Friday, April 6, 2012

Being a half back flanker on a losing team

Recently I wrote about being a half back flanker in Aussie rules football, my vote for the best sport in the world. A little more on the nature of the position.

I'll say the words "man" here a lot, because I was a man when I played it. I hope that's cool. I've seen women play the game too and it's great footy but please, just indulge me. It makes the writing easier.

The ball gets bounced in the centre. Let's say the white ruckman taps off to a rover who handballs to a white wingman. The wingman runs for ten metres and spears the ball upwards to his half forward line. That's a textbook play out of the centre (if such a textbook existed).

So the wingman is running towards goal, but is way too far away to kick the distance. This is where the half forward / half back battle happens. The white (half forward) guy needs to get loose for the wingman to get a clean kick to him - called "a good strong lead".

So this is where the half back flank is important, and why the position suited me. It's not a glory position - your job is to stick on your man, like shit to a blanket. If he runs at full pelt for fifty metres to make a lead, you are running with him. If he runs fifty forward, then back, then belts forward again, etc ten times the you're with him. At full pace. Until your will to live almost dries up. But you do it. Because the price you pay to is that your guy gets a clean pass and a chance at goal - all because you got a little tired.

Aussie rules is a game of eighteen man-on-man battles, one-on-one battles. With a team all pulling in the one direction and all efforts shown in stark relief.

Playing on a losing team
In the mid 1990s I played two seasons. Started at the age of 29 because I wanted to play a bit before I got impossibly old. I'm glad I did it. The only teams I could get a game with were teams that were - at the time - getting thumped each week. I'm talking fifty goals.

Scores like this (87 points to 3 from a Norseman away game) were considered a good result. We were getting beaten by 300 points. On the half back line it was almost like standing by a river, watching the ball float through towards the goal line I was supposed to be defending. WTF could I do, to still feel like I was contributing?

A half back flanker - Dave Attiwell I think - from a very good club - Blackwood - let me in on it once when I played against him. "it's my job to make sure you don't get a kick all day". I think he might have also said something like "that's unfortunate for you, sorry about that".

So that was it. Find a job that you're good enough at that is tied to the objectives of the team, and succeed at that. And never leave any fuel in the tank at the end of the game. When I moved to the half back flank that helped me stay sane in those 50 goal drubbings.

A lesson for life
It has been a handy way for me to see the world. In my "who killed strategy" post I noted how soul destroying it was to be in operations for a company that had a crap strategy. And I've worked in places before where it was not good to be the boy who pointed out the emperor's nakedness.

A company called Titan Electronics in the early 90s was bloody mindedly still trying to sell French military spec electronics components into consumer goods manufacturing after the game changed around them. Try as I might, I could not convince the purchasing officers to buy my $2.00 D-connector instead of the 30 cent Chinese one. Go figure.

It can be like playing on the half back line for that losing football team. And then it's time to man up, concentrate on only the things I can control and revel in the little wins.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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