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

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Holding things together

Binding is the essential connection of two or more players in a rugby union game for the purpose of adding weight, momentum or drive in a set play. How we connect to each other and hold things together, can be the difference between winning and just falling short.

The most critical use of binding - locking onto another player - is in the scrum. The scrum is one of the ways of resetting play following an infringement. The eight forwards from each team lock together to create a single unit and vie for the ball, which is fed into the scrum between the two sets of players. The combined power of 8 players pushing in one direction can be impressive - however, there are times when the scrum breaks up or collapses, which is unsightly and potentially very dangerous from a player safety perspective.
There are very specific rules about binding in the scrum, which if breached aside from the safety angle will result in players being penalised, possession being lost and the potential for points to be conceded.

Inevitably in a highly charged competitive environment, teams and players will seek to gain advantage and will push the boundaries. The scrum is no exception, particularly in the front row - which is front line contact with the opposition. Often described as a dark art, serious scrummagers will try to turn, twist or bore into their opponents to gain advantage. Turning an opponents arm under his shoulder will result in an incorrect pushing position and could force him upwards or misdirect the shove coming from behind him. At its worse, players will twist a player down until the scrum collapses - this is both illegal and extremely dangerous. But enough of the negative aspects. Its fair to say that there are those that would try to undermine - but usually, it's because the fear being out-scrummaged and out-played.

By contrast, with the correct binding, the integrity of the scrum is retained as a unit and....if you bind together,  you stay together, you work together and you gain ground together.

Binding is also very important to the formation of a maul. That is when a player is held up in a tackle and is unable to go to ground. Other players moving into the play from an onside position may bind onto their player or players to gain momentum and drive the play forward.

So, binding together with another player:
  • creates the basis of a team play
  • ensures you are actually in play and in the game
  • puts you at the heart of the game rather than the fringes
  • ensures you're not isolated in an exposed position
  • adds momentum to a set play
  • adds momentum that can drive play forward
  • creates an opportunity to cross the gain line and take ground
Quite a list from simply connecting onto another player properly and for a purpose.

The bible has several insights into the way we connect with others for purpose. It records simply: two are better than one. Who wouldn't concede that battling through on your own can be a lonely place sometimes. Paraphrasing the man's man Jesus Christ, he invited his followers to "bind yourself onto me and learn from my strategic approach to life - when you link to my strength and experience, its not all about the hard life syndrome, we can make it together". Paul, the great thinker, writer and follower of the man's man added that unity of approach to a task, service or living out life itself would ensure completion with purpose and momentum if we could bind together, (just like the scrum), with the bonds of peace or one mind.

Binding together is the connection that drives momentum in teams, relationships, businesses and in the service of others. It's the basis of team work that takes ground and makes things happen. It seems such a simple thing to talk about in the context of a game - how you are connected to another player - but where it becomes second nature, it can be the basis of victory. How and who are we connecting to?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Pig Run

Every year was the same. The coaches waited until rain had been falling for days. Then they announced it. We assembled at the foot of a very steep hill for the annual cross country "pig run". The course climbed a very steep track, made a tour of the farm, passed through woodland, emerging back onto the hill close to the start/finish line.The heavy rainfall, combined with what pigs do naturally, made for an interesting running surface. Uphill and running in muck wasn't everyone's idea of a coaching charm offensive. For the most part, the lads tried to edge their way round the worse parts, trying to avoid being splattered with it. But the more they tried to inch their way around and stay clean, the more their feet and ankles sank into what they were trying to avoid!

Several years earlier, a few of us had decided the best plan was to simply attack the course. Pressing on  through the slime ridden reaches of the course, would also mean we could head back to the showers before the hot water ran out! We didn't quite go as far as embracing the grime, but we accepted that to complete the course, we just had to get on with it. So, setting off in a dash, we sprinted the hill, making it to the top as our lungs burned with the strain. Then, confronted with tractor ruts rammed with mud, we had to push hard to make headway through the muck. We rounded the top of the course with our chests pounding. The return journey was relief. On the way back, plastered in the muck we were running through, we just plowed on through the slime pools, splattering the lads still edging their way past the pig pens.

I usually ran it with a good friend. There was no conversation. We knew what we had to do, encouraging each other only with our sheer exertion. When we exchanged the muck of those ruts for the mud and the rucks, equally, without a word said, I knew he was always there backing me up, following up at my shoulder, ready to drive play on. There wasn't much on the field of play we were unprepared for - the ferocity of the opposition, the physical demands or the conditions. The pig run saw to that! I guess we made a mental breakthrough when we decided to press on through the muck instead of trying to avoid it.

