Earlier this year, I decided to take the plunge and join an organized sport. Up until this point, many of my recreational ‘sporting’ activities have had a wee bit of lone wolf edge – like running and boxing, for example.
Recently, however, I found myself yearning for more of a community. I don’t know if it’s an age thing. If, instead of being compelled to nest like most women my age, I had the urge instead to cluster. I found myself wanting to spend some of my free time with like-minded ladies looking to challenge themselves and – hey – kick some butt doing it!
So I joined a full tackle woman’s football team called the Calgary Rage. Bet you didn’t see that one coming? And to be honest, neither did I! A friend from my boxing class asked me one day if I wanted to try out and I said: “why not!” And the rest, as they say, is history in the making.
What I realized quite quickly was that there was nothing like playing tackle football to take you out of your comfort zone, scare the living pants off of you, and make you bond instantly with a complete group of strangers. It was hard, it was exhilarating, and it made me push my own personal limits every time I hit the field.
I won’t say that I was ever reduced to tears, because there’s NO CRYING in football, but I can say that I constantly moved and inspired by the sheer willpower of the women who played with me.
Hold on… sound a bit like community building? If you have ever experienced the highs and lows of coming together as a community, then you might know where I am coming from.
So I thought that it was quite apropos to touch on a few parallels and share the lessons I have learned about community by playing for the Calgary Rage.
If ever you want to experience a true sense of being a team, you have to try playing tackle football. As I stared down the facemask of a 200+ lb offensive lineman waiting to squish me, I always found courage and drive in the fact that I knew that the rest of my defensive unit was watching my back.
That was the key. If we all did our jobs to support each other while we played, the Rage was a well-oiled machine. Our corners covered the passes that the defensive line couldn’t. The linebackers contained the running plays and there was always the safety at the back as the final line of defense. But when we didn’t do our jobs, when we yelled words of blame instead of encouragement, the team fell apart.
Like with community building, the more supportive you are with those on the front lines with you, the more likely you will succeed as a team.
Become an excellent leader
You want to make an impact? Become an excellent leader… One of the captains on my football team was a National-team running back named Erin. She is one of those athletes who always plays with heart, give it her all during practice AND during games, and expected us to do the same – without a doubt.
Erin acted as the Sheppard of an eclectic team made up of stay-at-home moms, businesswomen, jocks, and babes of all sorts of ages and backgrounds, constantly leading by example and tirelessly encouraging us to explore our potential.
One of her favourite Calgary Rage cheers as we got ready for our games: “You mess with one of us, you mess with all.”
I think we often overlook the grassroots leaders in our communities as we are too quick to look to our elected officials for guidance. Instead, look to those you know who lead by example and who truly cares about the potential and wellbeing of his or her community. Or, more importantly, become one of those leaders yourself.
Always protect your quarterback
Once in awhile, this past season, I was able to squeak onto the offensive line. One of the biggest tragedies I discovered, for an offensive lineman, is to be in a play where your quarterback gets sacked (which mean being tackled for you football newbies….).
It made me wonder how many times, unintentionally or not, we let our own communities’ quarterbacks take a hit for us when they shouldn’t have. Are we as community members stepping up enough to protect our visionaries and our community playmakers? If the answer to that is “no’ or even “maybe’, then we all need to dig a little deeper and be willing to throw some blocks for those willing to put themselves out there.
When it comes to community (and to football), the ones protecting the quarterback are as important as the quarterback themselves.
Never leave anything on the field
One of the things that our Rage defensive coach always demanded was that we never left anything on the field. What he meant by that was that we always pushed ourselves to give it our all and more. You knew that you accomplished this when, tucked away into bed that night, you had no regrets.
Our coaches also said that if you were to fail, do it going 100%! This was always my favourite saying. Football is a sport that really shows a player’s heart on the field. But, like with everything, no matter what, mistakes happen. Those mistakes sting less, however, when they happen when you are really, really sincerely trying.
My biggest lessons have always happened in community development and in football when I have HUGELY fallen flat on my face. No true lessons, or results for that matter, happen when you kinda, sorta make an effort.
Its not always about winning and losing…
The biggest thing that I took away from my first season of football was that winning and losing wasn’t the be all and end all. The biggest thrill came from pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, testing my potential, and learning something new.
And what I found I loved most about playing football, in the end, was the true bond of a team, of a community that eventually became like a football family. Without a doubt, playing the game was tough but I always found strength in the fact that I knew that I was never alone on the field.
Mess with one, you mess with all. Now how is that as a slogan for community?