Balancing Rugby and family life

Finding a balance in my daily schedule with my kids can be challenging but I wouldn’t have it any other way. To see a smile on their face’s and seeing them happy is one of the best feelings. My kids won’t know the struggles I had growing up, like not having food to make lunches or getting rides to school and trainings. To be honest I can’t remember having a birthday parties either. I call it my humble upbringing because its made me the person I am today. Every time I go through tough times I push through those boundaries for my kids. I really enjoy parenthood, but as any parent knows it can be tiring at times, and being a professional athlete brings its own particular challenges.

My family:

I was 17 when I found that my girlfriend of two years, now wife, was pregnant. I had no idea how to raise a child. I was a kid myself, about to have one. My family were happy for us and was willing to support in any way they could. My wife’s parents weren’t too happy about the situation but still gave us the support we needed. I can see their point of view looking back at it now. The birth of my first child was one of the best days of my life. I am truly blessed with 5 healthy children. Brooklyn (15), Torres (5), Karney( 4), Frankie (20 months) and Mika (6 months). We weren’t so lucky with our first boy Cruz who would have been 10 this year.

Our kids:

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want my kids to play sport. 

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With our eldest daughter Brooklyn she is a sporty child so she was always gonna play Netball like her mum. She is very talented but she isn’t aware of this and needs to be reminded of this every now and then. I feel for her though because she gets compared to her mum a lot and people telling her she will be like her mum. They say she has good genes to be a good player but she shouldn’t have to feel like she has to live up to others expectations of her mother. I used to over-analyse her game and not really give her enough credit for how well she played. It was nothing against her it’s just the way I analyse myself when I play sports, always find ways to better myself, so I naturally do it with her when she plays. I have eased off now because I know she just wants to be her own person. Create her own identity and enjoy sports without all the baggage.

Lucky for us being on this side of the world we push her more towards her school work than sports. If we were in NZ where sports is priority for most, it may have been different. Like most parents you push your kids into what you weren’t very good at, and school wasn’t one for me so I want to push  her towards her studies. She has GCSE next year and she has worked hard to prep for it. We have noticed the massive difference this year in her school load and homework so have let her sports sit to the side at the moment while she prepares for her end of year exams soon. Schooling on this side of the world is more of a focus than sport and I find it a lot more advanced than it is back home. I remember her coming home upset as she only had PE once a week and most of those days it ended up cancelled because it was raining or snowing. Trying to help her with her year 6 (intermediate) homework a few times and thinking what? They are learning this stuff already, DAMN!!!! When we struggled with her homework we would use Uncle Google to point us in the right direction. The hands on work like projects was with me, mum looked after the literacy and math’s or FaceTime calls to any other members of our families in NZ or Australia that could help her.

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My son Torres was always gonna have me wanting him to play rugby, so I pushed him into going to rugby tots at 3 years old where I saw a glimpse of him being pretty good for his age. As the months got on, I would do extras at home with him because I felt he was ready to advance his skills, which started off as fun but I ended up taking it to serious where he didn’t enjoy it. I would just give him the ‘hurry up man, stop being soft’ talk. This carried on for a month with me not noticing how much he wasn’t interested in rugby anymore. To the point where he would cry because he didn’t want to go to training. I tried the ‘if you go to rugby, I’ll buy you a Transformer.’ which didn’t work and was very unusual as he loves Transformers. In my head I was thinking I never cried about going to rugby when I was that age, what’s the matter with my son? Is he soft? I noticed his confidence was low and he wasn’t his usual self. So I took a back step. I was trying to figure out what was going on, playing in my head everything from when he started till then. When I finally realised that I had taken all the fun out of it and always told him off for not doing it right instead of how he could do it better. I pretty much gave him a reason not to like rugby anymore.