I often wondered at the time, why they made us do the pig run every year. Couldn't we run around the rugby pitches or through dry fields and taking in a few hills - like any normal team might? But looking back at the pig run and laugh at the sheer madness of running through pig muck, I realize what it did for us - and it wasn't just on the rugby pitch. I discovered an important principle through being asked to face the pig run. How we respond to adversity so often determines what happens next. I wonder now what we would have done if they'd asked us to lift power weights, or do sprints, or press ups? Ego played a big part back then, just like it always does when young men get together. But the pig run was a leveler. It forced each of us to make a decision every time we ran it. Which route would we take? The route of least resistance or face head on something that at surface level seems humiliating? Eventually, the few, reached the point where we ran together far ahead of the pack, crossing the finish line together - arms linked, so they couldn't separate us. We were all winners. Nobody was going to divide us.

An insight from the bible has been a great help to me as I've had to face up to challenges along my journey. There is an account of a military leader called Naaman. He had accomplished many things for his country. He had faced conflict and he had prevailed. However, despite his strength and ability on the field, he carried the burden of an excruciating skin condition. It really troubled him. A young girl from his household staff, seeing his pain, very courageously talked to him about her God and his concern for this man. Naaman admired the girl's spirit and decided to investigate the possibility of finding relief from his condition. He traveled a great distance to visit one of God's men she had said could help him. On arrival he was told by the man's servant to go wash in a particular river. That was it. No special test? No ceremony? Nothing spectacular?

His offence and anger was immediate. Despite his obvious need, in his offence at being asked to do something mundane, in filthy water, he decided to walk away. A member of his staff realizing the significance of what he was walking away from spoke up. "Sir if they had asked you to do something spectacular, or shown your strength or fighting spirit - you would have done it wouldn't you? So why not do something so simple?" The commander changed his mind. He stepped into the water. What was a test of his faith and his response, led to the breakthrough he needed. He came out of the river clear of his complaint and I suspect a better man for the discovery he made. 

It's not in self serving routines that inflate our egos that breakthrough is found. It's often in very different conditions. He faced a choice, just like ours in the "pig run" - to press through or walk away. Which route will you take today?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Pick & Go

Sometimes we need to be deliberate in our actions. Simply responding to situations as they arise will inevitably put us on the back foot. Sure, there are times when we need to react as sudden or unforeseen events occur. But equally, there are times when we have to decide - it's down to us. It's now. We have to take a step forward.

In rugby union there is a play which is aptly named the "pick and go". Quite literally a player picks up the ball and goes forward. There are some key points to consider about this move. A player making the move has to:

  • have the vision to spot a gap or a space to move in to
  • accept that he is creating an opportunity for others to exploit
  • have the courage to go knowing he will ultimately meet resistance
  • go with the conviction that his movement will create a momentum which others can add their weight to
Usually pick and go is put into effect at the base of a ruck or a maul - that is a phase of play that has involved    direct engagement with the opposition, in which energy has been expended to recover the ball and often where forward momentum has been lost. Frequently, at these points in a game, or in our life experience, business activity or in serving other people, an injection of pace or energy is required to regain momentum.

The pick and go can be used to exploit the space around the side of a ruck or to attack the space left by retreating defenders. Unlike many moves in rugby union, where the ball has to first travel backwards before attacking the gain line, this play, is a "go forward" move. Its a direct attack on the gain line. (That is the point beyond which you gain ground on the opposition or competition). When played to its full effect, other attacking players are able to bind (hold) onto the advancing player, adding their individual weight to the momentum, driving the opposition back beyond the gain line. Now that would be a great way to regain the initiative in all areas or walks of life wouldn't it? - knowing that if you were to make the slightest move forward, others would join in support, adding weight to your purpose, initiative or vision.

The bible has an interesting insight into the mindset of a young fighter and his assistant. They had watched the inept attempts by those professionally qualified to repel the relentless attacks against the freedom and well being of the people. Their possessions, family life, businesses were being destroyed and their moral was being undermined. Even though today, we may not be facing such physical challenges, life can be pretty relentless in its demands. we can often feel drained by an unending daily cycle that can easily wear us down and halt any momentum we may have had. 

