One of the greatest defining characteristics of rugby is perseverance and Rugby Rugby's Tom Billups looks at why it is so important for coaches and players to embrace its role in our game, and life.
By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
It has been several weeks since Cal defeated BYU in the collegiate national championship match staged in Sandy, Utah. The match was hotly contested and played in front of ten thousand BYU supporters. The rugby Bears were far from perfect in their execution throughout the match, but they demonstrated perseverance and held their nerve, accurately fulfilling their roles during pivotal moments in the match.
In this piece, we will discuss one of the greatest defining characteristics of rugby, perseverance, and why it is so important for coaches and players to embrace its role in our game, and life.
Perseverance sounds like a catchall word that is used to convey “hang in there”, but to subscribe to that definition alone is selling short what perseverance means. It is simple to look up the definition in the dictionary; persistence, tenacity, determination, staying power, indefatigability, steadfastness, purposefulness, patience, endurance, application, diligence, dedication, commitment, doggedness, assiduity, tirelessness, and stamina.
Perseverance is built within a team’s culture. Coaches and players can create an atmosphere of perseverance around many external challenges. In our case at Cal this season, these challenges included battling for our status as a varsity sport and losing our spiritual home, Witter Rugby Field. As a team is built, so is the culture, and it is the coaches and players who define what is valued and which behaviors are encouraged. I don’t believe coaching staffs can only discuss the importance of persevering, they have to demonstrate it on a daily basis, providing a constant source of what it looks like and sounds like to preserve.
In rugby, to persevere means that you do much more than “hang in there”.
Rather than just holding on, persevering means continuing to compete, especially when things go against you. Teams display perseverance when they make technical adjustments during the match instead of waiting for halftime or post match analysis to correct what needs to be corrected. Examples of this might include adjusting the lineout formation or personnel to improve your ability to win your own ball or poach those of the opposition. Further examples of perseverance are when players have tried unsuccessfully to execute a backline play but remain focused while making small adjustments under pressure until ultimately succeeding. Certainly, there are moments when a team, while persevering, has to simply play better, but demonstrating perseverance is much more than taking a defensive position and holding on.
Many athletes have to be taught how to persevere as talent alone will not always be enough to be successful. Coaches can mock up situations in training where the team has to dig their way out. Examples include creating scenarios where a key player requires a blood substitution or an important defensive player is in the sin bin. By simulating these situations, players are taught to be resourceful and persevere through difficult patches in a match.
National championship matches aside, the very nature of rugby provides each participant the opportunity to demonstrate perseverance due to the duration of a match, amount of coordination and teamwork required to be successful, and the non-stop physical exertion top end matches demand. I am privileged to have witnessed hundreds of Cal Rugby players demonstrate perseverance over the past eleven seasons both in training and during matches, and it remains awe-inspiring.
The most savvy of athletes are able to persevere with grace. An example of grace on display might include a smile or quiet word of encouragement when things are just not going your way, of course while still giving full measure.
Replace the rugby match examples with one’s life and the lessons of perseverance remain. Don’t just hang on, but press forward while understanding that it is okay to smile while trying your guts out. Sometimes, putting forth the effort to succeed is as important as whether you actually do or not.
My dad taught me perseverance and how to stay with a task until it completed. Sleep well dad, I miss you greatly.
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