Darren's story: Team mates to dream mates

I was at a point in my life where things were changing – my mates were moving away, or going travelling, or just preferred to spend nights in, playing Fortnite. I was chatting to a mate about how I was struggling with my shrinking social circle. At that moment, I realised just how isolated I had started to feel.

He suggested something unexpected. He’d joined a social rugby club and swore it was just what I needed. It was LGBT friendly, and he’d met an awesome bunch of people. Bonus: he was ‘getting fitter than a Hemsworth’. After a few beers, I agreed to go along for a training run sometime.

This wasn’t the first time rugby had been on my radar. I had given it a shot as a kid, trying to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I was a bit of a misfit, though – too small and not confident enough, so I quit after just a couple of games. But now here I was years later, with the chance to try it again on my own terms.

I made a deal with myself: all I had to do was put on my joggers and tie the laces. If that was as far as I got this week, so be it. I called it my ‘just-tie-them’ rule. This gave me a sense of control over the anxiety I was feeling. Even if I wasn't having a great week and didn’t make it past Netflix in my Nikes, I’d still made a step in the right direction.

close up shot of rugby shoes standing in grass on sports field

When I finally got to my first training session, it was overwhelming. I was miles outside my comfort zone, with hill sprints, sled training and passing drills. The team and coaches were welcoming and patient with me, though.

I realised I didn’t need to try and master the sport from day one. Instead, I set specific goals to work towards each week. When I started to tick those goals off, I knew I was on the right track.

Bit by bit, I found it easier to put aside my anxiety and turn up to training. There was something nice about being around a bunch of people who were trying to figure themselves out and find their way through adulting, the same way I was. Even when we’d train in the rain, we still managed to smile and to have a blast. We faced tough losses together and claimed hard-fought wins.

The fact that I now have a network of mates I can call on became clear to me recently when I moved house. Packing up and finding a new place would once have put me in a spiral of worry and sleepless nights. Instead, I had 15 grinning teammates happy to help me haul boxes and pack the truck. They didn’t expect anything in return, and were there purely to be supportive. That gave me a pretty great feeling! I know now that I can count on them for anything, from a laugh or a cry, to a Game of Thrones binge. Through my team, I’m plugged into a crew of people who I know have my back, on and off the field.

There are numerous clubs out there, just like mine, that are supportive and welcoming of everyone, whether you’re a complete newbie or a former champion. I’m a testament to the pride and mateship that these kinds of clubs can foster. And it doesn’t have to be rugby; try mixed netball, touch footy, tennis – whatever works for you.

If you’d told nine-year-old me that I’d be back out there running after a ball, I’d probably have laughed nervously. Making that call to tie my laces and give it a shot has been a hugely positive step in facing the things I was most anxious about in a healthy way

I now have mates for life, a leg up on my anxiety, and a sense of pride every time I take to the field.

back view of rugby team huddled in a circle with arms around each other

What can I do now?

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