by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games now drawing to a close, I am reminded of a slogan I read while at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. It read, “the Olympics are not every four years, the Olympics are everyday”. This was a reminder to all athletes of their responsibility to hard work at getting better every single day.
Recently I spent time with USA national team veteran Paul Emerick at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas. Paul is now, at 30 years old, a veteran campaigner on both the Eagle sevens and test team. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Emerick was sitting in the locker room of Sun Corp Stadium in Brisbane Australia, chest heaving, eyes wild, having just battled through the first forty minutes of the Eagles test match versus Fiji during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Paul mentioned several times during our conversation that he was now the “old guy” on the national team and that he was taking some stick from his younger teammates because of it. His comments struck a chord with me because athletes often don’t appreciate that a clock is counting down the time they have to compete. Paul’s career has been highly successful, in part because he understood that every day counted. Time plays a role, sometimes as friend and often as foe, in an every rugby player’s career.
Several variables often decide whether time is friend or foe to athletes, one of which is injuries. Injuries are a variable that athletes work to minimize, but seldom eliminate. If injured, all athletes can do is work hard to rehabilitate the injury and move forward.
The countdown clock begins early in a rugby player’s career. Time is on the side of youth rugby players. Youth players have a “long runway” in front of them before their rugby skills, fitness, and knowledge is expected to take flight. To keep time on their side, players have to be actively work at improving. Time doesn’t give back any days, weeks, or seasons to players who’s plan is to hope they will make a quantum leap in their performance as a way to make up for lost or misused time.
Time is a friend to scholastic rugby players who work on their game by training to acquire the skills required to play rugby well. Time is a foe to players who is only engages in rugby while at training or in competition. There are several high school players who have used their time well, getting the most out of their relatively early start in our sport. Players like Kort Schubert and Kirk Khasigian, for example, began playing rugby early in their scholastic careers and consistently worked hard to improve their knowledge and skill level throughout their high school and collegiate careers. It was no surprise that this led both men to have significant international careers for the United States.
Time is not as friendly to those players who apply minimal effort to improve. Simply playing a few seasons of high school rugby will not provide a pathway toward continued development and improved performance. There is not enough training time or competition available to a player over the course of a scholastic season to demonstrate marked improvement in their performance. What’s more, as a high school player transitions to the collegiate play, the clock continues it countdown. Collegiate players face several challenging factors such as an increasing academic workload, the added responsibilities of living on your own, and a dramatic rise in the number of social distractions. All are hurdles to be cleared if advancing toward individual improvement. It requires discipline to rise each morning and get better at your sport, and this mentality is at the core of elite level athletes.
Time becomes an even greater foe as collegiate rugby players transitions to club play. Club rugby players juggle trying to establish or advance a career while paying the bills as the amount of dedicated time available for improving at rugby diminishes due to a growing list of responsibilities.
Time has been a friend to Paul Emerick because he consistently puts everything into each training session and competition. Because of this approach, rugby has become his full time job. He understands that to become a great rugby player (and remain one), there isn’t a day to waste. Today he is the most accomplished backline player American rugby has ever had, and he is not done yet.
Not bad for an old guy.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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