The life lesson my son learned from a muddy rugby field

It’s pretty widely accepted that involvement in sport – and team sport in particular – is great for building resilience in kids. Kids learn how to follow rules, play fair, work as a team, respect the coach (and ref), how to work together for a result, how to pick themselves up after a disappointment and how to persevere and not give up – even when the going gets tough.

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Yep, sport does some great character building in our kids – especially in difficult weather conditions. Who wouldn’t rather be home by the fire? But if you pike out, you let down your team. So instead, you rug up as best you can and venture out into the elements to fight for team glory on a muddy field. That was the challenge for our intrepid young rugby players and their long-suffering parents who braved the grim elements to cheer on their lads battling it out at a recent junior rugby tournament.

There was mud everywhere.

I’ll be honest – I was counting down the hours till I could retreat to the warmth of the Toyota Highlander I was test-driving for the weekend. The boys played match after match in the mud, defeats, draws and wins – and then had to psyche themselves up to do it all over again the next day. If we thought the wind and rain that first day was bad, nothing could have prepared us for day two – the first game was played in a literal mud pit.

The boys were miserable. Unbeknownst to us parents, a few of them had a bright idea – “Let’s jump into a warm shower with all our clothes on and wash the mud off.” Right. For a few blissful moments, they were warm and clean-ish. But then the wind whipped around them and within seconds, they found themselves soaked, shivering, teeth chattering, lips blue.

Even after finding them spare team jerseys and shorts, the cold was inescapable. My boy sobbed. He resisted all efforts to talk him into playing by coach, manager and parents alike, refusing to go back out and begging to just be allowed to go home.

So there we sat at an impasse. Short of dragging him bodily out onto the pitch there was nothing I could do to talk him into it. I understood his distress and desire to quit, but I felt like this was a pivotal moment in his character development. Do we give up when it’s unpleasant? Or do we push through and find the will to keep going? Do I cave and let him take the easy way out – let him quit on his teammates? Or could I find some way to help him push through his discomfort and persevere?

I mean, his whole body was shaking with cold and he was miserable – but so were the other boys and they were playing. That was his team out there. I decided the very least he could do was come stand on the sideline and cheer them on. It was the right decision. Watching his team brave it out stirred something in him. With one match to go, he decided to get back out there.

In the hour before that last match started, I figured the boys needed a warm pick-me-up and I had an idea. I had a seven-seater Highlander at my disposal and I had spotted a McDonalds just up the road. So I loaded up as many of them as would fit into the car, laid down towels on the seats, unlaced mud-caked boots, and blasted the heater and the stereo. Through the drive-thru we went for $1 hot chocolates. We returned with a bunch of happy lads feeling a whole lot better and ready for their last game.

That last game wasn’t pretty. They were playing the team that had just beaten them soundly and we were a few players down. But the team gave it their all (and got whipped). They played with massive heart, got up after bruising tackles and scraped knees to try again and again. Watching them dig deep and leave it all on the field had us all pretty proud. And I was so glad we’d found a way to keep my boy going when the going got tough.

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