The physical demands of the sport of rugby are punishing in game situations, but the level of pain in training seems to increase year on year. It's not as if we have suddenly become unfit from the end of the last season is it? Pre-season is a time for preparation and, as the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
The period before the start of a season is also a time of change and often a time of uncertainty. New players are coming in. Some of your old team mates have gone or retired. The coaching staff may have changed and you could be facing playing a completely different style of game. There could be new sponsors, different kit, even different facilities. You will certainly be facing new teams following promotions and relegations even if you are in the same league. Nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Even the rules of the sport change from time to time. Change is inevitable. It's how we respond to change that prepares us for what comes next.
Making assumptions about the next season or about our place in the team or our going uninjured for the whole year can be a big mistake. I can remember the very first competitive game we played. A brand new team. Our opponents arrived and swaggered off their bus, buoyed by their teams results in previous years. We on the other hand had been kept firmly in place by our coach and had approached the game not knowing the team until the day before the match. We destroyed them 70-0 and that was in the days when a try was worth fewer points. It was a hard act to follow and the temptation to assume every match would be as easy was difficult to avoid.
Toward the end of the pre-season, there is a sense of just wanting to get on with the campaign. But there is another hurdle to get over before the season can begin in earnest. Trials. Even though you have played for a team for a long time, you still have to go through the same process. New, fresh, younger up and coming players may have arrived on the scene. Everyone faces trials before the next season begins. The trials precede selection for the next season.
It's tempting to want the start of a new season to simply roll on from the end of the last, but the new season will also have new challenges.
Life can be the same - physically and mentally demanding, change and uncertainty, making assumptions about what lies around the corner and well, full of trials. Life is also made up of seasons and those seasons do change and bring with them new challenges. A very wise man wrote in the bible in a book called Ecclesiastes - there is a time for everything, a season, everything fits in its place in its right season. How we respond determines what happens as those seasons turn. How we approach the trials will determine how we fare in the next season.
Another great writer observed in a letter to a group of men called the Hebrews that there is one thing that doesn't change. In fact he was describing a person. The man's man Jesus Christ. Of him it was written: Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, today, forever. In other words in the middle of the demanding, the changing, the uncertain, the trials - he remains consistent in his approach and attitude towards us as men. What a great example of maintaining his composure as a man in the middle of change. Change is difficult to accept sometimes, particularly if the impact of the change means we have to adapt or stop something to start something new. But as we approach a new season - in sport or in life, lets remember there is one who we can rely on to be totally consistent as a role model, as a mentor, but especially as a friend. The man's man Jesus Christ.
As we face the challenge of a new season, lets meet the demands, the change, the uncertainty head on, not shying away from trial, but willing to press on in the knowledge that the trails qualify us for the next season and that we do not move forward alone. The man's man has already been there and wants to walk with us through to the other side.