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The “spirit of the game” is a term that has been used in rugby since its inception. World Rugby Laws state the object of the game is that two teams, each of fifteen players, observing fair play, according to the laws and in a sporting spirit should, by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball, score as many points as possible.
Rugby owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is played both to the letter and within the spirit of the laws. The responsibility of making this happen is not because of one individual — it involves coaches, captains, players and referees.
In addition, it is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the spirit of the game continues to thrive. A game as physically challenging as rugby requires discipline, control and mutual respect, and these attributes are what allow the game to grow and succeed.
Apart from the actually playing of the game, rugby embraces many social and emotional concepts such as courage, loyalty, sportsmanship, discipline and teamwork. These concepts are another aspect of the “spirit of the game.”
Rugby also has an innate set of core values that develops within each player as they play the game. These values include camaraderie with the opposing teams, the fans who come out to watch and cheer, respect for referees, and the relationships that are formed with the player’s teammates.
These relationships seemingly will last a life time.
Personally, I can attest to that. Rugby players who I played with at Life University are still my friends today, and the players that I played with from my local club — the Jersey Shore Sharks — during the following 30 years continue to be my best friends.
The old Shakespeare quote (which I will loosely paraphrase) says, “He who spills blood with me today is my brother.” This quote holds true for rugby. A rugby match is 80 minutes of intense physical, mental and emotional activity. Players have no choice but to bond with each other — and the opposition — due to the emotional effect of “we have just been through a war together” type of battle.
Rugby brings out the best of its players and is such a useful tool for bettering the lives of many athletes, and communities. Many rugby clubs give back to their local community by donating time, effort and money to charity. Rugby players will spend hours every week teaching rugby to youth leagues.
More importantly, rugby players and coaches will spend as much time building a youngster’s character and helping to foster their ethics and responsibilities as they do playing the actual game.
Inspiration runs deep in rugby. Former WWE champion John “Bradshaw” Layfield started a rugby program for children in “at-risk areas” of Bermuda. His league started with just a few children and now, at times, has as many as 400 kids playing on a weekend.
The physical nature of rugby helps children have an outlet to improve behavior. And it’s working. Once the children learned the game and became more disciplined, their behavior improved. Layfied even has a homework academy with his program, and if player’s grades don’t make the mark or there are behavior issues, they don’t play.
Layfield told the Royal Gazette, “If they’re bad in the homework academy or are skipping class they can’t play in the games. That’s a real carrot for the kids. Recently, there was a game when there were only seven kids eligible to play. We had another 12 watching. Sitting them out of the games, for whatever reason, really bothers them, so we’re are seeing improvements in their behavior already,” he said.
Layfield says that “rugby is the ideal sport for children living in at-risk areas. Football is too expensive to play. For rugby, all you need is a ball and some space. You can play 5-on-5. When you’re dealing with kids from at-risk areas, violent sports work a bit better as it lets them release their aggression.”
The former WWE champ’s Beyond Rugby program is just one of the many inspirational stories that happens in rugby every day.
Dr. J. Zimmerman is the president of the Jersey Shore Rugby Club Board of Directors. He is the men’s club head coach and director of youth rugby. Dr. J. is also the team chiropractor. For more information on Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby, including our high school rugby team, or if you are interested in playing, visit or on Facebook at Jersey Shore Rugby Club, or call 609-652-6363 or email:

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