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

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Tactical Offload

Tactical decisions often require players and coaches to read and respond to situations very quickly.  
However, far from being snap decisions made on the run, a player with spatial awareness, an understanding of the game and the speed of thought that comes from practising skills, plus game experience, can intuitively make a decision to:

* pass the ball cleanly
* take the ball into contact and go to ground or
* take the contact and offload the ball

Training your mind is as important as training your body.

Each option has tactical advantages and can be deployed by any player on the field. A clean pass in open play, can set the ball on its way to a try scoring opportunity. Taking the ball into contact and going to ground, takes in defenders, allows regrouping and a new phase of play to be started. Here, the ball carrier knows his team will form around him to protect the ball.

The offload is a riskier call, but can be just as effective as a pass or going to ground. The difference between a pass and an offload, is clear: the ball carrying player knowingly commits to contact, taking the defender out of play, but at the right time, releases the ball to maintain the momentum of a move. Very often, the offload is executed at close quarters and in less structured, broken play.

Tactically you are consciously committing to contact for the sake of the bigger picture, knowing another player can be released to continue progress.

Sometimes life calls on us to commit to the contact. We know that by absorbing impact, we can release others to progress. As parents, we often shield our families from contact, knowing that they can make progress, faster and further if we absorb impacts.

On closer examination, there is a big difference between the offload and simply offloading. If, as adults, we unwisely dump every heartache, every economic pressure, every fear onto our families, we would effectively be throwing them what is euphemistically called a "hospital" pass - a wayward slinging of the ball, leaving them wide open to being hit hard.

Tactical parenting, friendship, guardianship and in business, taking the contact to ensure a safe offload to the team, is, as on the field of play, a leadership characteristic. The battles "we" fight and win, do not have to be re-fought by those following us - they will have enough of their own. But the ground we have taken, as in game time, allows them to move on.

The bible notes the comments of the great thinker, communicator and mentor, Paul (the Apostle) to his young friend and follower Timothy: "I have fought the fight, I have run the race, I have completed the course". Paul had taken the impact and fought battles that Timothy had no need to refight and was releasing the ball, having drawn the opposition, leaving a clearer route forward.

We can go to ground and wait for the back up. We could make a clean pass if there is an opening. We could draw the opposition, take the impact and offload to keep the momentum flowing. The offload requires clear thinking, a sense of timing and having someone following you at close quarters. Are we prepared to commit to the contact that releases others?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Where it all started in 1972

1972 - Mini-Rugby in deepest Gloucestershire
It all started back in 1972. Someone threw a rugby ball at me, I caught it and the rest, as they say is...all about odd hairstyles, funny shirts, 50 or so lads and a muddy field. I found this picture recently, in a very old scrapbook. If you can find me, please feel free to post a comment.
When I rediscovered this old picture, I tried  to remember the names from way back, but regrettably the decades had dulled my memory. However, despite not being able to remember all of the names, I can remember running around in the mud and some of my very early games, as if they were yesterday. Looking back they were great days, but a far cry from today's fast paced, professional game. Check out those old leather rugby balls - if it rained, or the pitch was muddy, they would get heavier and heavier as the game progressed. But that was then, not now. Its good to look back, but life is in the now and in the days that lie ahead.

My speed and fitness levels have dropped since those days in the early 1970s (only marginally you understand). But one thing hasn't changed - my interest in the sport and passion for the game. I can still throw a mean spin pass, make a tackle and recently, in a passing game with a group of kids, I made a pretty good side-step around a friend, who shall remain nameless, but is a Fijian international (you know who you are). Passion still enables you to engage, even though your circumstances, experience or location may have changed.

If you have a passion for something, it can be a powerful motivator and that passion and motivation combined can be a great sustainer. Recently, I have been reading about a man called Caleb. The bible describes him as a man with faith and a man with a never give up spirit. His sense of vision allowed him to catch a glimpse of what the future could look like. 45 years later, he could stand on the hills he had only seen from a distance and call them home. The vision had become a reality, through passion, persistence and, there's no avoiding it, some pain too - because it took graft and effort. But through it all he, never lost sight of what God had showed him all those years ago - until the day he could stand on those hill tops. What kind of a future have you seen?

It seems today, in a fast paced, media driven world, that to delay gratification is a sign of weakness or an absence of "go get". There are some positives in living in and enjoying the "now" moment, otherwise the journey would be dull. But, no matter how quickly we may want to force the pace, there are some things that require time, commitment, passion, persistence and sometimes breaking through the pain barrier. Relationships take time to grow, develop and mature. Lets not be so professional with people that we forget to take time to invest in them.

I had little idea when that photograph was taken, where life would lead me. I can look back with gratitude, from a place I can call home, with a great family, with a faith that is as strong today as the day when I was first gripped by it and Gods compassion toward me.

However, I have discovered that, no matter how far you have travelled, there are still distant hills to be taken, still things to be done, still struggles to win through, still amazing things to see and experience. When others had fallen by the wayside, when others had given up or retired, Caleb was able say "give me this hill country". It doesnt matter when your journey started - why not let God give you a glimpse of a bright future and start on the journey to it today...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

An Act of Remembrance

In sport, there's always a sense of the unknown attached to away matches. What will the opposition be like on their own patch? You leave the familiarity of your own ground and you have to compete in their arena, their territory. The test in the face of the unknown can be daunting. We call sport combat, but it isn't warfare. Rugby is a full contact sport, but it isn't armed conflict.

