Learning a New Sport
We can easily get caught up in the identity of one sport and think that’s the only one there is for us. But sports can do a lot for us: open our minds to see the world differently, teach us how to use our bodies in new ways, give us a new mindset for seeing the world. So before you write-off a new sport as something silly or as inferior to your sport of choice, give it a try. There’s no telling what you might learn.
Trying something different
I grew up playing football and continue through my first year of high school when I had elbow surgery which cut my career short. A couple of years later my elbow was doing better, and while I couldn’t go back out onto the football field, my friends suggested something else: rugby. My school had started a club a few years back, and it was gaining popularity. Because they’d heard of my success on the football field and because football and rugby are known for similar brutality, they thought I might be a good fit.
What I learned
The similarities between rugby and football do not go much further than the shape of the ball. It’s true that if you’ve learned to use your body as a weapon in football, then you will be a bit more prepared for rugby but the way you use your body is completely different.
For example, a football tackle often involves leveling your should pad at the ball-carrier’s thighs and chopping your feet to drive through them. In rugby you often side stepping the ball-carrier, wrapping the up around the waist and pulling them to the ground.
I was fascinated by learning this new technique. It seemed in opposition to what I learned on the football field, and yet the outcome was the same: the ball carrier tackled to the ground. To go a good rugby player, I had to learn this new tackling technique as well as a host of many others. Learning this new sport was an exercise in expanding my mind. Of course, there was a certain intensity and focus that transferred from football and both sports are incredibly physical. But the rules of the game and the goals of each moment could not be more different.
Football is a game of stops and starts while rugby is much more non-stop. The type of physical exertion is much closer to soccer where you have to be in shape for running long distances than football where short bursts are what is required.
I had the unique role on the team of being the player who is hoisted in the air for out-of-bounds plays to catch the ball being through in. This was yet another unfamiliar part of the game and something entirely new to learn.
I came into the rugby season figuring it would be a piece of cake with my football background. My teammates assured me of this as well. But I soon came to see that the rules were not so straightforward and the constant lateral movement of the ball was quite difficult to get a handle on. But over the course of the season, I came to understand the rules and perfect the new tackling technique as well as trusting my teammates enough to throw me up in the air every time the went out of bounds. It was exciting to learn something completely new, and I gained a lot of confidence from working my way into the starting lineup.
It never hurts to try
You never know what you could be missing until you try something new. Sports being what it is, there is a lot of competition among athletes over which sport is the manliest or the hardest to be good at. I often found that football and soccer players could never get along because both sports happened in the fall and each seemed to despise the other’s beliefs, whatever those were perceived to be. But as someone who has played no fewer than ten sports competitively, I can say that these arguments have no basis in fact.
Every sport is unique and can provide an exciting learning opportunity. And although they will never admit it, soccer skills can help with football and vice versa. I find it silly now that I hid the fact I played soccer from my football friends. I was no doubt in better shape because I played both. Looking back I’m glad I gave every sport a chance ( I even played pickle-ball in college) because each gave me a new challenge and something to learn about myself. Nowadays many of us like to specialize, to become an expert in one sport but I always argue that the well-rounded athlete is the one you want on your team.