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, 26 April 2012

Inglorious Moments

Come on, we've all had them. Something snaps inside and boom! I can remember very clearly one of my most "inglorious moments" in a rugby match. I was totally destroying the opposition number 6 beating him to every breakdown, tackling him when he was in possession and stripping the ball from him. I was having a great game. But I now only remember it for my "moment". The lad didn't like the fact that I was outplaying him. So using some very strong language, he said "if you do that again mate, I'll have you"....Crack! Wrong thing to say to me.

It was like someone had pressed a very big red button marked "how dare you accuse me!" Alarm bells, steam hooters, emergency buzzers and fog horns were sounding in my head. I said back to him "yeah? any day!" Well I thought I had said it. In fact, right in his face, I had shouted it so fiercely, the teams playing field hockey on a nearby pitch heard me and stopped to watch the action. I didn't think to stop and analyse what would happen next. It involved my fist and his face.

Since then I've done plenty of other things that I'm not proud of, using self defence or self preservation or anything as an excuse. All of them if I'm honest, inglorious moments. Off the field, my mind and my mouth have had their fair share of inglorious moments too. I doubt if I'm alone.

I know its no excuse, and we try to rationalize it, but in adrenaline fueled scenarios, where we are challenged by tiredness, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually and events are moving at pace we can so easily:

  • make a wrong assumption about the motivation behind an action
  • retaliate if we are provoked - some people seem to know which big red button works
  • feel aggrieved at a decision that goes against us
  • feel falsely accused - oh boy do I know my rights
  • feel manipulated, undermined or used
  • totally lose all sense of objectivity
  • seek out revenge - I "will" get my own back
  • lose control and let a wild outburst or stupid action take over
Particularly as men, we can feel our competence or sense of masculinity has been challenged or questioned. Our judgement gets clouded and we become irrational and stop thinking clearly. Another classic response is to depersonalise or project blame away from ourselves. Our language becomes; "the" passage or play, "the" relationship, "the" bills, "the" marriage, "the" kids. The reality is it's my marriage, my relationship, my kid, my job and of course its my attitude. Actions have consequences - in a game, we can be sin binned, sent off or even reported to a citing commissioner. Off the field emotional wreckage hurts. Relationships can be damaged irreparably.

Being able to take an objective view and beginning to understand that my actions, attitudes and adrenaline fueled reactions have consequences is a good starting point to reducing the frequency of my inglorious moments. Over a long time of making mistakes, I have discovered that who I am privately tends to come out when I am under pressure. So, the more I work on the who I am and who I am becoming, when the pressure situation arises, my personal intensity and stress levels don't rise with it. Most of my inglorious moments have come when I haven't stopped to think. The reality is, even in the split second, we have a choice to make. Make no mistake, sometimes those choices are not easy to make, even though they are the right ones.

Rudyard Kipling put it this way "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting'll be a man my son".  The bible has a succinct way of expressing the same thought "a prudent man gives thought to his steps" - in other words, before you start down a particular road - think about where its going to lead to. It isn't weakness to take a step back and disengage with the inclination to raise a voice or a fist. Sure there are times when someone with passion has to speak out against injustice, but here we are dealing with the destructive side of personal volatility.

There is an interesting contrast in the bible account of a mob that descended on the man's man Jesus. He had been falsely accused. He had been betrayed by someone close to him. When the mob approached him to take him down, Peter one of those with Jesus, pulled out a weapon and injured a man before he was stopped from causing further damage. Sudden uncontrolled rage. By contrast, Jesus simply said "I am the one your looking for". Peter's response to the mob was anger and the mob's response to him was the same. Jesus' response was calmness under pressure. The mob's response was to literally fall back - the sheer presence of this man, his personal strength of character and integrity produced a reaction in them. We know he was arrested and tried in what was humanities own inglorious moment. But the ultimate victory was his because he showed by the choices he made under immense pressure who he truly was. I know what my reaction to the mob would have been - inglorious. But now, I am finally learning that I have a choice. And as I make that choice, I am no less of a man. In fact I become more of a man.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Affirmation through testing...

As very young rugby players, we were easily impressed when our points tally read like a cricket score. Our individual points totals increased and the battle for the forward or back with most tries scored was more of a motivator than sticking to the game plan. Today, with try and losing bonus points, heavy scoring will certainly add value to respective league tallies. But the reality is, huge scores against very weak opposition, prove very little and probably tell us no more than we already were aware of. Aside from risking a few  more training ground moves, there is little to be learned from thrashing the opposition.

No matter what we may say outwardly, after a convincingly and easy win, deep down everyone wants to be tested and tested against the best. Sure no one wants to be on the end of a thrashing, but the tougher the opposition, the more seems to be drawn out of stronger players. The testing ground is also the proving ground. Can we step up a level? Have we got what it takes? It was tougher to beat the rugby teams drawn from police forces or the mining and steel communities or the armed forces, but when we won, man, it felt good!

