour and the posts didnt have padding around the bottom of the uprights - which was a slight problem.

Running back in defence, marshalling the boys to get onto the try line and spread across to cover an attack, I ran, bang into one of the uprights! It would have been ok, but for the lack of padding. I was knocked out cold, but despite my prone position, play continued around me.

As I eventually started to come around, through the foggy thought processes and thumping head, I heard a phrase that was at once uplifting and has stayed with me to this day..."get up Manchester, if it had been anywhere else, it might have hurt!!"

As I dragged myself to my feet to rejoin the match, the suggestion that I was "thick headed" was realised, as I played the rest of the match with concussion, speaking total gibberish, but scoring a try somewhere in the mix.

Now I'm not entirely convinced that the sarcastic comment from the touchline was meant to be encouraging, but it certainly fired me up to keep going. Words can have interesting effects.

What we say, however flippant or serious carries it's own weight and momentum. Once things are said, it's difficult if not impossible to take them back. The bible has an interesting insight to what we say, describing the tounge like a spark that sets off a forest fire!

On the other hand, words can be like building blocks. There is a man called Barnabus mentioned in the bible in a time when lots of people were being pushed around, sent into exile or made refugees. His name translated means son of encouragement or perhaps better put "the encourager". From the records, this man always had something constructive to say. There was always an uplifting comment. His nature was like his name.

It's good to feel good. Encouragement is a powerful builder and though it doesn't cost us anything to say something uplifting, it is an increasingly rare commodity. We might not be facing the same threats as the people in Barnabus' day, but why not deliberately chose to say something encouraging to someone today and watch their confidence and their stature grow. Try it, it works - but make sure you avoid running into posts!!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Blue Zone, Red Zone

Its finally here and underway - the 2011 Rugby World Cup. New Zealand get off to a win versus Tonga in a bruising start, with flashes of what to expect from the host nation - Power, pace and points!

With the tournament up and running, aside from some directional input and making the right call in selection, the coaching staff have done their work. Now its down to the players on the pitch to do what they do best - play rugby.

As the tournament progresses toward the real business end, pitching the best in the world against each other, the mental aspects of the game come to the fore as much as the physical and technical aspects.
How teams and specific players respond under pressure can make the marginal difference that turns a game - a crucial penalty kick, a critically timed drop goal, not conceding a penalty in your own 22.

Thinking and acting under pressure comes differently to different people. But there are some principles at work.

In the build up to the first game, I have been thinking about a concept I discussed with a sports psychologist a few years ago; what they called "blue zone, red zone".

The two zones represent the twin elements of just about every type of encounter or interaction.
One being what "you" do: your role, your skill sets - the blue zone. It represents what you can control. The other - the red zone is the blue zone of the person or team you are interacting with - which is out of your control.

The point being, when under pressure, many people try to second guess what the other person or team is going to do. That's fine to a point, as there is a great skill in anticipation, but too often, team structure falls apart when the team or individuals concentrate more on someone else's game rather than their own.

As a coach you can spot this if you're prepared to be objective. You can see individuals falling out of position or getting in each others way. The "rub of the green" seems like its always with the other side.

It goes without saying that there are times when we simply meet a team that is better.
However a good team may be beaten by a great team and still come away having played well and be able to find development opportunities from a hard game - rather than falling apart and suffering a defeat over a hard fought loss.

It's how we respond in pressure situations that can determine what happens next.

The same is true in life. How many times have we stopped being the husband, dad, brother or friend people need, because we have been focused on red zones beyond our control rather than being consistent in our blue zone? It's easy to push the focus or blame on to something we can't control, when often we let our own game plan slip, with obvious consequences.

The bible has some interesting advice that can help us to stay "blue zone" focussed.
Speaking of Jesus, it says, "he went about doing good". There were times when he was under intense pressure - but the pressure didn't stop him from doing what was good. Now that's a challenge, especially when I find it tough to be consistent if its tough for me!

But what does doing good look like for me?

Here again there is some helpful advise from the bible: "man, he has showed you what is good - do justly, love mercy and walk in humility before him" - in other words:

  • don't be biased in your dealing with people,
  • try and look at situations wearing the other persons shoes or through his eyes and
  • carry yourself with integrity and a balanced view of who you are.
Three very practical blue zone principles.
Why dont we give them a try as our blue zone and build them into our game plan? That way, when we encounter red zone as something we can't control - we can respond from a positive position. Remeber, there are things we may not be able to control, but here's the key, "we" don't need to be controlled by "them".
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Calling for a "mark!"

Have you ever been under extreme pressure? Perhaps that's how you might feel right now? There's a strange rule in the sport of rugby that is a brilliant illustration of handling pressure situations. Any player in the 22m area of their own half attempting to catch a ball and considers themselves to be under pressure from the advancing players of the other team may call a "mark" - when the rule was introduced the player had to make a mark with their boot too - now, shouting "mark" is enough for the referee to halt play, relieving pressure by restarting with a free kick to the catching player. It all sounds a bit gentlemanly in a full contact sport, but the intention of the rule is to provide protection for an under pressure player and stop them being totally flattened when they are focussing on a catch. Calling for a mark is a legitimate defence and requires skill to focus on catching the ball and being aware of an imminent danger at the same time. It takes presence of mind and courage to reach for a high ball under pressure. It certainly isn't a weakness to make the call, as the alternative is a bruising! Sometimes, as a man, I feel I have to take all the hits that come my way and I try to internalize or absorb everything. But even the strongest person has a limit. Bottling things up inside until we explode can be dangerous and too often those who are the closest to us suffer as a result of our lack of communication, withdrawal or release of pent up feelings. John Kirwan, the great New Zealand rugby player has written a very helpful book about his personal journey in dealing with depression called "All Blacks don't cry". It's an honest account from someone at the very top of their game who suffered from depression. It illustrates the need to be courageous in recognising signs and the importance of having a strong support network. Alongside the practical release of pressure from open and honest communication, as a man with a faith, I have discovered that in pressure situations, I can call for a "mark", appealing to a real man's man as a source of help - Jesus Christ. The bible has a very practical description of God (psalm 46) pointing out that he is a "refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble". I know from personal experience, pressure comes and I know that there are times when I have been flattened too. We can try and absorb everything, but ultimately something gives. I have found that making the call isn't weakness: it's a sound, technical and courageous defence. Who are you calling?