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

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Up and Under

In most sports, there are moments in a match that can best be described as "transition moments".

A transition moment can last a few seconds - like the timing of a pass or the flight of a ball to touch, or they can be in a set play such as a scrum or a lineout, lasting over a more prolonged period.

At these moments in a game, the ball is moving, but its ultimate destination may vary from its anticipated destination - in other words, there are risks attached to transition moments. A pass may be intercepted, a ball may not bounce before it reaches touch or a scrum or lineout may be taken by the opposition. But without the inherent risk in transition moments, there would be no game. There would be no excitment.

The "up and under" or the "bomb" in rugby league, or in Irish rugby the "Garryowen" (named after the famous club from Limerick who used it to great effect) is another example of a "transition moment" in rugby.

The "up and under" is a very high kick, played by a team intent on putting thier opponents under pressure from a fast falling, high ball. The pressure comes as they attempt to make a catch with attackers advancing on them at speed. It's often used to relieve pressure when a team has been defending for lengthy periods - in other words it is both an attacking option and a breakout or breakthrough option.

When a ball is hoisted high into the air, its interesting to watch the kicking players next move - free from ball carrying, the player charges forward, unimpeded as the ball is in flight. His goal, to  catch the ball again and press on, or make a thumping tackle on the catcher before he can get a pass or kick away. One thing to notice about this transitional moment is the difference in the forward progress of a player without the ball - whilst the ball is in the air and the kicker is on the move, no player can touch him or tackle him. This is in stark contrast to making progress with the ball, when the player would be fair game to any opposition tackler.

Reflecting after watching a recent game in which this play was executed to great effect, I concluded there are some useful insights we can capture from the "up and under" for sport, life, service and business:
  • you have to let go sometimes in order to gain ground
  • when you release something you have to start to move in the direction of whats anticipated next
  • when we send what we've been carrying upwards we can move forward unimpeded
As a man with faith, this latter point is important to me as I know I can trust the upward glance of committing things to God through prayer. I may not be certain at that point of how it will bounce back to me. It may not be as I anticipate, but I know that I can move forward unimpeded whilst what I commit to God is with him and when the ball lands so to speak, I will know what to do when I need to do it.

But rememering that there are risks to all transition moments, to use the play to maximum effect requires:
  • an awareness of your position on the field of play in realtion to your team mates and the opposition
  • an understanding that relieving pressure has purpose - the creation of a breakthrough moment
  • an appreciation of the need to be prepared to adjust quickly if the outcome isn't what you had originally intended or anticipated and
  • the moment the ball comes back to ground, you may be called on to catch what you have released or to make the tackle that gets it back
Thinking about business or serving or even in developing and growing strong relationships, all of these factors are important in knowing exactly where we are:in relation to others around us, the challenge of opposition and the need to have a plan but with an adaptive mindset as we move and flow with how the game pans out.

Remember what goes up must come down and so standing still is not an option. If we launch an up and under, we must be prepared to move, recognising that we have to take risks sometimes to create transition moments and that those transition moments can lead to breakthroughs...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What's your back story?

I am constantly amazed at how frequently those who achieve at the highest level have had to overcome the most difficult of challenges.

Watching the London 2012 Olympic Games was no exception. The memorable image of a young "judoko" looking to the heavens and mouthing "I love you Mum" - her mother having succombed to cancer when the girl was 17. The young diver who pressed through to claim a bronze medal after the tragic death of his father. Another young diver who overcame a previous diving accident that resulted in a ruptured spleen to compete at the Olympics. Another young judoko who had been abused by her former coach but summoned up the courage to speak out and with determination and personal integrity stepped up, continued fighting and ultimately won gold. The incredibly inspiring participation of the amputee running alongside the fastest men in the world - the "blade runner" in the men's 400m semi-final. But, its not only tragedy or hardship that has driven people. Others have had to fight for funding to compete. Others have had to battle for recognition against higher profile sports. Others have fled their homelands to be free from tyranny. Many have battled the elements, training, pushing their bodies to the limit of physical and mental endurance. Truly the Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - Faster, Higher, Stronger is as relevant to the back story of so many individuals as it is to their performance in the arena.

