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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sport Histories: Kettlebells

Sport Histories: Kettlebells

This post was originally going to just be about how I tried a kettlebells class recently. But when I looked into the activity a little deeper, I realised that it has somewhat mysterious beginnings that most won’t be aware of…

The cannon was first invented in 1104 by Erik Olafson.  He lived alone on a small island in the Baltic Sea and constructed the weapon out of branches and seaweed, hoping to defend his tiny nation from invasion. It fired pineapples at high velocity and would have REALLY hurt if you’d been hit by it.  However, no-one ever attacked and Henrik died peacefully at the age of 93.  Consequently, the invention died with him.

So, the cannon was second invented in 1483. It was designed as a (somewhat dangerous) method of returning bowling balls back to the bowler after they had been bowled down an alley. Thought to have been developed at the behest of Queen Anne II, a keen tenpin fan who didn’t want to have to wait for a servant to fetch her ball back each time.

Ball

The inherent risk to life of such a ballistic method of reuniting bowler with ball was seized upon by Field Marshall Douglas McDougal in 1627 when the cannon was first successfully employed at the Battle of Hemel Hempstead and used as a lethal piece of artillery, turning the tide and proving decisive in McDougal’s defeat of the Cornish.

How does this relate to kettlebells I hear you ask?  I’m getting to that. Bear with me.

So, these cannon balls are heavy, really heavy.  Probably somewhere between the weight of a small dog and a slightly larger one. Picking them up is back breaking, so handles were cunningly added to aid lifting and carrying of ammunition around the battlefield.  It was this innovation that led to off-duty soldiers doing exercises with them, realising that they could work out more effectively using weights.

And this idea was then picked up many moons later by exercise entrepreneurs Ken Kettle and Helen Bells during the 1970s fitness boom and they transformed the use of these sport weights into the exercise class we know and love.  Kettlebells was born.  An amazing, some would say unbelievable story, but it’s all true.  All of it.

I was lucky enough to join in with a kettlebells class at work and I can confirm that it is a) exhausting and b) good for ‘scoping your guns‘. Its use of weights makes it a fitness class that appeals to both men and women, which is cool. Being the only man in a 100 strong Zumba class is an ‘interesting’ experience I assure you (something I may blog about at a later date…)

I’m wrapping up now so here comes the Jerry Springer style semi-serious sum-up. Getting fit doesn’t have to involve playing a sport.  Just moving is the name of the game.  And whatever the experts say about how much you should do, a little is clearly better than nothing.  I like a mix  of activities myself and, the more you try, the more likely you are to find something that sticks and you don’t mind doing again.

 

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Sport Relief Super-Mini-Blog

 

It’s Friday 18th March 2016 and Sport Wales staff volunteer to run a one mile relay race for Sport Relief…

 

Every limb is aching.

Every sinew straining.

Hamstrings highly strung.

Lungs wheezing from the freezing air.

My decrepit body is struggling to hold it together.

 

Then the race actually starts and the real pain begins.

 

dawg

Touchy Subject

Touchy Subject

I do enjoy watching a good game of rugby, though, like many a fair-weather fan, this doesn’t extend much beyond the Six Nations and World Cups.  Living in Wales as an Englishman makes even this a sometimes awkward experience though, particularly as I work for Sport Wales.  When England prevailed against the Welsh last Saturday, I knew that I would suffer the following Monday.  The good-spirited will say ‘well done’, albeit with possibly a quick mention of North’s foot not being in touch and Marler behaving badly.  And the less, erm, sportsmanlike might glower with just a hint of rage bubbling under the surface.  I jest of course.  Sport never brings out the pettiness in otherwise level-headed adults… (Just ask my wife what I’m like when Southampton lose.)

crying-child

My experience of actually playing rugby is very limited and sadly FAR from enjoyable.  At Swanmore School, I was always last to be picked for any sporting endeavour.  For rugby, I’d be the sixteenth on the list.  I can’t speak for other schools (I never played for my school for a start), but when we played, all the less able/willing/encouraged (delete as applicable) were stuck out on the wings.  Some of the most famous international players are wingers of course, but at school, most of the action took place in and around the scrum. A melee of mini-men would face off against each other, the ball would go in, shoot out and then would be passed one of the few boys with unbuttered fingers, who’d proceed to run the length of the pitch and score.  Rinse and repeat.

