I've been reflecting on my interests in all things sport and physical activity lately.  Part of this is perhaps that my job naturally encourages me to do this but also I'm finding that as I get older I can't do what I did as a young man and also maybe my motivations are changing too.


Growing up I loved all sports - I was very lucky that I had plenty of encouragement from parents and family and also from school and other community groups too.  And also I think that whilst trying to win was important actually winning wasn't the be all and end all of that support.  Don't get me wrong I badly wanted to win medals and trophies like most kids but when I didn't my parents, coaches and sports leaders adopted a positive approach which meant that I didn't feel at all criticised or lack confidence as a result of not being successful.


As I said I played everything although football was definitely my first love at primary school.  I tended to support whoever was in the FA Cup final back then - as it was the only live game you got to see on the TV in those days.  I also remember going back to my friends after school and watching the World Cup Finals in Germany in the summer of 1974.  Back then kids playing out in the evening until it got dark was commonplace and we used to pretend to be Johan Cruyff or similar Dutch stars from the 'total football' team of those finals.  I also remember being massively influenced by Brendon Foster who used to try to race the sprint finish out of opponents and I once asked my parents to drop me off a few miles from home so I could run the rest of the way to try to emulate him.  


Then when I went to secondary school I was formally introduced to more sports and I remember setting myself a goal when I was about 12 of getting in every school sports team.  Inevitably I built up a very good relationship with my PE teachers and my Mum decided then that I should follow that as a career (sports development didn't really exist then).  Although I went to a state comprehensive my PE teachers were all rugby union players themselves and although I hated the game to begin with I came to understand that there was a role for all shapes and sizes (and often personalities too) in Rugby.  I was a small and skinny teenager not particularly quick but I was quite a good dodger and I had stamina too (probably from the Brendon Foster copying earlier) and I soon came to realise that Rugby needed people with thinking skills as well as brawn.  I was hooked and despite being a late starter I was soon playing in the team.


In the early days at secondary school we got beaten by everyone - which wasn't surprising as we were a state comprehensive mostly playing public schools.  But strangely it didn't seem to matter - we were learning new skills and teamwork and enjoying small achievements along the way.  I remember the first time we scored a try - in something like our 6th match - it was right at the end of a game where the opposition had clearly got a bit tired of scoring against us and so perhaps switched off for a moment.  Well, you'd have thought we won the game - we celebrated so much and gave them the loudest three cheers you've ever heard.  They trudged off most dejected, like they'd lost and not us, and I learnt the benefit of a moral victory - which can always be achieved even in a team game.


I won't bore you with the full details of my rugby career but suffice to say I played throughout school, Sixth Form, university and then at various clubs across Staffordshire and Shropshire.  Nearly 40 years consecutively playing at various levels and finishing with Shrewsbury 3rd XV / Vets team.  My Saturdays from Sept to April for all this time involved playing Rugby and to say that it was a significant part of my life is probably a bit of an understatement.  It has been the backdrop to all of my working, married and family life.  Not that I let it take over these things but it has shaped them all and I suspect it has contributed significantly to the person I have become.  Not just because of the game but also the teamwork, the camaraderie, the people skills, the learning to meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters both the same.  The innate and natural learning I've gained have helped me immeasurably in my life.  I don't want to get too graphic but there is nothing I've experienced quite like a rugby changing room.  Especially a 3rd XV with its mix of body types, ages and backgrounds / cultures.   Inclusive and welcoming but certainly no airs and graces - if there's a lot that I miss about not playing Rugby anymore this is probably the most significant part.


Just before I turned 50 I had a bit of a nasty moment when I got concussed in a game - not the first time it had happened (I had quite a few concussions in my twenties) but it's not a pleasant experience at that age and it did make me wonder if I might be best retiring fit and well on my own terms - rather than waiting for a worse injury to finish me off.  So I retired aged 50 and have been looking for something to replace it ever since.  Not deliberately really because it won't be possible to totally replace it but I suppose looking to fill some of the gap.  So I've been trying other things and I thought I might share my experiences.


One thing that I have started playing again - that I did when I was younger and does have similar team ethics and atmosphere is Cricket.  Which I got involved with probably because my son was outgrowing junior cricket so I offered to run the midweek team at his club - also thinking this was a sport we could maybe play together.  Which we did for a couple of years until he didn't fancy it anymore.  And now I'm still there - organising and playing midweek cricket and occasionally filling in when club teams are short on a Saturday too.  It's an interesting experience and I do enjoy the camaraderie and laughs but I'm really not very experienced at Cricket - which does make it quite different to Rugby.  Which is good too - learning a bit more humility I guess and experiencing what a lot of people might experience when joining a sports club as an adult.  My name is definitely not the first on anyone's team sheet - including my own!!  Helps me to think about what we might need to encourage more 'ordinary' people to play sport - so much is set up for the ultra-good and enthusiastic.  But they need also rans like me too and I'm often thinking about ways can we make sport an even more welcoming experience for all.


As you might expect of someone inspired by Brendon Foster I have always been a runner too - but rarely an athlete entering races - more of a lone runner to stay fit (for rugby).  But now I have found that I do quite enjoy some longer distances rather than the 2/3 mile bursts that I used as training for Rugby.  I've tried a bit of fell running in the Shropshire Hills and occasionally done a Park Run too but probably I'm most happy just trotting along on my own or with a couple of others - not really bothered about the competition. 


I've also jumped back on my bike in recent years - it's probably 40 years since I regularly rode a bike daily (whilst delivering my 6 days a week paper round) but I've found that a really nice way to start and finish the working day.  Doesn't half save you petrol too by the way! As I think I've mentioned in other blogs I am trying to incorporate active lifestyle in day to day living - which is not always easy for someone tied to desk and computer.  So I now welcome the opportunity to walk - for purpose, for pleasure, as an alternative to sitting - and I appreciate the benefit it brings me without having to raise my heart beat to 220 minus my age!!  And one of the great things about cycling and walking are that I can do both with my wife - a walk or cycle ride in the Shropshire Hills is one of our favourite activities together. 


And finally I've also rediscovered my love of skiing in recent years - I was lucky enough to learn while I was at school - which was another thing influenced by those PE teachers.  I used to think it was very generous of my parents but since having teenagers myself I realise there was some selfish benefit to them with sending me away for a week.  But back to now - although clearly skiing isn't a regular activity at home it does provide me something of an ambition and a reason to stay fit and active as I'd love to spend a whole season skiing in the Alps one day.


So that's probably it at the moment - it's been quite interesting reminding myself where my interest and motivation has come from.  Useful for thinking about Sporting journeys through life and Actively Ageing Well too?  Does the system encourage and enable transitions or is it entirely left up to chance and personal drive?  What more can we do to make it easy for those with the inclination?


Whilst I'm pondering these questions maybe I'll dust off the golf clubs and join a local society - meet others in the fresh air and not get too flustered if I don't get a hole in one!