Rugby – more than just a game

At it’s heart, rugby is about respect, hence my believing that rugby is about much more than catching and passing an oval shaped ball, but also about building – and exposing – character.

Tank Lanning

I pride myself on making informed decisions. And given my penchant for a fair amount of over analysis prior to making said decisions, along with sweating the small stuff more than I should, I am prone to taking time to make these calls, and am perhaps not as spontaneous as I could be.

One thing I don’t do, though, is spend hundreds of hours pondering who the hell I am and how I came to be, but now with a young son, and seeing a bunch of young guys develop into men having gotten back into rugby coaching, I thought it time for some slightly uncomfortable introspection.

Obvious influencers on how one turns out are your parents, the state of their relationship, siblings, schools and teachers, tertiary education institutions and tutors, friends, spouses, and other mentors that come into your life. I count myself as extremely fortunate to have enjoyed being moulded by some truly outstanding human beings in every one of those mentioned areas of influence.

The other massive influence in my life has been the game of rugby. Not only physically in that it was a fun way to stay in shape, practically in that it got me a UCT scholarship, but also spiritually.

I have long said that rugby is about much more than catching and passing an oval shaped ball, but also about building – and exposing – character. Legendary rugby man, Basil Bey, my housemaster and coach at high school, tells me that he learns much more about a person through watching him play rugby than any one-on-one session in the classroom.

Why? Because at it’s heart, rugby is about respect. Respect for the ball and thus trying not to cough the bloody thing up, or kick it away aimlessly, when you have it in your muddy paws. And perhaps more importantly, respect for your team mates, and thus not sending out a hospital pass to your buddy outside you who has been lined up by a 145kg Neanderthal at full tilt!

Going out on the town the night before a game … Being late for the team bus or practice … Not practising your individual skills like kicking and lineout throwing on your own … Failing to learn the lineout calls … All disrespectful to your team mates, and not only does one let oneself down, but all your team mates as well. It takes a real cretin for that not to hurt when it inevitably gets exposed on game day!

Rugby is also full of scenarios that require combinations to work together in order to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Locks need props to lift them in the lineout, and props need locks in order to scrum effectively. A flyhalf needs the wings to chase a kick in order to make it effective, while the wings need the flyhalf to pass the ball in order for them to score tries. It is a sport that requires you to work hard to make your team mates look good in order for the team as a whole to prosper, and that is a fantastic character trait to have.

Basically, if you can’t put your mate into a better position than the one you are in right now, take the hit yourself and set it up for another attempt. And that requires you to be honest with yourself. What a legendary life-lesson! Making these calls, and going through both the highs and the lows as a team, builds one’s confidence and character.

Along with key mentors, rugby has played a huge role in me now finding myself fairly comfortable in my own skin, despite my many faults! And that has allowed me to make the big decisions without second guessing myself.


  1. The best part of it all is that you don’t have to be particularly good at rugby to benefit from its life lessons. This I know from experience!

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