Rugby And Vulnerability

In the game of rugby we talk a lot about values—respect, perseverance, support, etc. These are doubtlessly true and important. But I think the most important value of rugby—certainly the most important for life off the pitch—is vulnerability.

Now, when we think about rugby, vulnerability might not immediately jump to our minds. But think about it—you stand on a rugby pitch wearing short shorts, a thin shirt, and maybe a piece of cheap boiled plastic in your mouth. And that’s it. That’s the armor in which you go into contact, flesh to flesh and bone to bone. And then you do it again. And again.

Rugby has made me brave, but it hasn’t made me fearless. Courage is not the absence of fear—it’s the acknowledgement of it and then continuing to do the thing anyway. Sometimes the thing we do is simply exist. 

I believe in radical vulnerability. In the awareness that things are difficult and not hiding that fact. It doesn’t mean we have to always wallow in self-pity or give into the inner demons. but it also doesn’t mean we ignore them or pretend they’re not there. It means we acknowledge when things are difficult and that sometimes we need help—someone to listen, someone to give advice, someone to just be there. 

Here's my vulnerability—I am fearful and anxious about most things. When things are going well, my thoughts wander into the realm of impending disaster. I’m terrified of losing a loved one. I’m even more terrified that something will happen to me and my absence will leave a gaping hole in the lives of my family. My fears are often irrational—that my wife will fall in the shower, that I’ll come down with inner ear cancer, that the pain in my stomach is more than just the morning’s coffee. I know that makes it sound like I’m making light of it, and on some level I am, but it’s also deeply serious. I really do wrestle with intrusive thoughts, fears both rational and irrational, alongside feelings of inadequacy, irrelevance, and unworthiness. 

Life is scary enough, but I like to spice it up with nightmare scenarios just to keep things interesting. There are times when I’m alone with my thoughts and no amount of shaking my head, or turning up the music, or watching the TV can clear my mind. It’s hard to write these things—to name them, to shine light on them—but it’s essential to surviving the shadows. 

It's easy to feel alone on the pitch. When you’re running with the ball and the support is behind you, off your shoulder, out of sight, it’s easy to think no one is there. So too in life. Ninety-nine percent of our thoughts never get out of our head and no one knows what those voices are saying inside our minds. 

I don’t like acknowledging that sometimes I’m fearful, irrational, anxious, troubled. I don’t enjoy being vulnerable. But I know that I’m not alone. I don’t write any of this for the catharsis or attention—I write it because I’m convinced that there’s nothing unique or different about the thoughts I have. I believe we all face inner narratives that aren’t always sunshine and roses and manatee snouts. And I believe that taking those thoughts out of our head and into our support systems takes away their power.

Will you join me in radical, rugby-style vulnerability? Will you let others be with you, ruck over you, support you? Don’t outrun your support. We’re here and we’re listening and we’re on the same pitch playing the same game. 

Onward. Always onward.