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, 24 February 2012

When running through the phases isnt enough

Structure and process are important. There can be no denying that without form, or some kind of pattern, sport, business, church and life in general can degenerate into a collection of unrelated events or stilted movement. Process is important to ensure there is continuity and to take the focus off living for events or the spectacular and a continuous need to hit a high. Sometimes, we just have to keep on  with life. In sport, keeping the score board ticking along is important. In rugby for example, running patiently through the phases is key to making progress and securing possession. However, there are times when pressing "refresh" or introducing a shift or a change is essential to being a winner.

I was listening to a commentary from a rugby match recently and the summariser said "that's 35 phases, they have worked through, they simply can't break through this resolute defence". That set me thinking "either the defence was strong", or perhaps "the other side were totally bereft of ideas or didn't have players with the ability to see beyond a one dimensional model of play. Doing the same thing can be strength sapping and safe at the same time - you see, there is no risk attached to process.

Some of the most exciting games of rugby I have seen have been those in which an individual player or a team totally disrupt a standard pattern of play. They can see gaps that others cant see. They have a speed of thought and spatial awareness that can spot open spaces behind defenders. They have the perception to realise the norm isn't working and something else is needed. The line between success and failure is determined by the risks we are prepared to take on the field and sometimes in life.

Broken play is messy. There are risks attached to chipping a ball over someones head into space and trying to run through. There is the possibility that a forward getting into a line of slick passing backs could totally miss-time a pass and give away an interception. But its exciting. Especially when the alternative is 35 phases of grind and lateral movement. Lets not be too harsh on players with their heads down, engaged in their personal battles with their opposite numbers. After all, when you're in the thick of the action, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture, particularly if you are personally under pressure.

The bible records an incredible moment, when the man's man Jesus invites his friend Peter to climb over the side of the boat, defy convention, his own fears and the natural order of things and step onto water. Whatever your belief system, I guess like me you'd accept its a pretty spectacular or radical thing to ask a man to do. But then, that's what the man's man did and still does. He challenges the notion that simply running through the phases is enough. God knows, life can be pretty mundane and he equally knows how we respond to it. The challenge he offers us is to see it from a different perspective. To maybe take a risk on something different - after all, isn't that what faith is - taking a risk, a step into the unknown or unfamiliar?

If running through the phases isn't getting you anywhere near scoring the try or making that touch-down, or hitting that home run, you've been striving for or aiming at - how about you try stepping out over the side of the boat, take a risk, do something different - the neat thing about what Jesus asked Peter to do, was: it was no more than he was doing himself - that's what I like about the man's man. Are you happy running through the phases? What do you need to do differently? Listen for his voice above the sound of the wind and the waves, he may just be asking you to step out of the boat....

Friday, 10 February 2012

11 things playing the advantage gives you

Lets face it, being a referee can't be easy. Everyone has an opinion about every decision you make or about the ones they think you miss. Learning the law is one thing, applying and interpreting it is another level.

One area that allows a referee some discretion is - the law of "advantage". Summing it up, a referee can allow play to continue after an offence has occurred, if, in his opinion, he thinks you would be disadvantaged by stopping the game. In rugby, there is no time limit, the referee is the sole judge of when any advantage has expired or, if in his view, no advantage is gained, he can stop the game and reset by awarding a penalty.

As a player, the advantage rule is great. At the very least, you know that the referee will stop the game if you can't make the most of the scope you've been given and award a penalty. At the other end of the scale, you're free to carry on unimpeded to perhaps try something you may not have taken a risk on, without the advantage.

I started to think about this in a playing context and also in a life context.

The bible has some really useful advice, when it tells us that the "man's man" Jesus Christ came to bring liberation - that is freedom from containment, freedom to find the true expression of life that was always intended for us to express. The advice is very simple and yet so often, we complicate it with stop start thinking - here it is: "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free".

Putting it simply, God has called "advantage", He wants us to carry on playing it out, without hinderance or being impeded. So many people think that God wants to keep whistle blowing - stop, starting, "you cant do this, you cant do that" - nothing could be further from the truth. He has signalled "advantage" and its game on!

