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

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Men Need the Fight

Back in my playing days we were a mixed bunch of lads. Electricians, farmers, office workers, builders. But as soon as we pulled on the team shirt something happened. We became a team. The shirt is a great leveller. The cause is a great uniting force. There's something powerful when men unite for a common purpose. The physicality of the contact and the hits, the exertion in the scrum and driving mauls. The elation of making the tackle and turning over possession. The ecstasy or the agony at the final whistle - no matter the result we stood together. I have a feeling that whatever we did away for the game, we were better men for being part of something that required us to commit ourselves to others, to excel as individuals but acknowledge that it would take all 15 of us to prevail. We were better men having given something of ourselves to the fight. Men need the fight. But the fight needed men. Today I have to adjust to watching from fhe sidelines or coaching, but there is still enjoyment in the camaraderie and the banter on the touchline. But I still miss the hits, the physical tussles, making the tackles. Today it's a different fight. It's showing the way to the lads coming through, showing this generation the importance of the fight, how to engage as team,  how to excel firstly as men, then as players.  Men need the fight. The man's man Jesus Christ understands the importance and the longing of men to engage in the fight - he pulled together 12 guys from different backgrounds and set them on a course to change the world. He knew they would face tough opposition, criticism and open conflict. But there was a fight. The prize - the liberation of people contained by dead religion or the limitations of sad or inflicted circumstances or the cruelty of tyranny.  That early team were as different a bunch of lads as any rugby, soccer, baseball or football team, but they  were unified by the cause of "the" man.  Make no mistake, when they were asked to take up a cross and follow - they knew exactly what he was asking. But there is no gain without the fight. The great writer and follower of Christ, Paul, understood when he said to his young friend Timothy, fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of the life that really counts and will last beyond just our physical lifespan. He knew that men need the fight.  Men need the fight and perhaps as after the game, we may just be better men for engaging with the cause - better husbands, better fathers, sons, brothers, better friends. Better men. Men need the fight and....the fight needs men.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

How did I end up here?

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself "how did I end up here?"

Sometimes that thinking can be deliberate - that's reflection. Sometimes, we get a sense of something  and over time we see it - that's realization. Other times, it takes something or someone external to our situation to shed some light - that's revelation. However our question comes to us, its generated by an awareness of us either ending up somewhere we never thought we'd attain to, or being in a position we never intended to be in when we set out.

As men we are not good at reflection - we can have a tendency to get our heads down, engage in contact, thinking we are being courageous, but missing the bigger picture. In sport, its about scoring tries, making touchdowns, hitting home runs, shooting those hoops. In business its about, hitting those targets, making a margin that will produce a return. In serving others its about making a difference to them, not us. In relationships its about us, not me.

In rugby union, there is a move called "the rolling maul" - hey that sounds like life doesn't it? The move starts with a player in possession of the ball engaging in contact with an opposition player. Provided the player can stay on his feet, other players from each side can "bind" onto their respective players, trying to wrestle the ball away from the player in possession - the important thing is, if you enter into contact and a maul forms, you have to maintain forward momentum. Your team mates will try and drive you on and the opposition will try and drive you back.

It can be a very effect tactic, particularly if you have a physical advantage and can travel across the gain line. At other times, it can descend into a wrestling match that is going nowhere, other than sapping the strength of the combatants. Recent law changes have given players and referees some important guidance. Provided there is momentum, the move can continue. If the maul stops - the referee will reset the game and hand possession over to the opposition. Quite a responsibility for the team taking the ball into contact then? Quite often the better referees will let players know - sometimes, you will hear them shout "use it or lose it" - that's the point as a player stuck in the middle of a mass of players, with no chance of shipping the ball, you think to yourself "how did I end up here?".... the point being, when we committed to engaging in contact, our intention wasn't stalemate or conceding possession.

The man's man Jesus Christ, notes something about the way in which men start to engage and the effects different contexts have on us. He used an illustration about ground conditions. Seed sown by farmers lands on ground which may be experiencing different conditions. Some ground is rock hard and the seeds bounce off it and are picked off easily by predators. Its not much of a game if we can be picked off easily, especially if we think we are hard. Other conditions are shallow and the seed doesn't stand much chance of making it - how often we are shallow about things that are really important - especially relationships. At other times ground conditions can be thick with weeds that simply choke the life out of anything that starts to move - a bit like getting stopped in your tracks in a rolling maul. At other times, the ground is good and the results are great. Who would set out to be picked off or through being shallow lose something of worth? Or who sets out to have the life choked out of them? No one.

The offer of Jesus Christ is to help us as men to reflect on where we are right now, to see that there is a big picture that we are part of and to be there with us, driving us forward, being that great support to us, mentor, coach, life strength conditioner. Perhaps the best question we can ask ourselves as men, no matter how we arrive at it (through reflection, realization or through revelation) is "how did I end up here?" - perhaps that can be a starting point to regaining or refocusing on our part in a much bigger picture - how about it?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Line Speed & Keeping Shape

In sport, having a solid defence is a key element of building a strong team and creating a platform from which to launch attacks. There is little point in making great scores if the back door leaks away any advantage you've worked for. I guess that's true in life, business and in church scenarios. However, being overly defence minded can have a detrimental impact on the ability to think expansively and there, we must make sure our approach is a balanced one. Simply defending not to lose makes for a dull game. Life, business and faith without adventure is just marking time.

