Tonight I went for a run and had an almost-solo training session with myself, 3 young neighborlings, 1 new stranger/friend who’s going to Brown in August for her PHD in Slavic studies, and 2 imaginary 7s teams, Black and Blue. I reffed an imaginary full-length 7s game: Black was winning 7-5 at half and ran away with it in the 2nd :P Had to call it quits on the whistle blowing when the sun set though because a child in the distance started responding to each of my whistles with loud noises of her/himself.
Near the end of my imagination session (ie practical visualization) 3 girls approached me and asked, “excuse me? What are you doing?” in their pre-teen, up-talking, high-pitched, curious voices.
“Practicing being a rugby referee.”
“Oh, there’s rugby around here? I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, tons! A lot of college and womens teams. There are quite a few youth and girls teams too!”
“Oh, ok!” They wandered off.
Before running into them again I had a 30 minute intermission to talk to the lone person who was peacefully reading a book on a corner of the field as I was blowing the whistle and making loud, audible calls to my imaginary friends for the past hour. Of course I got her permission first since she was sitting on the soccer field when I arrived, and it turns out she’s going to Brown in August to get her PHD in Slavic studies! On my 2nd return jog home, because I decided after the 1st that I wanted to take a photo, I ran into the girls again on the 1st of 2 street corners between the fields and my home.
“Haven’t seen you in a while!” one of them said. “Fancy seeing you here!” the girl next to her followed.
And as young kids do, they started telling me about their recent activities completely unprompted, “we were cheering on the soccer players. They weren’t very good but we didn’t tell them.”
“Do you play too?” I asked.
“Yeah! The boys weren’t very good obviously.”
“At least they had fans!” I replied.
“Only 3 fans though out of like, 20 of them!” one of the girls exclaimed.
“Everyone’s gotta start somewhere,” I said.
After chatting more about soccer and figuring out that we live 4 houses apart, we parted ways. My biggest takeaway from that encounter is that everyone’s gotta start somewhere. For me it’s on these peaceful empty patches of grass where I can spend hours with my imaginary teams and run into pleasant strangers who have minds in which I can plant the RUGBY seed. The more they hear about rugby, the less abstract and foreign it becomes, and the more normalized it is! I’m so glad that my evening of training turned into a gathering of 18 imaginary friends (14 starting players for the 7s match I reffed, 2 touch judges, 1 medic, 1 blood sub), 3 neighborhood kids, and 1 new real-life friend!
If you’re wondering about the match tonight, Black was leading Blue 7-5 at halftime but then Black ran away with it in the 2nd half because I decided at halftime that I needed to get more sprints in. My personal focuses were on slowing down my secondary signals, taking a step off the equator at breakdowns, and practicing phrases for communicating at tackles and managing the tackler. My roommate asked me what the craziest thing that happened in the game was. It was definitely the first kickoff where Black had an IFOKO (in front of kick off) so FK to Blue. Blue took the following FK away from the mark so I blew for a re-do. Then Blue tapped it off his knee on his second attempt so I blew it again. Black scrum. What a rocky start for both teams… There was also a rolling maul that went nearly 25 meters before it became unplayable. “Use it or lose it” is one of the lines I heard a lot in SA that I really like and have added to my toolkit :)
My neighbors who live around the park and saw/heard me tonight must think I’m a weirdo from another planet.