That’s when I pushed on the reverse pedal and let him make the decisions of what he wanted to do. So after a while we searched for other things he was interested in and because he was a big ninja turtle fan I thought, give Jiu Jitsu a go. I took him down for a look, he didn’t want to participate in the first session but enjoyed watching it. Next week I took him down again he got involved when the sensei was really encouraging him and I could see his eyes light up with every compliment he got. The Jiu Jitsu belt system was a good way for him to learn about practicing to become better. You start on red belt where you learn some takedown techniques, break falls, variety of kicks and blocking kata to get a white belt so he had something to work towards. Like encouragement, he enjoys succeeding. I had noticed a massive shift in his attitude, 1. Because he enjoyed it, 2. He got compliments for the good things he did from me and 3. He loved getting medals, certificate and his white belt.

I realised how differently I done things this time around. I let him enjoy doing things on his own and when he needed help I’d help him. I try to teach him the values of working hard for something he wants (his white belt). I give him compliments when it is right and help him work things out when he is doing it wrong, instead of just critiquing him.

Now with two younger sisters watching him do his training at home they copy what he does so it’s a snowball effect at home. As younger siblings you tend to want to do what the older one is doing so we could have few more belts around the house in years to come.

My game day routine:

When we had one child, on game days I use to have a routine where I would sleep through till 11am, have breakfast then go back to sleep or watch a movie till 3pm eat and then another little nap until I went to pre match meal at 5pm for an 8pm kickoff. My wife would do everything for Brooklyn that day.

Now with 5 children, and 4 under the age of 6 is a different beast but we manage. However, there’s no lie in at my house anymore!

Sometimes I think if only you could call the noise control on your own children – it would help the chaos.

Nowadays a usual game looks a little different: Give the kids breakfast, school drop off, come home, hang out with the baby, lunch, short nap, get up, pick kids up again, play time, head off for pre-match prep with the boys.   

That is a day my wife doesn’t play netball for her team Manchester Thunder. A Saturday afternoon game can be havoc at my place!

After injury, I had my first taste of this new style of preparation leading into my first premiership game in nearly a year – solo!

My wife had an away game in Coventry Friday night. That morning she had an appointment at 9am with the Doctor and took the van. While I walked and the kids scootered to school. I then got an uber from school to Captain’s run taking the 2 kids scooters with me because we only have one vehicle.

I’m finished and done by 11:30am. Get dropped off by AJ.

My wife takes off at 1pm for her netball game where I’m left with my 5 kids and my dad until the next morning when we have to be at the training ground by 6:30am to catch our flight to Exeter.                     

Usually after school the kids are tired but for some reason when it’s a Friday afternoon they find their second wind. I let them run amuck until 6pm where I bath and feed them, so by 8pm I can set them up their favourite movie ‘The greatest showman’ hoping they will fall asleep. Baby gets looked after by my eldest daughter and dad.

While the movie is going I’ll get all my gear ready for the game as its part of my game routine to be organised before I wake the next day. 10pm kids are all out for the count. Early sleep this time round which is unusual in my household.

Sleeping arrangements:

Sleep is important for recovery, so trying to keep on top of it at my place is like poker, you don’t know what your gonna get dealt. Now baby number 5 is here. The bedding arrangement has altered a bit. My 1 and 3 year share a double bed with each other with my 5 year son on his single bed in the same room. My 15 year old in her own room. Me my wife and baby sleep in our room. That’s until either the 1 or 3 year old comes in in the middle of the night and wakes our room up! So we changed it up a lil. I went and slept with the 2 girls on the double so they didn’t keep waking baby up. Some nights it would end up with me, the 2 girls and my son squeezed in the double bed but if that was the only way I was gonna get a half decent sleep then so be it. Plus never got a decent sleep in my own bed as I’m a light sleeper and could always here baby having a tit at all hours of the morning. Afternoon naps have become a must for me as the kids and rehab took a lot out of me. Days when I’m stuffed, happen always be the days they play up, but when they hear me raise my voice they know Dad’s about to lay the Smack Down!

Last words from Uncle John:

‘My life isn’t perfect but I’m thankful for everything I have. Stay Blessed.’

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