Together they decided to take action. Their mindset was "if we make a move, we might get some assistance, but if we don't we're going for it anyway" - help did show up - God helped them. Then, when others saw the momentum these "game changers" had started, they joined in and the result as they say is history - a famous victory. They essentially had a "pick and go" spirit!

Now, not everything we encounter in life requires a fighting response. But our life experiences, business ventures and even our close relationships often require initiators to make things happen. Initiative, like the pick and go move, can take us beyond the routine or ordinary. It's worth noting that often, those who initiate something are not always those that finish off a move. But it's equally worth noting that finishers can only operate if someone has been a first mover. Sometimes an initiator can make the break and run all the way to the line, scoring the points themselves. But invariably, they have to be prepared to pass, offload or go to ground and reset the play. The job is to be aware of the need for a momentum shift and be ready to initiate that shift. 

A pick and go can work from any point on the pitch, where someone has the courage to step up, pick up and press on. What challenges are you facing? Do you need to kick start something in your life, family or businesses? A first mover, initiator - a pick and go expert could be what's needed. But are we prepared to be the one who spots the gap, picks up and goes for it? If we do, who knows where help will come from? If we make a move, God is never very far away.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Close Season - finding rest

Recently, I was struck with just how short the time is between the end of one sports season and the start of the next. Modern sportsmen and women seem to be constantly competing, conditioning or carrying injuries! The intensity of top level sport requires year round preparation. Competing as a hurdler, my eldest son had the added complication of preparing for an indoor and outdoor athletics season. Logistically very interesting and physically and emotionally demanding.

Investigating further, I discovered that three days after the grand final of the championship in which my own rugby club had competed, the lads were back in for pre-season. Admittedly our season was over a few weeks prior to the grand final, but I think you get the picture. Even if there are longer periods between actual seasons, there are other competing demands such as tours or international call ups. Its a tough environment in which to stay at the top of your game, the demands seem unrelenting. I guess life itself can seem pretty unremitting at times too.

Rest and recuperation are essential ingredients in ensuring a return to the physical demands of competition. But with training and conditioning environments frequently as vigorous as competing, its often very difficult to find time to fully rest. One of my great coaching mentors used to tell us "you have to be fit to train" and he was right! Progressing through a grueling regime and then breaking into the competitive season often left us as mentally tired as we were physically. You can travel so far on your internal energy reserves and then they become depleted. You can equally travel on the adrenaline rush of the highs and lows of wining and losing. But eventually, you will need rest. I guess I am not alone in needing the first week of a holiday to simply come down from the stratosphere, through the atmosphere and back down to earth. There's always a slump too. I noticed it  in my family at the end of terms in education or the end of a particular project phase in work. Finding rest is important. Finding rest for your mind is essentially - although not always as simple as it sounds.

Scientists and doctors tell us there are different types of stress. Some forms of stress fire us to activity and are linked with the positive aspects of motivation and momentum. Other forms are destructive.When stress levels are very high and persist for prolonged periods of time, serious physical, emotional and mental damage can be set in train. Finding rest for our mind is essential. My wife recently told me to take a day off and just go do something that I enjoyed. I spent the day drinking coffee at a favorite cafe, getting a haircut and going to watch a rugby 7s tournament. It was strange actually taking a day off just for me. But she was right. It worked. As I sat drinking coffee and writing, it dawned on me, I felt relaxed. In the relaxation came refreshing. I went home happier, more relaxed and with more of a focus on our relationship.

Back in the day, our close season involved switching from rugby to athletics or cricket. I suppose the old adage is true, a change is as good as a rest. But there is a sense in which a real rest is better than a change. The man's man Jesus Christ understood the need for space and mental recuperation. He would often withdraw to a solitary place. Not to become introverted, or to brood over the public adversity he often faced. Nor to find relief from the continuous pressure brought by handling crowds of needy people. He would get away to recharge and rest his mind and pray. As a man of faith, I have discovered that prayer is a great stress reliever and a way of rediscovering and refreshing that faith.

The man's man Jesus recognized the importance of rest. At one the most pressured times, when his team couldn't even find time to eat, he insisted they come away to a solitary location to get some rest. His invitation is still valid today: "if you're feeling weary or weighed down by the load of responsibility or the weight of life in all its complexity is getting to you - come to me and find rest. Rest for the "you" that nobody else sees (rest for your soul). Scientists and medics, therapists and counselling experts tell us that articulating how we feel carries great value - not an easy one for men, but who better than the man's man to confide in as a man. There is a rest that refreshes and aids recuperation - its a simple conversation away with a man who men can trust.