Playing Up

It was my first year at Miami University playing for the Redhawks (then Redskins); I had worked hard to earn a spot on the starting XV (the first team for those non-rugby-connoisseurs out there) over a senior starter, and had just been asked to represent Ohio at the Inter-Territorial Tournament in the fall. Things were looking good (and truthfully I was probably a bit too big for my britches because of these early successes).

As the season progressed the dates for the All-State team’s tournament were scheduled on the same day we had a union match for our University team. There were three of us from Miami that had been selected to the All-State team and we were now forced to make the decision to choose between our brothers in red and representing the state of Ohio. At the time it wasn’t an easy decision.

Under some well-intentioned-yet-foolish council from a former alum, myself and one other of the All-State selectees decided to stay home and play for the club rather than going to the Inter-Territorial Tourney. We chose the University game over playing up with the All-State team. The third of our All-State selectees chose to play up and go to the tournament.

I don’t remember all the reasons why we chose to stay rather than play up, but I think it was easier (read: safer) to stay in the comfort zone. To be playing with my team in a position I knew and in a game we were confident we’d win VS. playing with, and against, a bunch of other all-stars from around the midwest, where the risk (and likelihood) of failure was much higher. Fear of not performing as well, or fear of not living into the hype, or fear of being “found out” that I wasn’t as good as they thought, caused me to sabotage any successes I might of had playing up. It’s alwasys easier to be the all-star in the minors than risk playing in the majors and failing.

After our third player returned from the tournament and told us of his experience – I was convinced I had made the wrong decision. He told of how great coaching was, how he developed by playing with other great players, and how much he took aways from the professionalism of the experience as a whole.

I told myself I’d always take the opportunity to play up.

Flash forward 5 years later, I’d taken my own advice and had represented both Ohio and the Midwest on the All-State and All-Midwest select sides. I believe playing up led to my captainship and leading our team to the national stage (we took 3rd place in the U.S. for D1AA). I was able to parlay these moderate rugby successes and some connections I’d made to move to Scotland and play for The Edinburgh Academicals (or “Accies” as they are called) – in pursuit of playing at the highest level I could.

Scotland was great. I lived with some great fellas, our flat was nicer than any living situation I’d been in (we had an elevator that came right into our apartment), and my heart was satiated being around a great rugby-appreciative culture. #HappyDan

About halfway through the fall/winter season, and under a bit of peer pressure, I began playing with another – albeit, less competitive, less seasoned, and less well-coached – club. Eventually I left the first club I had been with to play for this new team. I rationalized this for a number of reasons – the biggest being that the “banter was better” and the Accies were a bit “clique-y.”

Fear of being “found out”

I could say I let banter – as great of a things as it is – come between me and my goal of playing up at the highest level I could. But after more introspection, it was fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of not being the best one on the team (or not making the jump to the next level).

Fear of not be the biggest fish in the pond.

Fear of being “found out” that my early successes were just a fluke and I was not as good as I/they thought.

It was this fear that drove me to not push hard into playing up.

But these were all fears I had overcome before…hmm.

In both of these instances I ended up regretting not seizing the opportunity to play at the higher level. I had learned the first time but when things got a bit harder, environment and community changed, it became easy to go to where the comfort and safety was rather than pressing into the uncertain.

When presented with an opportunity to have an easier “more fun” path, all it takes sometimes is a bit of pressure to move us off our goals and away from the things we desire most. We are fickle little beings.

Tactics and questions:

Write down and regularly review your goals and enduring traits and continue to build a code of character. One of the cornerstones in my code of character is “I always play up. I learn up. I lead up. I love up. I pray up.” …in my marriage…in my business and work…in life. In other words, when given opportunities and talents do you take and used them? 

Are you seizing the opportunities around you to “play” for better coaches? Are you attending killer conferences, reading the works of great minds and thought leaders, being developed by your job, and do you have a mentor?

Are you seizing the opportunities to “play” with other all-stars? Start building your tribe. Start meeting with a like-minded accountability buddy (or two…or three) throughout the week to make sure you are staying on track with the things you say you desire most. Start building your support team and putting your goals out there to be held accountable to. Start getting plugged into other tribes and interest-groups that will be positive peer-pressure forces, going to professional developments, etc.

Are you taking the opportunities to “pray up”? Sometimes it’s hard to discern which well-intentioned, yet sometimes (often) foolish, friends to listen to. Spending quality time with and engaging God and the Holy Spirit will help you discern and direct who to allow to speak into our lives and which decisions you should be making and the direction you should be moving.

Playing up sometimes means having icky conversations, or letting people go, or sticking up for what you know to be right, even in the face of opposition. Playing up means dancing with fear and choosing the long hard road that begets perseverance and mastery. Playing up means working to align what we do with how we do it.

Good talk. See you out there,



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