As my own sons have got older, I have smiled to myself as I've watched them look to test themselves against "the old man". With one it was sprinting and hurdling. A test of speed. There was a time when I could keep up. It didn't last for long as it soon became apparent that he was going to excel. The best I could do was act as work out fodder, watch him fly and press the stopwatch! I actually ran a 400m hurdle race once at the same athletics meet, to prove I was in the zone - I completed the race, but from that point it on I learned the hard way, it was all about him not me!

With the other son, its all about mock rugby scrummaging technique. Getting lower than me and driving me backwards. A test of strength. Its also about throwing passes to me that land not in may hands but my midriff. Its all about finding a level. Wanting the test. Wanting to know if they can make it. Wanting to know if they have what it takes. And you know....that's ok and that's right and they should be allowed the space to do that - so long as it comes from the desire for growth and finding their place. As dads, brothers, friends, coaches we have a massive responsibility to recognise what's taking place and react in the right way. Its not about me taking offence, its about the importance of their challenge. Its about helping release guys to be who they can be. That's what the best coaches and leaders model. Its not about putting them down or forcing them to be something they are never going to be. I've learned over time, for our sons and for our daughters its about the power of affirmation.

Affirmation is important however young or old we are. The real key to success is in the who we are becoming not in the what we are doing.

I've seen too many great relationships dragged down by the pressure to perform and live up to something unattainable. The testing, the trial isn't about us doing something to be accepted. That would be self defeating as sometimes we win, sometimes we don't. But the trial the testing is more about us finding out what we are made of. Who we are. Without the trial without the testing we wont know what we are capable of.

God understands the way men work. So many people miss-read him. He doesn't want men to perform to be accepted. If that was the case, I guess like me, you'd concede, we mess up quite a lot of the time. He wants us to succeed as men and in the same way that we make room for the young guns to come through, He understands the importance of showing us we are accepted through relationship as sons, not on personal form or performance. He equally understands the incredible power of affirmation. The bible has a brilliant illustration of this. Just at the point that the man's man Jesus Christ was emerging into his life's calling, before he had done anything openly - God said openly of him "this is my son and I am so impressed with the man he is".

Running out on to the pitch, knowing who you are, knowing you have the affirmation of your team mates, knowing you have what it takes is a great boost. The same is true in life. The challenge is, there is a generation that are pushing, pressing for the tests, the trials wanting affirmation. Lets not block them, lets help unlock them and their potential - I wonder what kind of a team we could make?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

I believe we can fly...

Some things can only be achieved by a leap of faith.......
Have you ever wondered how far you could go? How much you could achieve? I guess we could all confirm our aspirations and just as equally, we could recite our list of reasons for not climbing higher or stretching further. 

We seem to have a knack for settling - but don't you just sense there's more out there? There's more to be achieved, accomplished, lived out? You see, I believe we can fly...

In rugby union, there is a set piece play called a lineout. This play takes place if the ball has either been kicked or carried out of the field of play. The game restarts by the team in possession throwing the ball down a mid-line between two rows of players. Each side will have a series of coded calls designed to mask their intentions from the opposition. However, the primary purpose of a call is to engage a specific player - to get him off the ground, to get him moving, to let him know - this ball is yours.

I took this picture at a championship game and it so neatly sums up for me the essence of reaching further, climbing higher, being on the stretch for more. 

As a man of faith, I believe God wants every man to have purpose as a man and be a man with a purpose. In other words, for men to realize that they have intrinsic value in who they are and in discovering that, to use who they are for a cause - to meet a need, to provide, to help, to support, to add strength, to add weight. Who wouldn't want to be a better man, a better husband, son, brother or friend?

I love the drama of the photograph:
  • the player has jumped in response to a call 
  • he has the support of his team mates to lift him, to give him a boost, to take him higher
  • the ball is meant for him
  • if he takes it, the entire team benefits
  • does he catch it?
The crucial dynamic at work in taking possession of what is intended for him, is for the player to jump at the right time and take a hold of what's coming his way. Now that requires strength, courage and a sense of timing. I read recently that on average a ball will be caught something like 3m to 3.5m off the ground. That would place a players head something like 10 feet off the ground - now that's a long way to fall - but you know, if we take a risk, I believe we can fly...

Sure the player in the picture is under pressure:
  • he has to trust the call and the thrower
  • he will have the challenge of the opposition
  • he will have the expectation of his team mates
  • he will have the anticipation of the crowd and
  • he will have the watchful eye of the referee
But....unless he jumps, he may never catch the ball that was intended for him.
The great thinker and writer Paul wrote these wise words of guidance for men in the bible..."I want to get hold of what God has got a hold of me for"...Sure, there are many reasons for us staying on the ground, but what about allowing for the possibility that there may just be more? Paul is saying I know there is more and I want to take hold of it with both hands. I want to get to grips with the man I know God wants me to be.
That moment of being in the air, stretching upwards to take a hold of the ball is exhilarating, but you're going to come down pretty soon and that's exactly where we re-engage with the game - with the ball!!

There is a call that God has coded just for you. We have to trust that call and the thrower. Its a call to join a noble cause, a call to purpose, a call higher, to stretch further. Its like the ball that has your name on it. But how far could you go? How much could you achieve? If we are prepared to trust the call and take that leap: I believe we can fly....