Rugby and relationships

Filed under: Opinion |

A couple weeks ago I went back to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Eau Claire Rugby Club.

I started playing rugby in 1982 and played actively until 2000. I will still play the odd over 40s tournament or in this case the “ancients” as we old, old boys were called.

I played about 15 minutes of an 80 minute match and tagged off to a younger, though still “ancient,” teammate and then stood on the sidelines heckling. I played the break – forward or flanker position. This position is on the outside of the scrum, long man in the line-outs and should be the first to the break down.

I made some tackles and got tackled. One time I was tackled out of bounds (into touch in rugby terms) just as I was diving over the Try (goal) line. Well there goes my Try until the next match (game).

When it was all over, I had muscles hurting I didn’t know I even had. Rugby is kind of a tough game, but injury rates are less than in American football where blocking is allowed-causing blindside tackles-and where helmets make for good spearing instruments.

In rugby you don’t want to tackle with your head because a face meeting a flying knee causes some damage. See those pearly whites about 4 inches up on this column…bought and paid for after getting a rugby boot in the mouth.

Around 100 guys who have played rugby at Eau Claire showed up. Many of us had not seen each other for five, 10 or 20 years.

Why am I telling you this? It’s about relationships. Even though it had been years since we were all together, it was like we’d never been apart. The camaraderie that happens on sports teams is so natural that none of us missed a beat.

The joking and heckling started immediately and continued until we all left Sunday morning. Granted, we had a lot more belly and gray hair, but the humor remained unchanged.

After we were done playing on Saturday we made a beeline to the hotel hot tub. Women and children were scared away as 15 large, round rugby players caused severe water displacement.

Anyway, I think Victor Cahn made a good observation about rugby when he wrote:

“In our country, true teams rarely exist … social barriers and personal ambitions have reduced athletes to dissolute cliques or individuals thrown together for mutual profit. Yet these rugby players, with their muddied, cracked bodies, are struggling to hold onto a sense of humanity that we in America have lost and are unlikely to regain. The game may only be to move a ball forward on a dirt field, but the task can be accomplished with an unshackled joy and its memories will be a permanent delight. The men who play on that rugby field are more alive than too many of us will ever be. The foolish emptiness we think we perceive in their existence is only our own.”

What does this have to do with business? It should be every businessperson’s goal to create the same type of genuine, lasting friendships with others in the business community.

The heckling and joking may not be appropriate at a luncheon or a black-tie event, but you get the idea. While it’s sometimes challenging to get a deal done in a competitive situation, business is a team sport, and I don’t think there is any reason the same camaraderie found on a rugby team couldn’t be developed in our businesses.

I know here at the Business Journal the heckling and joking is a constant. Practical jokes are the norm. I would have it no other way. The result is an environment that makes relationship-building easy; not just with each other in the office but with others in the community.

Need some help having fun at work? Our circulation director gave me 50 ways to have fun at work published by Lagoon Games out of Boston. One idea, that is more like a social or behavioral study, is to put decaffeinated coffee in the coffeemaker for three weeks. Once everyone has gotten over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

The point is that we sometimes have to let loose, have fun and focus on long-lasting relationships. After that, business will come naturally.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at or 634-3223, ext. 202.