In this raw and emotive op-ed, Sophia Hatzis explains how taking up a physical team sport at her local club transformed her physical, social and emotional wellbeing.
I’ll never forget the look my parents gave me when I told them I was going to start playing rugby. I could see them battling with a range of emotions. Shock turned to confusion. Confusion turned to concern. And concern turned to panic.
To be fair, that look was warranted. When I approached them with the idea, I was sitting at a measly 50-odd kilograms. I was fit-ish, but more gym fit. I hadn’t played a competitive sport in years and had shown very little interest in watching any kind of footy, let alone playing it.
But after watching the Aussie Women 7s win gold at the Rio Olympics, my curiosity was sparked. What is this “rugby” you speak of? In August 2016, something ignited inside me. But it was only embers at that stage.
In early 2017, I got involved with the Manly Marlins. I started helping out with their social media at games and my interest in rugby grew. But it wasn’t the game I was most intrigued by. It was the sense of community, of mateship, that I hadn’t ever seen before.
On a windy afternoon in April 2017, Manly’s women’s team was set to play a curtain raiser before First Grade. I didn’t know we had a women’s team at the time but watching that game changed everything for me. It turned the embers into fire and I knew I had to be involved.
Over a year and a half later, I’m still playing for the Manly Mermaids. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the game. I’ve learned a hell of a lot more about myself. But I also reckon there are some valuable life lessons that playing rugby can teach our daughters.
1. How to be brave
Rugby involves tackling and, yes, it can be scary. When someone is running full speed straight at you, your first instinct is to preserve yourself. Brace for impact in the hope that it’ll all be over quickly. Or better yet, run the other way to avoid it all together. As far away as possible.
Contact is an inevitable part of the sport. For many, it’s the worst part. Tackling was the part I dreaded most, until very recently. I’m a small person, so the thought of having to run into a woman twice my size, who’s coming at me like a freight train, scared me more than you could possibly imagine.
Building up the technique takes time. But building up the courage can take even longer. Learning to tackle, and tackle properly, will teach your daughters how to be brave.
2. Losing sucks but it’s not all about winning
I’m the first one to admit that I’m a sore loser. I always have been and I always will be. I can’t play monopoly with my partner because I get angry that he’s so good at it. I can’t play chess with my Dad because he always wins.
We all know how good winning feels. It’s a reward on a scoreboard that says you were better on the day. That you were “the best” on the day.
But something I’ve learned since I started playing rugby, is that winning isn’t the be-all and end-all by a long shot. A score doesn’t prove how well you played as a team, how much you improved as a unit, or how far you’ve come as a group.
3. It’s not all about you
These days, we live in a bizarre world. A busy world. A fast-paced world. A world that’s become all about “me” and where “I” fit. How much money I can make? How far I can go in my career? Do I look good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I capable enough? Do people love me or even like me?
Being part of a rugby team reminds you that you are a part of something bigger. Every week at training, you contribute to the unit. There is a greater purpose. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what’s best for the team. A lineout doesn’t work if two people aren’t lifting. A scrum doesn’t work unless three people are pushing. A try isn’t scored unless the ball gets passed. It becomes about what “we” can achieve, not what “I” can achieve.
4. We may not be able to do exactly what the boys do, but we can do it in our own way
The Women’s National Rugby League competition has summed this point up perfectly with their slogan: “Same Game, Our Way”.
The reality is that we, as women, can’t compete with men at the same level. We are fundamentally biologically different. Nine times out of 10, they will be stronger than us. They will be faster than us. They will jump higher, tackle harder and react quicker. That is just the reality.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t run our own race and kick our own goals. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have a crack at the “gentleman’s game” and play it our own way. That doesn’t mean that we can’t forge our own path. We can inspire little girls to take up a Steeden or a Gilbert, and that’s where the game – played our way – will grow.
5. There’s nothing better than mateship
It’s borderline impossible to describe the bond you build with your rugby teammates. I’ve tried countless times to put it into words. In fact, I’ve been here for the past half hour trying to get it just right. Trying to find the right collection of phrases. But none of the sentences I’ve concocted seem adequate.
But there’s something different about the friendships you make on the paddock. You’re putting your body on the line for each other. These are relationships that are literally forged in blood, sweat and tears. Your teammates become more than just friends. They become your protectors, your allies and your biggest fans. But most importantly they become your family.
6. Your body is so much more than what it looks like
Parents these days have it tough. The thought of having to raise a daughter in this world makes me shudder. How do you even begin to confront this social media age?
Everywhere they turn, there’s more pressure on them to be perfect. To have the “right” amount of social media followers. To have the “right” clothes. The “right” makeup. The “right” car. The “right” phone. The “right” boyfriend. The “right” body.
Mix puberty into that, and you have yourself a recipe for a mental health crisis.
And the worst part is that the pressure doesn’t go away. Because every time they turn on their phone, their iPad, their TV – it’s glaring at them. All their insecurities bubble to the surface.
But that’s where footy, and sport more generally, can make a huge difference. When you’re playing rugby, you’re reminded about what your body can do and what it’s capable of. You’re reminded of your strength when you make a tackle. You’re reminded of your speed when you make a break. You’re reminded of your fitness when the beads of sweat slip from your brow. You’re reminded of your power when you push in the scrum.
You’re reminded that your body is so much more than what it looks like on the surface. For some girls, learning that could change their life. It certainly would have changed mine.
Sophia Hatzis is a Sydney-based student, blogger, wellness advocate and online content producer at Macquarie Media. This story originally appeared on Sophia’s blog, Breaking Down Beauty.
Photo credit: Facebook