When people hear I play rugby, I often receive a wide variety of reactions - some astonishment, a little respect, but more often, complete confusion. Yet, this certainly isn’t a surprise to me, after all, rugby is hardly a popular sport in America. Simply put, this country holds football very close to its heart and it really struggles to make room for another contact sport - that’s fine though. Having played soccer my whole life, I’m used to people not quite understanding the point or appeal of my sport.

Yet, while I’m certainly not going to tell people how to live their lives, I can honestly say that playing rugby has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made in my college career so far - one that I would recommend to anyone. Rugby has introduced me to a new level of competition and challenged me in ways I couldn’t imagine. Listed below are the top reasons to play this amazing sport.

1. New experiences

Having grown up always playing the same sport, it sometimes felt like I was living in a rut. While I genuinely loved soccer and still do, it eventually became too predictable for me. I always played the same position, ran the same formation, did the same drills… I truly felt as though I could do it with my eyes closed. Then rugby finally popped my metaphorical bubble. Not only was it refreshing to learn a completely new sport but the game itself is totally unpredictable. Just because a certain play is called, individual players can adapt the plays to fit specific situations. You have to be able to think on your feet and roll with the changes. The game is as fluid as you can get - something I doubt any other sport can truly offer.

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2. Finally getting in shape

As with any contact sport, rugby is extremely physically demanding. However, this shouldn’t scare people off. Yes, you have to be able to run and you absolutely have to be able to take a hit. If you’re not physically fit enough to handle that, then naturally you’ll have to work for it. Yet, it’s something everyone is capable of doing - even if some have to work harder than others. One of the beautiful things about rugby is that no one is born unable to play this sport. It's simply about dedication and work. In the end, you’ll be amazed at what you can do when you put your mind to it.

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3. Hitting people is therapeutic

You may not think you’re a particularly violent person, there nevertheless is something universally therapeutic about getting a solid hit on your opponent and flattening them into the dirt. Even if you’re not making a shoulder-bruising hit on someone, rugby is physical in various ways - rucking, scrumming, and running the ball are all great ways to get in on the action. And after an impossibly long week in school, there’s no better way to release frustration than going out on the pitch and lighting someone up.

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4. There’s a place for everyone

There is a grand total of 15 different positions on a rugby team and each has a specific job to do. As one can imagine, this opens the door for a wide range of talents and skills. However, the sheer amount of positions can be incredibly confusing to new players. For the sake of keeping this short, one simplification is the distinction between forwards and backs. Forwards tend to be the stronger and more physical rugby players - they may not be remarkably fast on their feet, but good luck pushing through them. Backs are the opposite; they have to be fast, mobile and capable of handling the ball. This large variety of skills ensures anyone can find a way to be useful and effective on the team.

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5. It’s not what people expect

There’s a strange mentality in America. When people hear you play sports such as baseball or basketball, you usually get the polite “oh that's nice,” reaction. However, when people hear that you play rugby, they actually pause and reevaluate you. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard comments such as “Oh wow… that’s pretty tough isn’t it?” and they will actually ask you about what you do - as they should.

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6. The respect between teams

While the on-field rivalry between rugby teams is as strong as it is in any sport, after the match the home team will host a social for the opposing team. All grudges are left on the pitch in favor of some good old-fashioned fun. While the specific incidents at these events are on a purely need-to-know basis, let it suffice to say no one can party like a rugby team.

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7. Making lifelong friendships

There’s no better way to forge lasting friendships than through extreme circumstances and it doesn’t get any more extreme than rugby. Whether it’s the long and frequent practices, the tiring road trips or late socials, a rugby team is more than just a team - it’s a family. Through my own experience, I know that on and off the pitch, my team will always have my back. That alone makes the pain and bruises worth it.

Image courtesy of UNC Chapel Hill Women's Rugby

All in all, rugby is more than a simple sport or game - it’s a way of life. Even when I injured myself in our first game and was out for the following month, I have never once regretted my decision to play this sport. I have been challenged in ways and have grown more than I ever dreamed was possible - both a player and a person. I have met many amazing people and traveled to many amazing places. And, most importantly, I learned how to be a badass.

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