When you play in an away game, you can have all of your set plays worked out, you can know all the moves and calls, but it's often the intangible bond that makes a team a team that carries you through the pressure and the physical challenges. But it's not war.

I recently visited a very prestigious boarding school with a team. We played against a backdrop of rolling hills, woodland and the towers of the old school building, complete with turrets and gargoyles. What a place to play a rugby match. You could feel the sense of tradition and history. We made history too ending a 15 year wait for an away win against our opponents. But it wasn't hand to hand fighting or roadside incendiary devices. It was a game. A game, between 30 lads, who clapped each other off the field, changed, sat down and ate a meal together.

I took the opportunity to have a look around. As I walked the corridors and entered into a great hall, I was confronted with a series of portraits of young men wearing military uniforms. There were seven (7) of them in total. Closer inspection revealed they were all former pupils. They had one very distinguished thing in common. They had all been awarded the highest military honour - the Victoria Cross. Seven from one school.

As I read the citations of their heroic acts and the notes about these incredible young men, several who paid with their lives, it dawned on me, these lads had played the same sport, on the same fields we had played on earlier that afternoon. I realised the lads who had played earlier, were these men in the making and what a responsibility I have as a dad, a friend, a coach.

My thoughts turned again to the spirit there had been that afternoon - to win. The bible has a great insight into camaraderie: "a brother is born for adversity and there is one who sticks closer than a brother". I thought of the lads, who knew their team mates were there for them. I thought of the selfless sacrifice of the seven young men, looking out at me from their portraits and of all who were helped by their heroism. I thought of the man's man Jesus Christ, who said "greater love has no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends", then demonstrated that love for all mankind through his death on the cross. Truly the one who sticks closer to us, even than a brother.

What an away trip. But it wasn't war. There are those engaged in a more fierce away match. There are families affected by the loss of loved ones and those that carry the scars of conflicts past and present. As the day for Remembrance approaches, let us not only take a moment to reflect, but let's allow the remembrance to make us act: to be the brother for times of adversity, to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother and like many who we remember and Christ who gave his all, let us give something of ourselves daily in selfless acts. After all our great sport is just that, a sport, it's not warfare.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Running off the Ball - the Art of Support Play

Have you ever been involved with something and at the same time felt like a spare part? Or, simply felt like you wanted to take over, through sheer frustration or impatience? I'm not alone then?

It's like not getting your hands on the ball. Sometimes you can wonder "why am I on the park?" Its not easy playing a supporting role. But, as I've reflected on the art of tactical support, I've discovered there are critical moments in sport and in life, when "running off the ball" is a crucial element to a passage of play, or a season of life.

To perform a truly supporting role, even though you might not get your hands on the ball, you still have to run as hard as the player with the ball. Keeping pace with play, backing up, even to the point of tracking a ball carrier all the way to the try line, can be the key to scoring match winning points. Why?

Well, running off the ball has a number of very important tactical functions:

  • it provides a ball carrier with an opportunity to safely offload a ball if he runs into contact
  • it creates an option for an alternative play to be introduced
  • it can create an overlap situation, where you are in the majority and the opposition in the minority
  • it creates a defensive barrier by blocking space for the opposition to move into
  • it enables an attacking player to move forward with confidence knowing someone has his back
  • it allows for an attacking move to continue if there is a breakdown in play by being first on the scene 
  • it enables a pass to be made moving the ball away from the opposition
  • it provides an option to switch a running line and the angle of attack
  • it ensures your team have a first defender if your ball carrier has lost the ball
  • it has the potential to draw or stretch the opposition defence and allow more space for an attacker
  • when the attacker scores, you can be the first person to congratulate him!! (why not?)

As I've thought about each of them,  I turned my thoughts to my life, my family, my responsibilities. Why not re-read the list, but think about it as a father, a brother, a son or a friend or colleague - or even a team mate.

As a man of faith, I have discovered that there are times when simply being there, backing up is really important. The bible has a very laid bare insight into the relationship between the man's man Jesus Christ and the close group of followers he had around him. At what was perhaps the most agonizing point of his life, when he was facing a destiny changing decision, the small group of followers gave in to fatigue and couldn't watch with him for a few hours. A few hours later, despite their supportive comments, the majority of them simply couldn't "run off the ball" with him, to the finishing line - something they later regretted terribly and made amends for through their faith and actions. Knowing someone is there, even if they feel like they're not doing anything particularly exciting, can be a massive boost to confidence, courage and sometimes, continuing with something.

Its easy to talk a good game. Its not so easy to play a supporting role, especially if someone gets the glory for scoring a try or making a touchdown, or firing in a 20yd shot into the back of the net. Its often exactly the same standing and watching a child, or encouraging a teenager (often without saying a word), or releasing a young adult to marriage, or saying goodbye to a loved one at the ultimate call. All of those moments are not about us, and yet in a strange way they are - for how we support, how we "run off the ball", can prove to be a decisive factor. When the temptation is to simply give in to fatigue, or at the other extreme, to dive in and take over, through either frustration or impatience - perhaps we should consider the tactical benefits of running off the ball...