The excitement of playing sport doesn’t necessarily come from purely taking to the field and playing the game you love. It’s of course about making friendships on and off the field, enjoying the culture of a team environment. In addition, probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of professional sport is being able to do all those things whilst travelling on the road, and luckily enough for some, around the world.
Departure lounges, hotels, Ubers, games consoles and city sites are all within the curriculum of ‘tour life’…as well as the occasional ‘Pepsi’ after a game with your teammates.
After recently coming back from international duty with the USA in the Americas Rugby Championship, it’s given me a good opportunity to touch on some of the generic highs and lows of the thing we call ‘tour life’. Whether its suitcases, roommates, hotel food, a Nintendo Switch and tourism, all things contribute to the ‘tour life’ experience.
Personally, this tour in the ARC I was only able to be over in the States for three weeks. A long flight over to Dallas from London, to then jump on a connecting flight, on what can only be described as 1980s tin can to Austin. Meeting back up with the squad is an exciting moment. Whenever a fresh face joins up with the rest of the pack there’s always a case of a ‘mother’s meeting’ required, trying to catch up with as many people as possible. All doing this when you are completely disorientated with the lack of energy from the long travel.
Dragging your suitcase/wardrobe around with you with enough kit to tackle any weather and a stack t shirts and shirts to get fashionable for any event. The big question ponders in your head once you finally get to your room…do I dare unpack all this? Tour after tour I’ve said the same two things, one is that I will always pack less, the other is that I will unpack. Tour after tour I seem to bring more things, buy more items to make sure I keep up my tradition of paying for overweight baggage for the return flight. Tour after tour I also adopt the ‘live out the bag approach’, a man’s thing to do, knowing that unpacking is time wasting.
With jet lag draining you, and the hassle of dragging your bags around finally over, an essential goodnight sleep for the first night is imperative! This brings me to one of the crucial moments of ‘tour life’, the infamous pairing with your roommate.
For any rugby team there probably is the usual characters in the group. Ones who are quiet and go to bed early; go about their business in their own time; attend a couple of card games during the week; go out and about the hotel on very few occasions; but most importantly…don’t snore! You then have the loud mouths, fantastic company but you don’t want to spend all your time around them as there is so much you can take. They are up for anything, definitely keen on going to get some food and no doubt probably stay up until midnight watching copious amount of Netflix. These people can vary, they may or may not snore.
You then have other groups such as your card players; your ‘Fortniters’ who never leave their room and speak majority through their PlayStation/Xbox head set; your relaxed ‘up for anything’ people; your ‘tourists’ who can’t stand being confined to the hotel and have to go out and explore. You then of course have the forwards, a dangerous group who usually are the snorers and come in all different sorts of aromas! Personally, I’m never bothered as to the category of person I’m put with but being selected with a ‘non-snorer’ is almost as crucial as being selected in the starting 15 for the weekend.
Hotels are another big part of ‘tour life’. Luckily with the USA we stay at good quality hotels and therefore I certainly can’t make complaints. You always look at certain aspects of hotels, of course starting with the rooms themselves. However, you also look at the location of the hotel, are you close to society and various entertainment around your location? You look for the spa facilities, remembering that for some boys the use of a sauna is as crucial as having their phone. But maybe one of the most important things you’re looking for is the quality of the hotel food. It’s fantastic knowing you have a time away where you don’t have to cook. Hotel food can be outstanding, once again on the whole I have only experienced it being good but there are those occasions where you take one look on what’s on offer and swift enough someone has organised Ubers to an establishment close by. At this point I would go on to what food establishments are chosen but there is so much variation of food joints in America, and also a variation in lads’ dietary requirements, that the list would be endless!
Your schedule is always presented to you early in the week to organise yourself, making sure you are on time for training sessions, meetings and meal times. There is always a ‘Sheriff’ on duty within a tour and a ‘fashion policeman’ to oversee what kit is needed to be worn when and where. Nothing is unseen, crimes for wrong dress and late for meetings are dealt with. Other such crimes are also dealt with but again at this point I must end here and not go into more detail and expose internal dealings within a tour…I may never be invited back!
Schedules are crucial for the squad to time outings out of the hotel, or in the case of the ‘Forniters’ a chance to get the headset on and rack through an extraordinary amount of games. Coffee club usually assembles when there is a break in training, Ubers are hit up with locations to the city’s coffee joints, some more unusual than others. Lads do think of themselves as connoisseurs when it comes to coffee whilst others are happy to sit there with a flat white. Whatever the case, a day’s reflection can be sort after in coffee club or in most cases random rubbish chat about a lot of nothingness.
For the ‘tourists’ group the schedule opens up a plan to seek after activity within the location of the stay on an off day. After putting in the hard yards of training many enjoy the freedom of doing nothing but lying on their beds and slumber round the hotel. However, for the tourists who may be new to the city of location, the day off provides a brilliant time to spend stupid amounts of money on Uber rides and tourist activities. This is probably the group I’d put myself in! Throughout my time with the USA squad, we have been blessed to be in some wonderful locations, whether that’s been the Bay in San Sebastian, the Guinness Factory in Dublin, the sunny Pacific Beach in San Diego or up the Handcock building in Chicago to name a few. I’ve been in groups where we’ve hired cars, gone on boats and hiked up mountains. One thing can be assured, the ‘tourists’ group gets the most out of the city or place we stay in and I know for a fact that for some boys they couldn’t think of anything worse. On a serious note, I have been immensely lucky to visit the places I have visited, all down to being involved in rugby.
There are many other activities boys get up to pass the time. Some may be in the middle of some form of off-field work whether that’s to do with a University or something else. On the fun side of things, I’ve found that the new craze at the moment is the Nintendo Switch where boys gather in the team room to get very giddy about playing Mario Kart. It’s amazing how two to three hours can pass so fast with so much hostility when Bowser gains a boost and smashes through the pack (Mario Kart fans will know that feeling).
Tours do go on for a reasonable amount of time, therefore being away from loved ones can take its toll. A reception of a hotel can be a site of people trying to find a private corner of the room to get the best internet signal to FaceTime. No doubt many conversations are along the lines of boys describing how tour life actually is tough even though their partner’s or family members think that they are just on holiday with ‘the boys’! It’s funny how the words ‘rugby’ and ‘job’ don’t really get understood and accepted by people outside the sporting circle. Nonetheless keeping in contact with family is no easy feat, especially in different time zones and particularly for the boys with young families. A definite shout out to all the families and loved ones who have to put up with us going away. I hope that statement may gain me some brownie points with my girlfriend!
Tour life inevitably can be made more enjoyable depending on the on-field performance. Winning creates enjoyment, which in turn fuels excitement for the tour as a whole. Whatever the results though, ‘tour life’ holds memories that can be cherished forever. Whenever I speak to ex-professionals who have retired, they constantly talk about their miss of the changing room environment and the memories of the places they’ve visited. As a current professional you live in the moment and probably take it all for granted, not fully comprehending that one day the ‘tour life’ will come to an end.
With 2019 being a big year for any aspiring international rugby player, life on the road for the World Cup in Japan will be the pinnacle, if so lucky to attend. Whatever the highs and lows that life on the road brings, from hotels, roommates, to trips out and nights out, it is safe to say that some of the best memories are made on the thing we call ‘tour life’.