Let me first state for the record that I’ve been on both ends of a blow-out. I have been a coach and a player for teams that were both methodical and tactical in wins as well as on teams that showed up on game day with the understanding that we were there like a proverbial lamb being led to the slaughter.
Victors are allowed to relish in triumph because it’s assumed that they have put together all the necessary parts and personnel to win. They have put in the hours of practice, dissected their opponent and organized a plan to win. Losers may have gone through the same process as well; maybe more so in order to find some weaknesses in their opponent to exploit and perhaps stun their superior counterparts. A little luck in the scenario may help as well. More often than not, however, a team without the requisite weapons to fight blow for blow, try as they might, will eventually concede that they did their best but in the end they were outmatched, overwhelmed and outgunned by the stronger, faster and more talented and schooled team.
I for one do not enjoy blow-out victories. Sure, I love it when my team wins but what I don’t love is seeing the dejected looks on the faces of an opposition that has the will to fight but hardly the skill to win. I don’t revel in embarrassing a severely disadvantaged team, particularly if that team is just learning to play or even just learning to play together. As a coach, we learn very little from lopsided wins because in my mind, a team that experiences a bit of opposition and adversity will truly appreciate success and the effort that it took to earn the victory. Nor can we as a team implement strategies if all we do is destroy opposing teams with superior talent and skill.
Let’s face it; it’s fun to win, but winning is not everything when you’re also trying to teach your team a few life lessons. Many will disagree with me, but I believe that there is an aspect of sportsmanship that comes with resisting the urge to kick a man when he is down. I was reminded of that attribute this past weekend when our rugby team traveled to play a newer team here in our State in an area that is relatively new to rugby.
Prior to the match, our coaching staff was approached by the oppositions head coach that although her players love playing the game of rugby, they acknowledged that they were reluctant to play us because they lacked the skill and rugby acumen to compete with our well-established (and might I add tongue in cheek, highly decorated) team. A plan was formulated between the two head coaches and our head coach brought the boys together for a pre-game huddle.
“Boys,’ our coach, Colin Puriri started, ‘we always play to win. But sometimes we can win without the benefit of a scoreboard. Today, we’re going to win by being ambassadors for the game.” With that preface, he proceeded to inform the boys that we would be ‘loaning’ our starting forward pack to the opposition for the duration of the first half. At half time, we would get our forwards back, but we would then loan our back-line to the opposing team.
At first there were looks of bewilderment on the faces of our players. But gradually, as the realization that we were about to be a part of something extraordinary, smiles and fits of laughter slowly spread across the team. This was a chance to have a little of fun, spread a bit of good cheer and teach another group of boys why we all love the game of rugby so much.
After overcoming the initial awkwardness of playing alongside people they had not played with before, both sides relished the competition and forged new friendships in an decidedly entertaining game. By the end of the first half, every boy had a chance to compete and everyone learned more than a few valuable lessons both on and off the field.
Our opposition got to play alongside all-star and all-American representatives and learn the game from a different perspective. Our team on the other hand, learned the more valuable lesson that day: That winning off the field as ambassadors of the game is always more important than running up the score.