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 December 2011

Committing to the Tackle

Tackling is a central element in all team sports. The tackle is the cornerstone of defending and gives the tackler the opportunity to regain possession. Rugby is no exception. As a full contact sport, a tackle is made by physically hauling to the ground an opposition player in possession of the ball. It requires courage, commitment and confidence. You can track a player across a pitch, you can chase him, but to stop his progress, retake the ball or prevent a scoring opportunity, you have to make the tackle.

Without tackling, mediocrity can look invincible - that is, a poor side can win, if good team fails to commit to the tackle. I remember one game I played in the day after one of the players birthday. Half of the team were hung-over and those of us who were committed to the game simply couldn't cover for all of the missed tackles across the field. No one wants to play in a game that is mediocre. No one wants to see a half-hearted effort from a team they know can perform at a much higher standard.

We see it in sport and complain, "come on tackle!", yet in life, we allow things to get past us. Building strong relationships takes courage, commitment and confidence. But too often, I wonder if we let things slip through - a poor attitude, a dumb, barbed comment or we let things slip through lack of attention or perhaps more frequently, we let familiarity rob us of the very best. Defending what we value in our relationships should be foundational to our game plan.

The bible has some interesting advice, when it comes to tackling important tasks. The man's man Jesus was confronted with a group of people who said "we will follow you, but we've got a couple of things to sort out first" - his response seemed harsh at first - "anyone who puts their hand to the plow and then looks back, isn't fit for service" - in other words if you are going to commit to the tackle, don't make out you're going for it, then pull out at the moment of commitment. Looking back whilst plowing, creates a furrow that isn't true. Pulling back from committing to relational strength is like letting mediocrity score a try without attempting to make the tackle.

With a new year, we frequently make resolutions to change something or improve in some area. I have a challenge. Let us as men commit to 3 things:

i) commit to the cause of the man's man Jesus Christ
ii) commit to building strength in all of the relationships that really matter (as husbands, fathers, brothers, mentors, coaches, friends)
iii) defending those we truly value, by committing to making the tackle (not letting comments through, not being  lazy or familiar with those closest to us)

When you commit yourself to making the tackle, you take a risk. You risk the other player off-loading or making a pass that releases the ball and you put yourself on the line physically. Yet with courage and confidence that match commitment, we can make the necessary tackles that create impregnable defences

Come on lets challenge mediocrity in 2012 and build strength in our close relationships, families, friendships, businesses and teams.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Festive Fixtures

Going to watch any sport over the Christmas and New Year period is an experience not to be missed. There is a different kind of atmosphere in the ground.

Rugby is well known for the friendliness and banter among opposing fans - with no crowd segregation required, in fact quite the opposite is true. On many occasions I have shaken hands with total strangers at the end of a game, where we have cheered our own, applauded the skills of our opponents, debated the finer points of refereeing decisions (for both sides) and laughed at funny incidents and the wise cracks of fellow fans. But at the Festive games, this goes to another level - with Santa Claus hats, festive singing, mince pies being passed out by people who you've never seen before, seasonal greetings mixed with another kind of spirit and "hellos" and "handshakes", like you've not seen the people sitting next to you for a decade - when in fact they were there at the last home game!!

The players get involved, laughing  and joking, even the match officials seem to be less stuffy. At one festive game, in front of a very large crowd, a rather "stout" referee, jogged up to an incident flagged as a "late tackle" on one of our players, and in a very loud voice, for the benefit of the crowd, said "that tackle was so late, even I got there before you" even louder jeers and shouts from the crowd ..."keep off the mince pies ref"...

But against this backdrop, not quite overshadowed by the festivities, there is a game to be played out. The matches over the holiday period, surrounded by the fun and banter, are often pivotal to the remainder of the season and can, in the mud, snow, rain and wind, be defining moments for individual players - some with international selection on their mind.

As a man of faith, these games remind me of another defining moment, which today is often and rightly surrounded by fun, family and all that a major festival has on offer - the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Christmas is a celebration. Its a celebration in many ways like the crowd scenes at a festive match. Goodwill breaks out. People who hardly speak, take the time to talk to each other, people share food and banter. But in the same way, now almost overshadowed by the festivity, let us not forget, a crucial game was being played out too, with destiny at its center.

As with festive fixtures, against the background of a crowd filled with festive cheer, the birth of the man's man Jesus, was a defining moment. For Christmas, marks the potential for a turning point in the affairs of every man, wherever his life's journey has taken him so far. What is being played out, is God's game plan for humanity, with Jesus Christ as the key play maker. His birth, life and subsequent death and resurrection, make it possible for anyone to experience the kind of feeling we get at Christmas, throughout the whole year - that understanding that there is a peace, a sense of well being and goodwill toward others and perhaps, the most important aspect, the appreciation that what has been, can be laid aside, forgiven and a man can make new start.

In the same way that a match, an encounter over the festive period can shape the rest of the season for a team, an encounter with the man's man, the Christ of Christmas, can be a defining moment, changing the rest of the "season" for us as individuals.

So, against the background of the festive period, lets spare a thought for the players out on the pitch, recognizing, its game on! Then, pausing, spare a thought for the key player in the humble scene from Bethlehem and recognize that for us too, it can be - game on!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Strength through Resistance

It was always there. It was like a Medieval stocks mounted on a sledge built from railway sleepers. It sat menacingly in the corner of the muddy training field. The scrummage machine. They say what doesn't kill you, makes you strong. Right. This "machine" was designed for players to practice driving forward in scrums and rucks. Its rough wooden frame and weight made you feel like an ox in a stall.

The heavy machine, usually with the rest of the team and frequently the coaching staff, standing on the sledge part, was the ultimate in resistance training. The forwards had to bind together as a unit and attempt to drive the sledge and its occupants forward.

It wasn't just the physical pain inflcited by the machine.The jibes from the lightweights standing on the machine also strengthend our resolove to ram into the beast and push them off the park.Without realising it at the time, we were building both physical and mental strength. We hated that machine.

But, oh the difference on match days. As a team, we became known for our driving play in mauls, rucks and particularly in the scrum, where we would frequently drive other teams off the ball. The pain of the resitance work, paid back with interest when it really mattered.

Eight men locking arms, binding themselves together, each knowing the other seven would not hold back when it came to the physical exertion required, created a momentum that proved in so many instances to be the difference between winning and losing. The physical and mental strength carried over into other areas of the game too, as you knew someone would always be at your shoulder in support.

The opposition would put up stiff resistance, but we would notch up the effort and usually we prevailed. If we fell short, we returned to the beast of the training field for more resistance training.

Life has a nack of throwing up barriers to our progress or circumstances that seem designed to knock us of track. Sure, bashing away continuously at totally the wrong thing is pointless and requires the mindset to reassess. But there are times in life when we need to recognise some circumstances for what they are - resistance. Discovering that our dreams, aspirations, intimate relationships or the bond of friendships are worth more than the circumstances we face, creates the opportuity for us to either quit or press through the hardships or difficulties we see.

The bible records the sound advice given by the great thinker, writer and practical man of faith, Paul, to his young friend and co-worker Timothy: "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, discharge all your duties" - don't allow the circumstances you face to de-rail you, press through the resistance and you will be able to complete or accomplish what you set out to achieve.

Resistance can be painful, but pressing through that barrier can lead to the breakthrough that we have been seeking. I've also discovered that when I'm with people of like mind, we can create momentum. Thats true in sport, in business and in our closest relationships. Strength, likemindedness and endurance are a powerful combination.

Our resistance training was painful, but ultimately it built the strength and resolve that overcame the opposition and against which resistance was futile. What are we facing today?