So my time was spent on the touchline, mainly standing still or ambling slowly towards where the action was happening, before ambling back when a try was scored. Consequently, I got cold.  VERY cold.  I recall an occasion, one November, when it was so icy that I pretty soon had no feeling in my hands at all, or in fact in my limbs.  I am confident that, had a ball made its way to me, my hands would have shattered, like the T-1000 in Terminator II.  Once back in the changing rooms, my unfeeling digits struggled to do up the buttons on my shirt, meaning that getting dressed took approximately 7 hours.

I’ve digressed substantially, given that I was intending to write about about a very different type of rugby.  One without the potentially pain-inducing physical contact associated with rugby union – Touch Rugby.  To the uninitiated, it looks a bit like British Bulldog or possibly a platonic version of kiss chase.  Two teams face off against each other and try and get the ball to the other end.  Tackles are replaced by a light touch, which strikes me as a more civilised idea than the frankly scary looking encounters seen on a rugby pitch. I often wince at the impacts seen on the field. Touch Rugby is a very different kettle of fish however.  It ends up being a fun runaround which is all about timing – passing and running at the right times to find spaces in the opposition line.

I am lucky enough to have facilities at work to use at lunchtimes to play with colleagues, but given that all you need is an egg-shaped ball, players (at least six really) and open space, it is a good one to take to the park, especially now the good weather is beginning to put up a fight against the six month reign of rain we seem to have endured recently.

 

Why I Fell In Love…

Why I Fell In Love…

As an Englishman, I am not perhaps the most obvious candidate to be a Welsh rugby cheerleader, but here I am, sitting down to write about a sport I barely knew growing up, living in a country where rugby is so emblematic.

For those born in Wales, the sport is in your blood and pumps as vibrant red as the shirts on the team’s backs (and forwards).  It’s simple for you though.  You don’t need learn to love rugby, any more than you need to learn to love your own family.  But it was different for me.  When I arrived in Pontypridd in 1997, I’d rarely watched a game of rugby and barely knew the rules.  And if I’d had a choice in the matter, it may have stayed that way.  But that’s not how it works here, is it?  From my first visit to the Grogg Shop in Ponty with its porcelain caricatures of Welsh legends, to witnessing a whole pub singing Calon Lan before, during and after a game, I realised I’d stepped into a world there rugby was the state religion and I was set for a baptism of fire and song.

And it’s this passion above all that got me hooked.  Hooked on the drama.  Hooked on the downs as well as the ups.  At first I went along to watch the games to fit in, to be part of the crowd in a new country, but it wasn’t very long before I was cheering as loud as the rest.  Not that I saw it coming though, no, it was a complete surprise and, it took a defeat to prove it.

grogg

It was the Quarter Final of the 1999 World Cup.  I was at university up in Trefforest and had been really getting into the competition and fitting some games in around study (ok, so it was more like the exact opposite), and then Wales played Australia.  It wasn’t the performance that was the problem, I still didn’t understand enough to judge it that well.  Even the dodgy decisions that littered that game weren’t what had got me upset.  It was really that I’d been swept up in the maelstrom of a tumultuous sea of red in the pub that day and, when a defeat hits, particularly in a knockout competition, the resulting fall is painful.  So when the final whistle blew – and the result was confirmed – I realised.  I was walking back to my house and I felt truly dejected, deflated and downcast.  I thought I could shake it off straight away but I’d caught the bug.  And that means feeling the lows as well as the highs.

And hopefully for Wales, their game against their nemesis England tomorrow will be another high.  But I do know one thing.  The Welsh support on Saturday, in Twickenham as well as throughout Wales and beyond, will be as fervently passionate and committed as the team will be on the pitch.  And afterwards, hoarse voices will still be singing, whether Wales win or lose.

And that is why I fell in love.  Not with the game, though I like it a lot, but with the passion that rugby inspires.

(This is an updated version of an article written in 2015)

Horsing Around

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Horsing Around

I love animals.  I also love a good sit down and a cup of tea.  So it stands to reason that, the lack of a cup of Earl Grey notwithstanding, I would enjoy horse-riding.  Galloping gracefully across the fields on my noble steed, leaping over fences and hedges…  What could be better?

So when my wife suggested trying out horse riding up at Cardiff Riding School, I said yes.  If nothing else, this blog has motivated me to try new things.  I’d ridden ponies as a child growing up in the wilds of the Meon Valley, but that seemed like a lifetime ago now.  I’d somehow grown less co-ordinated (which is impressive in itself) and more allergic to pain in the intervening years, but I strode out through Bute Park to the riding school last Saturday, full of enthusiasm.

