Monday, 13 June 2011

Amateur sportsmen: The forgotten masses

I play amateur rugby. I have done for years. I've played at various standards and with varying levels of committment over that time, but it's been one of the few constants for me since I first started in Year 8.

One thing I have been wondering more and more over this time (particularly after wet weekends like this one just past), is why the hell do we do this to ourselves? Why throw ourselves around, put ourselves through this pain just for kicks???

You look at professional sportsmen or women, and whatever they do is justified by the fact that they're paid to be there and have an army of support staff to look after them and help to help maintain them in peak physical condition (with a caveat that if you're talking about Phil Taylor, peak condition means strengthening his throwing arm by lifting pints all night)!

Over the years I've been playing, I've seen countless players tear hamstrings, blow out shoulders and bust knees. While I can count myself relatively 'lucky' in having avoided anything too serious, I have missed games over the past couple of years due to back, knee and shoulder injuries. My current and last housemate were both rugby players, and both carried chronic injuries or pain they dealt with, which they had to work through each week.

My aim with this is not to whinge, more to illustrate the extents to which people go to play rugby (and amateur sport more generally, rugby is just the one with which I'm most familiar).

Looking back, a critical part of understanding my motivations can be observed by the decision I made when I moved back to Sydney at the end of last year. I had been playing in Canberra at probably the most serious level I had ever managed, and seriously considered joining one of the Sydney grade clubs to have (my last) shot at seeing what grade I could potentially make. My alternative was to play suburban rugby, at a decent but definitely much lower level, but with a very close group of mates.

While I did deliberate over this for a while, I realised that for me a large part of what I get from rugby is the enjoyment of playing with mates and the sense of community and cameraderie that comes from that. While it would no doubt have been fun to play grade, I couldn't go past the opportunity to play regularly with my mates.

That for me illustrates my motivations in playing amateur sport. I will put myself through the pain and discomfort because of the enjoyment of standing shoulder to shoulder with friends, and knowing that our experiences on the field bring us closer than anything else I've seen.

I'll put myself through a lot for that, and the moment that goes is the point at which I personally will hang up my boots...

Note: Thought I should add that in no way am I suggesting professional sportsmen and women don't play for the love of the game. I think you need passion for what you do to make it to the highest level in any endeavour. What I do say though is that once sport can support your life and family, the motivation to play and keep playing is irrevocably changed!

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