Yup, we all know THAT kind of player…
We have all had that one player in the team. Always out of position, never knows when to mark the ball, runs all over the pitch, destroys the team’s attacking and defensive play and can’t catch the ball if it was handed over to them. Furthermore, we all WERE (or are) that player at some point. Whatever sport we played, we were never good from day one. In my early years of playing rugby union, I regularly pissed people off by being rubbish and bringing my football attitude onto the rugby pitch. But mainly, for being rubbish. Couldn’t catch or pass, all I could do was to get the ball and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, and then complain to the referee about an imaginary foul. Those moments are still vivid in my memory, getting tackled so hard, my gum shield would fly out of my mouth and then getting told off by my captain, Jim, for complaining. Towering above the rest of the players at almost 7 feet, all flowing black locks and furrow eyebrows attached to a lumberjack beard size of an average snow shovel, Nigel Owens mode fully activated. “This is not soccer”, he would grunt in a voice that was more suited to a tank engine rather than an interior designer that he was.
However, despite me routinely being moany and cocky, he never stopped teaching me the dark arts of beating the defenders or upending the opposition players and using my speed and agility against them. He was always as supportive as a more experienced player can be to a newbie.
Now playing tag rugby, I regularly come across team “leaders” who quietly drop less experienced players. It usually happens when the core of the team has played together for a long time and the newcomer disrupts that idyllic environment. So, unless the newbie becomes very good very quickly, they are given the “it’s not you, it’s me” talk at some point. Worse leadership decision ever. Not only is the leader going against one of the core tenets of tag rugby, known for its inclusiveness, but they are limiting their team’s potential for growth. What happens when the best player has to leave the team due to an injury or work or family commitments? It is difficult to imagine that there is a pool of readily available high standard players, waiting to join your bunch. It is impossible to keep improving unless there is a regular influx of new players, once the older ones have peaked.
One of the examples from my own experience dates back to autumn 2014 when our team was put together from a bunch of individuals most of whom have never held a rugby ball in their hands. I had the pleasure of playing alongside one of the best players in London, Terry Winter, who was a newbie but had a wealth of speed, agility and determination of a pit-bull chasing a frisbee. Barely 5 feet tall, the guy could carve through defensive lines in a blink of an eye and was a relentless defender, earning himself a nickname, The Iron Curtain. He went on to become the Player of the Season a few weeks later, and an attacker that nobody wanted to mark, lest they end up looking silly. But before all of that, he was an enthusiastic but clueless ball of energy, running around the wind-swept, cold pitch in Stratford, having no idea what he was doing.
Terry Winter, at Tag Rugby Championship in 2016, just before becoming the Male Player of the Tournament
Luckily, our team leaders, Dee and Lauren, who had an accumulated experience of over a decade of playing tag, told him everything they knew about the game, nurturing him into the impressive player that he became. It was thanks to their excellent leadership, and sometimes a stern word, that he achieved so much and was equally respected by the teammates and opponents. He could have very easily been excluded from the team as we had several experienced players, but he was given an opportunity and the time to learn and improve.
So, my recommendation is to welcome and embrace the new players, you never know what sort of a hidden gem you might discover. They could grow into the next star of tag rugby and champion the sport across your local area, or city, or even globally. Worst case scenario, you make a new friend. But never dismiss them after their first knock-on, show them the respect of looking them in the eye and telling them what they need to improve and how they can do it. They have earned at least that much, just for turning up to a wet, muddy pitch on a cold February night. Grow them into something better, nurture and encourage their talents and you will inevitably build stronger team bonds and long-lasting loyalty.
Perhaps I am biased, as I was extremely lucky to have enjoyed good leadership, and it is easy for me to preach this way of growing the teams. But it makes perfect sense to me to try to hold on to the oldies and encourage new team members to join, not just in tag rugby, but at work, friends groups and everywhere else.
I hope this helps you improve, and, as always, give me a shout if you want to have a chat.
Az – Tag Rugby Player London