Adventures in American Football: Week 2

You need to find your inner cunt.

If ever there was a moment that encapsulated that tension that occurs when you put an American sport in suburban Australia, this was it. American Football is imbued with an awe-inspiring array of conventions and peccadillos. But here in Australia, its local participants spend so much time squeezing their own mores into this unique culture like a fat man in an ill-fitting suit and failing. The Australian suburbs always finds a way to spill out.

Speeches are one such convention of the American game I had been aware of before I started. If you’d ever seen an American sports movie you knew about speeches. More powerful than teamwork, more effective than strategy, speeches have the ability to inspire or change behaviour, to lift boys to perform the work of men. Al Pacino won the Super bowl in Any Given Sunday by giving the greatest speech in sports movie history. And it didn’t seem to matter that this is the second division competition in the second biggest city of a country that doesn’t have a professional league. If you’re going to play American Football, you need to talk about it. A lot.

Last weekend was the first game of the season. We met two hours before kick-off. Before the game each of the three captains was given the opportunity to speak. Then each of the four position coaches, followed by the coordinators of the offence and defence. Before the head coach had even begun to talk I was worn out – I guess this was the reason we had to be at the game two hours before it started.[1]

The speeches didn’t really touch on tactics. They weren’t about the opposition, or what we could expect. I couldn’t get a hint at what should be done on the field. They did touch on the attitude we were meant to have. But mostly, they were about what the team had done in the pre-season, and how they spilt blood, sweat and tears and how on the battlefield we were finally going to earn our FREEDOM….

Sorry, I got carried away, but you get the drift.

The speeches though were suddenly meaningless after the first half of the game. Many points without answer,[2] showed that the aforementioned blood, sweat and tears was not going to be enough to win the game. But this didn’t stop the speeches. Half-time seemed to be a chance to rebuild the strength to deliver another array of elocution.

I should at this point acknowledge there was no shirking of responsibility. Fingers were pointed, accountability and transparency maintained in a manner that would make John Faulkner happy. People accepted their culpability.

But the speeches failed to provide the main thing I’ve always found important in improving my performance: advice. There was no direction to attack a particular part of the field. No particular piece of information to shed light on what needed to be done. That was until it was said. A singular piece of advice.

You need to find your inner cunt.

It was simple. Almost Yoda-like. Said by one of the team’s better players who hadn’t felt the need to say anything in the preceding five minutes of chatter. But it surmised the situation perfectly.

And in beautifully Australian fashion, it was crude and to the point.

The team had been not been playing with enough purpose. A step too slow or a moment’s hesitation can mean the difference between success and failure in this game. The team’s desire to succeed had been outweighed by their desire not to fail and as such, the requisite belligerence had yet to be executed. We[3] needed to be more aggressive.

You need to find your inner cunt.

The second half was a different story. The defence turned the ball over routinely – from memory there was 2 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. The offence finally got going and suddenly we were within six with over a quarter to play. On the sidelines you could feel the hostility emanating from both sides of the ball as the players frothed like dogs on a lead, eager to get on the field and rip into someone’s leg.

The inner cunt had been found, and unleashed.

It ended up not being enough. The opportunities were there but remained unclaimed at the end. But lessons were learnt. Everyone that got on that field now knew they were good enough, as long as they could tap that part of them that wants to hurt other humans.

Last week I was asked if I like to hit or be hit. I still haven’t got the opportunity to find that out. But I know that when I’m face to face with that opportunity, I’m going to have to find a reserve of something I’ve never had a reason to look for. My inner cunt.

After the defeat the players – those who, unlike me, had actual been good enough to get on the field, were buggered. They had spent every last bit of energy trying to overhaul a seemingly impossibly position. The team staggered to the end of the field to regroup and debrief.

It was time for one last speech. Actually two. No make that six.

[1] I recognise the irony that someone who has spent over 1600 words describing the day-to-days of an amateur sports team complaining about long-winded speeches.

[2] No one really kicks extra-points in this league. Everyone goes for two. And everyone fails for some reason.

[3] I use the term liberally. I’m yet to get on the field, and have even been switched from offence to defence despite not having a chance to prove my lack of worth on either side of the ball.

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