15 Things I Learned In My First Rugby Season

When I tell people that I play rugby I get a number of responses again and again, “oh goodness!”, a dropped jaw, or a number of questions about where, when and quite frankly, why? We even ask each other when we meet new players because for women and girls, rugby isn’t the most obvious sport to take up. It hasn’t always been the most accessible to women and girls. Times have changed since 2001,  and now women’s rugby is the fastest growing sport in the UK right now.

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So first of all, why? I had a number of people who knew me but not each other all suggest that maybe it would be a good sport for me to get things out in a healthy way. I struggle with managing anger and I used to struggle with anger more so than I do now. There have been times in my life where being angry literally drove me insane. Secondly, at the only Fresher’s Fair I went to, the rugby team table seemed much more welcoming than the other sports I was interested in. I didn’t sign up that year because I was anxious about injuring myself before London, but it remained in the back of my mind that I would like to try it out. So I did and now I have finished one season, I am hooked.

Here’s 15 reasons (one for each player on the pitch) why giving women’s rugby a go would be agreat idea from my experience of my first season:

  1. You will build your confidence, on the pitch and off; your new confidence will seep out into other areas of your life.
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  2. You’ll find your voice, literally, you have to shout and holler for the ball and at your team mates. Screaming at your team mates as they run for the Try line is a wonderful feeling.
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  3. There is a place for every body shape and size on the pitch: small and dainty to big and strong. If you’ve ever had hang ups about your body image rugby will make you appreciate what your body can do.
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  4. You will get strong, feel strong, and want to be stronger.
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  5. Rugby really is a game of getting knocked down 7 times and getting up 8: you will gain strength in your character and resilience to go with it.
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  6. You won’t master the drills straight away, and once you start to see improvements it’s incredibly satisfying.
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  7. You learn to fake it til you make it: you make eye contact to intimidate the opposition, you get ready on the pitch for kick off and it feels like lining up to battle. You learn to emit a bravery and couragousness that you may not naturally have – and after a while you start to have it.
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  8. Resting in the evening of match day, when you are battered and bruised, aching and tired, is a wonderful feeling. You always sleep well after a match!
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  9. Rugby is a sport of strength and resilience on the pitch and in the bar. It’s standard to have a pint after a match, and kind of rude not to.
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  10. Adrenaline is your friend. Sometimes you’ll be marking someone on the opposing team who intimidates you on the pitch. You don’t want to stand in front of them, let alone take them down. In rugby you learn to channel this adrenaline and fear into excitement and courage.
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  11. It’s a sport that really supports the “Fuck it!” mentality as an antidote to fear.
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  12. You will push yourself with yoru team mates. There’s something special about being a part of a team.
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  13. Sometimes it’s just absolute bants.
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  14. Tackling is fun, and so is getting muddy. If the ground is a little bit wet, you can take comfort in your efforts by how muddy you got or did not get during the match.
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  15. There’s always a Moose of the Match, or Dick of the Day – which keeps everyone in check because no-one wants to be gifted with a dirty pint on the regular. It’s also fun to sing the down in 8 song – sometimes a bit of peer pressure to drink up can be a good laugh!

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Behaviour Change and The Monday Mentality

I first encountered what I call the Monday Mentality when I was engaging in dieting behaviour. I would design a diet plan that would always start on a Monday. If I designed the plan on a Thursday for example that gave me until Monday to eat, indulge and gorge on everything I wouldn’t be allowed from Monday onwards.  During the Bulimia days this would equate to days upon days of bingeing and purging. Monday would come, and this was a new start. Every Monday was a new me like the 1st of January, except Monday just kept on coming around every single week. This is 52 chances a year to start a new diet, exercise regime, habit, project, study, checking off the errands on that list as long as your arm and as old as your eldest son.

There is a fresh feeling about Monday. We start a new study week or work week or just a new week in general. Everything starts up again and it feels like a perpetual chance of new starts and the beginnings of new habits and lives. I used to delude myself into thinking that from next Monday everything would change. I would stop bingeing and finally exist on a minute amount of calories. I would finally lose weight. I finally stop purging.

The Monday Mentality creep into every avenue where we start goal setting. It usually trumps the ‘why not start today?’ and the ‘There no time like the present’ thinking because it is more enticing to continue with shitty habits for a few more days in favour of trading them in tomorrow, always tomorrow and of course, for every single day that we exist in this universe, no matter what happens, there will always be a tomorrow until our final day. Thank you universe. There is a great gift in tomorrow.

