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Sweat, blood and bruises: a rugby revolution

Sweat, blood and bruises: a rugby revolution

Story by SSgt Cambria Ferguson on 08/07/2019


Blended temperaments, varied motivations and physical disparities are great leaders born or self-made? The answer lies beneath the sweat, blood and bruises of the United States Air Force rugby team.

Athletes from installations around the globe were selected to compete in the first-ever Department of Defense tournament with representation from each branch. The Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship kicked off July 6, 2019, in Wilmington, North Carolina. Like the military, rugby is known for displays of courage.

“Legend tells us that one day William Webb Ellis, in grand violation of rules, picked up a soccer ball and ran with it,” said Lisa Rosen, USAF women’s rugby team assistant coach. “On that day, rugby was born.”

Although today’s vision of the USAF Rugby Sevens is to develop Airmen into elite players, another crucial priority is evolving better leaders to serve the nation.

“Everyone should be allowed to fail and then recover with dignity,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright. “We are family. One of the greatest joys of leadership is helping someone after a stumble. Build them back up, build trust and your team will overcome the challenges ahead.”

During the games, players get tackled and fall hard. Mentorship from the director and coach inspires the stamina needed to stay resilient, similar to the military’s frontline leaders.

“Rugby has a lot of correlation with Air Force skills,” said Maj. Nikki Jansen, USAF women’s rugby team director. “One second you can be offense and the next second you’re on defense. You need to switch from being a follower to a leader. You need to be able to read the situation and react immediately with creativity. In that way, rugby is especially significant to Airmanship.”

Teamwork requires listening, just as much as instructing, to effectively deliver messages in the chaos of rapidly evolving plays. Scrums in rugby seven games tend to be faster paced because there are fewer players defending the line. The outcome heavily relies on athletes’ physical discipline at their home installations.

“It’s hard because we are not all (stationed) together so we are not conditional teammates that practice two to three times a week,” said 2nd Lt. Noell Heiser, USAF women’s rugby team player. “We have to do all the training on our own and get here a bit early to work out the small bumps, then perform. I find that to be extremely challenging.”

The USAF took bronze in the Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship with the final standings of 2-2 in the historical tournament. Rugby may be aggressive in nature, but develops leadership by nurture. The game isn’t over when you lose, it’s over when you quit striving to improve. Take a moment to recognize your leadership attributes, pursue your ambitions and help build your team’s path to success, added Jansen.

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