I was stood at the stables in Pontcanna, dressed all in casual clothes, but wearing the shoes I got married in.  Turns out you need some kind of heel on your shoes to stay in the stirrups and the only ones that met the criteria were the ones that carried me down the aisle.  I changed from my trainers to my smart brogues as excitable young girls confidently leapt on to their beloved ponies in the yard around me.  My wife got given a friendly equine called Amigo, which promised a personable (horse-able?) animal match up.  But where was mine?  The Silver to my Lone Ranger, the Artax to my Atreyu, the Bullseye to my Woody..?

I didn’t have to wait long and, they’d saved the best till last.  Out walked my horse, a beautiful black mare.  15 hands high they told me.  All I knew was that falling off it would not be ideal, especially as the landing options were cold concrete or hot dung.  My mare was called May and I could sense we were going to get on well.  She’d soon pick up on my masterful vibes and we’d be dressaging all over the place in no time.

thelwell

The actual experience, my first time riding a horse for probably 25 years, was far more sedate.  No jumps, no gallops, just some walking and trotting, mainly in a circle.  But I loved it.  Under the excellent instruction of Zoe, we were taken through our well shod steps at a good pace.  In under half an hour I’d gone from climbing ungracefully onto my horse to getting one under control and trotting round quite happily.

I enjoyed my long overdue return to the saddle and look forward to going back to Cardiff Riding School soon.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to have half as much fun as I did but, aside from the aching thighs that are an inevitable outcome of horse riding, I had a great time. And, to all the neighsayers out there, I can only recommend that you give it a try.

Getting Started

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Getting Started

I grew up in Soberton Heath.  It’s easy to miss.  If you blink as you drive through it, you’ll miss it entirely.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, tucked away in the rolling hills of rural Hampshire and consequently I grew up in what was effectively one big outdoor playground.  I was outside most days if the weather was ok; running around, climbing trees and evading farmers who took umbrage at our pre-teen trespassing.  So there you have it – I was an active child, destined to grow up playing sport, right?

80s

Droxford Primary School.  1987.  Year of the Great Storm™, memorably NOT forecast by Michael Fish.  A time of Wham! and Bananarama, not to mention a baby no-one puts in the corner…  It’s a summertime lunchtime so everyone’s outside on the playground. A game of football is being played.  And I love the game.  I did then as I do now.  So I was out there playing, right?

As an 8 year old, I was quiet and not very confident at all.  And this for me is what was critical in shaping my first years’ experience of (not) playing sport.  Now, this is only my view, my memory of that time, but it seemed that the boys (girls didn’t even get a look-in) who played football at break times were the most socially confident, rather than the most physically able.  The same group of boys who, it seemed to my shy younger self, dominated our school year.  The ‘cooler’ ones, the ones peers and teachers noticed.  The playground was tribal.  If I was an American Indian warrior, I would be less ‘Sitting Bull‘ and more ‘Reading Books’.

Like everywhere, there’s a social hierarchy at work at school.  As soon as kids become aware of themselves and others, this comes into play.  And so, the shy, bookish young boy that I was didn’t have the confidence to join in with playground sport.  And when you’re not involved at break time, it can mean you are behind the development curve in PE as well, which can reduce your sporting confidence further.

So, the end of the story then?  Luckily not.  As a confident, outgoing adult, I have found opportunities to play the sport I love most, through after-work five-a-side games, where ability is not the key attribute (but more on that another time).

Well, this post started hopefully enough didn’t it?  Then it kind of tailed off into a ‘poor me’ story..  Don’t worry, my posts will mostly be upbeat, odd and rambling. Allow me this fleeting introspection.

This post then.  What is my point?  I guess I have two.

Firstly, you don’t have to be an active child to be an active adult.  There are opportunities at every age to get involved.  Whether it’s playing sport after work with colleagues or friends, or opting for adapted sports when your body isn’t up to the rigours of the full game (I personally think that even now, Walking Football might be more my pace).

Secondly, if you have children, or are a teacher or coach, then do your best to encourage the less confident kids to get involved in sports, to try a few and hopefully find at least one they like. Winning is a great feeling, but not everyone can excel at sport.  Luckily, just getting active can increase your self-confidence off the field and improve your mental health, so there’s something in it for everyone.

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