The combination of an outstanding performance and knowing something of the back story of a competitor is an inspiring mix of invincibility and vulnerability. It's the powerful composite of competitive prowess and the almost touchable affinity, that allows us to identify with those who have risen, from among us to achieve sporting greatness - the young boy of 8 emulating his hero on a bike (who among us hasn't tried to be our hero) rising to become one of the greats in cycling world, yet at the same time retains and grows his stature as a true gentleman. In the global village that has been created by social media and the personal scrutiny driven by the global media giants, the modern sportsman and sportswoman are the subject of social media posts and worldwide trending tweets, projecting them not only into our living rooms, but in our hands as we interact with each other via our mobile devices. We live in an age of intrusion and personal examination, but equally, it's an age where the power of influence has never been greater.

The motto of the London 2012 Olympics was "Inspiring a Generation" - in retrospect the London games were inspirational. Using a sporting analogy, the true legacy of the games, as with anything of merit or true worth, will be measured in terms of who from among us will take up the baton as this generation moves on. That's a challenge to me as a retired sportsman, now as a coach and mentor to the younger generation. But the thing that makes me optimistic for the future, not just in sport, but in many areas, is the ability and power of someone else's story to be inspiring. What is your back story? In a way, it doesn't matter if we think our story is ordinary or mundane - as what we may consider normal or ordinary, may be just the thing to inspire another who has only ever seen chaos or abnormality.

The bible takes care to note something special about the stories of individual people. In one particularly inspiring section, it lists by name, ordninary people, who through their belief that things could be different when circumstances were saying otherwise, went on to see the realisation of a dream or a goal. The record of these people uses a great word - faith, the priceless quality that believes something is possible when circumstances are yelling out the opposite. The quality that says it can be done when others say its impossible.

The bible makes another poignant note of how ordinary people prevailed through the most difficult times - it records it was the strength of knowing the man's man Jesus Christ and the use of their own back story helped them pressing on to a different kind of victory - the victory that makes them overcomes in life, with all it was throwing at them. 

What is your back story? Don't despise it. Good or bad, it could be the key to unlocking the inspiration that this, our generation is looking for.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

What Makes A Champion?

What makes a champion? With the London 2012 Olympic Games well underway and medal tallies rising, old and new names are being written into the record books. Newspaper column inches are filled with the stories of the men and women who are writing their own history in gold, silver and bronze. Reflecting on these games, world championships and world cups, I have concluded that there is ultimately only one thing that makes champions. Competition.

It may seem like a statement of the obvious. But no matter how hard or sophisticated a training regime or how mentally tough an individual is, without the challenge of competing, they are simply keeping fit. When I first started training to play rugby union, we were put through our paces, challenged physically, we were drilled in technical skills and worked on set plays against our squad members. Only when we ran out onto the field of play in our first game, did we begin to understand the main requirement of competition - taking a risk with what you've committed to on the training ground. I can remember the score to this day, we won 70-0. We won the next game. Then the next. We encountered stronger opposition and continued to win. Champions emerge from the competitive arena. 

On the advice of a primary school teacher, who thought my eldest son had a nice running style, from observing him in PE lessons (physical education), we decided to enter him in a children's fun race at a local village fair. He destroyed the field, finishing with the rest trailing halfway down the grassy track. In a local takeaway food store I noticed an advertisement for a local athletics club. We joined. I qualified as a coach. My son entered the arena of indoor sports hall athletics. He broke a UK record which subsequently stood for a number of years. He progressed to track and field and became an outstanding hurdler, with high national ranking. He was prepared to take the risk of competing, becoming a champion.

I have two good friends who have won multiple gold medals. One in the Special Olympics, the other in the Transplant Games. Both are champions. Champions; not just from their performances in weightlifting and athletics, but because they faced the risk of competing and prevailed. Both are inspirational characters.

There are risks in competition. The risk that you will be found wanting. The risk that there is someone better out there. But until the challenge of competition is faced, there can be no champions. Life is filled with daily challenges and the true champions, those that rise above adversity, disadvantage, poverty, illness or any other kind of hardship are those who risk their all, risk who they are to contend against their circumstances and make a difference. But life is not only about adversity. There are other challenges in life too - building strong personal relationships, parenthood, balancing the demands of modern life whilst retaining core values - champions in life are those that step up to contend or compete for what is of value, those who retain integrity, truthfulness and can maintain self control. Lethargy and compromise are the antithesis of competing with integrity.

The bible has a really great insight into rising to the challenge of competition. Paul, the great thinker and follower of the man's man Jesus Christ put it this way..."You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself"…  (The Message).

Stepping up as a contender in the greatest arenas of the world or against the challenges life throws up brings us face to face with risk. Many look on. Some approach the edge. But who will step up?