Here are my 11 things that playing the advantage gives you. Read them first in the context of the game. When the referee signals advantage, he has made his intention clear; from that point, until he decides otherwise, he is looking out for you and for your benefit. Then, read them again, but this time, think about "the" highest authority looking out for your benefit...

When you know the referee has signalled advantage:
  • you can attempt something riskier or more creative
  • you can be more expansive in your play
  • you're not contained by the offence that's been committed against you
  • you are in control of the next phase of play, even if the current one breaks down
  • you don't have to resort to retaliation - that's been covered by a higher authority
  • someone has seen you were mistreated but can see the potential for you to keep going
  • you can keep going so long as the route is clear to do so or at least until this phase stops
  • you're not wasting your time or energy complaining about what has happened to you
  • you're making progress under direct authority that is on your side
  • where there's space to play, you can just keep going
  • the opportunity to complete what you were attempting is still on
Go on read them again. The next match you watch when the referee signals or shouts "advantage", remind yourself that if we chose to listen, God is calling "advantage" over our lives. Our challenge is to hear the call and play on to fully realise the opportunity he is signalling.

    Friday, 3 February 2012

    "Step up, there are questions to be answered"

    In the Northern Hemisphere the primary International rugby competition is the 6 Nations Championship, contested by England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. With the 2011 Rugby World Cup fresh in the memory, many players will feel they have points to prove, or scores to settle. Those newly called up to the squads will have the expectation of making a lasting impression for all of the right reasons and to secure match day selection. But when it comes down to it, what does it take?

    I have been reading the views of a former player and respected rugby commentator who recalls that "passion" is a given, but its not enough to win a test match. I guess if you can't feel a surge of pride when you pull on the colors of your country, when can you? What else does it take? Well, each position has 3 or 4 key roles and if every man plays his part and does it better than his opposite number, the team will win. There's a certain logic to that view. The article continued that if you were playing the opposition in a club match, you wouldn't fear them, so why fear them when they pull on an international jersey? Again, there is logic to that - a player doesn't automatically get better because he is wearing a different shirt - a little more passion perhaps, but fitter, stronger, technically and tactically more astute?

    What makes a person step up to the mark when the test comes. Who can answer the questions asked by unforgiving and unrelenting opposition? The difference is the ability to hold things together when the pressure comes - under the scrutiny of thousands in a stadium and millions of armchair experts watching by TV. In a media driven world, there is nowhere to hide. The game changers will be those who can hold their nerve at crucial times. Those who do what they have always done; in training when no one is watching, routinely week in week out - they will have an answer.

    Life throws up challenges everyday, it can feel unrelenting sometimes cant it? There are times when we feel like bolting or running, but ultimately there is nowhere to hide; we have to find answers.
    The bible has a revealing insight into the nature of God and his relationship with man. It records an account of a man called Job. He faced trial after trial. His world had been devastated by personal tragedy. He was experiencing stress, anxiety and loss. In some ways, he is unique. Yet he is "every man" - for who doesn't face trials and tests, we want solutions, we seek calm, space, time to think. We have well meaning people, who try to advise and make things more confusing - just like Job. 

    Isn't that the moment you'd expect an intervening act from a "loving", "caring" God. Instead, just like in the tough, physical test arena, God asks searching questions. In fact he said to Job "man up, I've got some questions to ask you, that you must answer" - True love isn't built on sentiment or platitude and just as in a game, passion alone wont see us through. True love is a conscious choice, a decision. It's a resolve that may be shaped by circumstances, but ultimately isn't defined by them. Sure, there is passion, there is emotion. But the question to Job was aimed at helping him see who he really was; regardless of circumstance. Then to see God with him in his circumstance and beyond, as part of a much bigger picture. If we can discover relationship that reaches beyond sentiment, that brings out the best in us and to whose cause we can add our strength - then we are on the way to becoming "game changers".

    In the physical, emotional and mental pressure of the test arena, those who know who they are, what they are capable of and who have a sense of being a part of something bigger than their own ego, will make a difference. What questions are you being asked? Where are you finding your answers? Faith, reaches out to a God who asks us to reach beyond ourselves. For me, the challenge is to pull the shirt on and go live out the difference. Are you up for it?