The Penalty Box: Learning Something New Is Hard

May 8, 2024 at 8:00 a.m.


When we experience something we aren’t familiar with, we have two options in what we do with it.
We can be curious and go on a quest to learn more about it, or we can dismiss it.
There really is no gray area in the middle.
Rugby has always been a fascination for me. If it was on TV late at night or during the day when I am home from work, I stopped and watched for a few minutes. But I never stopped long enough to really learn the rules or strategies. It was just long enough to think that I would never want to run into any of those people, men or women, in a dark alley with a pocket full of cash.
That all changed this spring when my 14-year daughter came home from school and announced that she was going to a demonstration for middle-schoolers by high school rugby team members on what the sport is and how it works.
I signed off her going because, being perfectly honest, I thought she would come home and say “that’s not for me, dad”.
So she went.
And when she came home is when I first became concerned.
There was another demonstration a few days later, and she wanted to go to that one, too.
Uh oh!
She came back from the second demo and announced that she wanted to try playing on the Warsaw middle school rugby team.
I could not speak.
I could not breathe.
She was completely serious.
And in that moment, I became a rugby dad.
But who is a rugby dad? I know baseball dads and football dads and soccer dads, but who is a rugby dad? I had no earthly clue, but I realized I was about to find out.
She loves it!
It’s true that I wouldn’t be sad if she said, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” But as long as she wants to keep playing, her mom and I are going to support her in it…even if sometimes I have to watch the matches between my fingers in anxiety of her getting hurt. I am her dad, right? My primary job is to protect her from bodily injury.
I’m trying to learn the game. It’s kind of like football, but different. There aren’t a lot of “laws” (they call rules of rugby the “laws of rugby”) but the objectives are very similar to football. Some of the laws are quirky, which adds an element of surprise to every match.
The two biggest things you have to remember about rugby are these: you have to go backwards to go forwards, and to go forward takes courage.
When I say “playing rugby takes courage”, I want to be 100-percent clear—we are not talking about sports courage here. We are talking about ‘knowing that you are the only player who is standing in the way of the other team scoring, the person running at you at full speed head of steam weighs much more than you do, and you have to put your shoulder into them and stop them…or at least slow them down until help comes’ kind of courage.
No pads. No helmets, although you will see players wear what’s called a scrum cap every now and then. A mouthpiece is about the only protection there is (again, the Dad in me is totally triggered by this) in a rugby uniform.
To say that rugby is not for the faint of heart is like saying trying to stop a running car coming down the street at you is not a good idea.
It’s not for someone who is afraid to get dirty or get their nose bloodied.
You might call the people who play rugby crazy, and I think, in an honest moment, most of them would not deny that. But their response to you calling them that would include a smile—the kind of wry smile that makes you think they don’t necessarily mind you thinking that, and certainly not their opponents either.
And one other thing you should know about my experience. I am not afraid to ask questions, even when it means making myself vulnerable to people I don’t know.
The people I have sat with from around the Indianapolis area and Fort Wayne have been more-than-happy to help explain things I didn’t understand. It may seem like a small thing, but in a world where common courtesy is waning it’s been very encouraging.
When you’re 56-years old, you become less interested in learning new things.
But you know what I have learned this spring? My name is Roger Grossman, and I am a rugby dad.

When we experience something we aren’t familiar with, we have two options in what we do with it.
We can be curious and go on a quest to learn more about it, or we can dismiss it.
There really is no gray area in the middle.
Rugby has always been a fascination for me. If it was on TV late at night or during the day when I am home from work, I stopped and watched for a few minutes. But I never stopped long enough to really learn the rules or strategies. It was just long enough to think that I would never want to run into any of those people, men or women, in a dark alley with a pocket full of cash.
That all changed this spring when my 14-year daughter came home from school and announced that she was going to a demonstration for middle-schoolers by high school rugby team members on what the sport is and how it works.
I signed off her going because, being perfectly honest, I thought she would come home and say “that’s not for me, dad”.
So she went.
And when she came home is when I first became concerned.
There was another demonstration a few days later, and she wanted to go to that one, too.
Uh oh!
She came back from the second demo and announced that she wanted to try playing on the Warsaw middle school rugby team.
I could not speak.
I could not breathe.
She was completely serious.
And in that moment, I became a rugby dad.
But who is a rugby dad? I know baseball dads and football dads and soccer dads, but who is a rugby dad? I had no earthly clue, but I realized I was about to find out.
She loves it!
It’s true that I wouldn’t be sad if she said, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” But as long as she wants to keep playing, her mom and I are going to support her in it…even if sometimes I have to watch the matches between my fingers in anxiety of her getting hurt. I am her dad, right? My primary job is to protect her from bodily injury.
I’m trying to learn the game. It’s kind of like football, but different. There aren’t a lot of “laws” (they call rules of rugby the “laws of rugby”) but the objectives are very similar to football. Some of the laws are quirky, which adds an element of surprise to every match.
The two biggest things you have to remember about rugby are these: you have to go backwards to go forwards, and to go forward takes courage.
When I say “playing rugby takes courage”, I want to be 100-percent clear—we are not talking about sports courage here. We are talking about ‘knowing that you are the only player who is standing in the way of the other team scoring, the person running at you at full speed head of steam weighs much more than you do, and you have to put your shoulder into them and stop them…or at least slow them down until help comes’ kind of courage.
No pads. No helmets, although you will see players wear what’s called a scrum cap every now and then. A mouthpiece is about the only protection there is (again, the Dad in me is totally triggered by this) in a rugby uniform.
To say that rugby is not for the faint of heart is like saying trying to stop a running car coming down the street at you is not a good idea.
It’s not for someone who is afraid to get dirty or get their nose bloodied.
You might call the people who play rugby crazy, and I think, in an honest moment, most of them would not deny that. But their response to you calling them that would include a smile—the kind of wry smile that makes you think they don’t necessarily mind you thinking that, and certainly not their opponents either.
And one other thing you should know about my experience. I am not afraid to ask questions, even when it means making myself vulnerable to people I don’t know.
The people I have sat with from around the Indianapolis area and Fort Wayne have been more-than-happy to help explain things I didn’t understand. It may seem like a small thing, but in a world where common courtesy is waning it’s been very encouraging.
When you’re 56-years old, you become less interested in learning new things.
But you know what I have learned this spring? My name is Roger Grossman, and I am a rugby dad.

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