Recently, I was watching a 7 a side rugby tournament. It was fast and furious, with tries and tackles, pace and power. It was exciting stuff. The ability of teams to score was directly related to how the other team organised their defence and managed their line. One side in particular stood out. They were using their line of defence as a way of putting the team in possession of the ball on the back foot. The were forcing errors and turning over possession. How did they do it? Line speed and keeping their shape.

Rugby is a sport in which to advance, the ball has to initially travel backwards - this is true of an individual pass (it cant go forward) and from a set piece such as a lineout or a scrum. The ball travels backwards from the line of play and only when it has crossed its starting position has a team crossed the "gain line".

A cleverly organised defence, who are quick off the mark, can attack the space between and effectively force the other team backwards. This can be used to repel an attack and to take back lost ground, even though the "defending" team do not have possession. When line speed is combined with keeping the defensive shape, would be attackers have no gaps to exploit and have to play laterally (flat). That makes them an easier target to hit in a tackle. So, defending isn't negative or neutral. With shape and line speed, it can be a force for creating momentum and retaking possession.

Watching the team working together for each other was impressive. In fact, they were the team of the tournament, going on to become champions. There's something great, something noble about men standing together, with a common purpose, working as a team. There is a sense of camaraderie, being part of something bigger, a sense of achievement. There is good humour and a sense of we all stand or fall together. Working and striving together for a purpose can be the struggle, the trial, the crucible in which heroes are forged. A man without purpose is aimless. A man with purpose has a sense of identity and dignity.

The bible has some interesting observations about line speed and defensive shapes.

In times not dissimilar to today, a special envoy called Ezekiel noted that in his generation, when God was looking for men to stand up and be counted, no one could be found who would rise to the challenge of forming a defensive line for the sake of the vulnerable or those who had yet to reach their potential. There were gaps everywhere, breaches in the defensive line and the vulnerable were being preyed on by those who were exploiting the gaps. What an indictment.

Thankfully in other generations, the call was heeded. To each generation, God's call to men is the same. "Who will stand in the gap for the land?" Being a defender often means putting yourself on the line for the sake of another. Who wouldn't want the safe keeping of the vulnerable or to create the safety in which others can grow to fulfil their potential. But is doesn't just happen. The call is still the same in this generation - come on, "who will stand in the gap?" Who is prepared to work the line?

Friday, 2 March 2012

opting for the blind side

Open side or blind side? Contact or pass? Offload or go to ground? Cross field or down a direct channel? Pass or kick? Do you feel exhausted just reading those options? Most sports present players with a myriad of options at every point of play. Making very speedy assessments, evaluating the options and making a good choice are what marks the top players out from the crowd. In fact, making smart decisions is at the heart of how most things turn out.

One of the things young players take time to understand is, you've always got more time than you think you have. I guess if we looked at life in the same way, we'd probably conclude, we've made some rash decisions or leapt to a conclusion very quickly. If only we had time to consider the options.
So, why do many teams persist in playing down the blind side - put another way, why do teams look to play down a narrow channel rather than the much wider option presented by the open field of play? You see it often when there is a scrum or a lineout (throw in) - a team will set off down the narrowest part of the pitch. Why?

Here are three simple observations - the blind side:

a) its an attacking option in its own right - there is an element of surprise, especially when the defence are on the back foot, or they are spread across the open side. As an option you run the risk of taking more than a fair share of contact or being knocked into touch, but its attacking potential is great.

b) its a tactical play for widening out the open side even further - teams will continually go to the blind side and run the narrow strip of the field to draw defenders away from the open side and into contact, taking them out of the game - by releasing the ball quickly the potential for an open side attack can be siginficantly improved

c) its sometimes the only option available - when the defence is stacked against you, this may be the only option open. Sometimes, you've just got to commit to it and go, prepared for the impact.

Taking the obvious, wide open option is the route that many take.The bible has an interesting take on the blind side. Looking for and finding the narrower way is described by the man's man Jesus Christ as the way that leads to life. Who wouldn't want to follow a route that leads to life? Taking a different route certainly wouldn't be a smart choice.

Jesus Christ understands the narrow way, after all, its the route he followed. Yes he was a great teacher. Yes he was an outstanding person. Yes he did some outstanding things. But perhaps the most outstanding thing was when he stepped across to the narrow way, the blind side. In taking the blind side, he wrong footed his critics, opposition and the wrecker of humanity. It is recorded that the man's man put his reputation to one side, took up the role of service and in incredible humility took the full impact of our failings. His blind side, was a cross.

What a choice. But, just like a player going down the blind side draws the opposition defence, he opened up the field of play for us to make progress. That's impressive. Back to those sporting and life choices. We could simply roll with the crowd or we could look for a narrower way. The blind side. If we're prepared to find it, it leads to life - now that's stand out from the crowd stuff - but are we prepared to look for it?