Today is shit? You’ve had a crap day from start to finish, have a sleep and there is always tomorrow where you get to start over on making a good day. Wait a few more days and give yourself time to sulk it out and start again on, you guessed it, Monday. There’s always a Monday just on the horizon. Even on a Tuesday or Wednesday there is always a Monday on the horizon so it is easy to get stuck in the Monday Mentality of, I’ll start on Monday.

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I got caught up in this thinking pattern during my first year studies at university earlier this year. I had a depressive episode which meant that most days were going not according to plan off the mark every week for a number of weeks. I would push myself really hard to change my behaviour and get to university on Monday. Tuesday would come and more often than not during my first year I wouldn’t make it. This for a good few weeks wrote off the rest of the week until the following Monday when I would get a ‘fresh start’ to try to improve my attendance, get off the ‘fitness to study’ radar, and ultimately get my shit together. Whilst working with the welfare officer at university she said, ‘why wait until Monday?’. I didn’t really have an answer other than, it felt more like a goal to start changing.

The truth is, goals never get met whilst engaging with the Monday mentality. Thursday is as good a day as any Monday to start. Together we decided that starting now would be a good idea and if today didn’t work, I can always sleep and there’s a brand new day to start now on in the morning. This meant that every morning I gave it a good go in terms of getting to places, leaving the house, showering, and managing to catch up and complete some study.  This means that even if I wasn’t making massive gains each day, or I wasn’t achieving loads all of a sudden overnight I had started to practice the Now Mentality, which ultimately leads to smaller achievement that build up to create great differences and, fingers crossed it all works out, eventually building mastery over myself, and my illness.

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This isn’t to say that I cured my depressive episode this way. That took a medication change and some more tweaks further down the line. What it did mean however, was that every morning was a chance to improve. Every morning was a chance to seize the day the best I could for that day. So each day I would make a plan that felt achievable and not overwhelming. It would include something like, shower, mindfulness, dishes, study. Sometimes I would only manage to eat, and have a shower and that was fine. The key difference was that Tuesday or Wednesday wasn’t pissing me off and I wasn’t then vowing to stay in bed until next Monday before I tried again. This method over time built a bit of resilience and a fresh view of each day being as good as any Monday to try. That’s all I was asking of myself, to try. That’s all anyone can ask of themselves, but if you decide to wait until next week each week before initiating change then every time you wait a few days to indulge in the habits you’re trying to break you are entrenching those habits deeper. If you are trying each day to change a habit, even if you slip up and indulge in the habit in question, you are trying again as soon as it’s done to change it again. That way you are entrenching the habit less, and enforcing the habit change more frequently, which is more likely to lead to a successful habit or behaviour change.

It seems like common sense. It really does feel obvious however, the temptation to be comfortable, which bad habits often are if they’re our usual way of functioning then the amount of self-discipline to say no to yourself and within yourself when no one is around to motivate or encourage you otherwise is great. Self discipline I think though is another habit that can become the new norm in this way. Being accountable to others can help but it isn’t healthy to rely on others to change your own behaviour. No one can change your behaviour or habits but yourself.

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This area gets more murky when mental illness is involved, but it rings just as true for mental illness. Although often a health professional is required to guide behaviour change in this instance. I’m not saying someone with OCD can change their rituals alone in this way, or that someone can stop engaging in eating disorder behaviours like this alone. Not at all. For small habits though, the trying every day brings a clean slate and a new opportunity to do better than before, every 24 hours. This can be quite helpful and can help with making the most of each day even during depression because some days you won’t be able to get out of bed, but on the days when you can you will likely achieve more on the good days which could help with the progression of the episode. It may buffer the loss of self-esteem during an episode as well when coupled with self compassion.

So scrap Mondays. Monday just means the world starts a new week. Next Monday will be no different to last Monday if you vow to make huge changes overnight on Monday. It won’t happen. We slip and we slide when breaking old habits and forming new ones. Accepting this and living in the present will likely mean in 20 Mondays time, you will be able to look back and see more successful changes because you’ve had 140 new starts, and 140 clean slates rather than 20.

Each Monday holds no more value in its 24 hours than any other day of the week. How about we stop putting Monday 1st on the podium above all the other days? Each day is a new day. There’s no time like the present. Every new morning is a new day, and the opportunity for a new start.