Monday, 5 October 2015

The heights by great men reached and kept... Lessons from the Rugby World Cup


The 2015 Rugby World Cup is underway in England.  It is wonderful to see sportsmen at their best, chasing a prize that would demonstrate their superior specialist skills and bring pride to their nations.  As I watched the various matches, I realised that Rugby, and indeed other team games, offer important lessons, if only we take time to examine the principles:

i) Goal setting– The ultimate aim of a rugby team is to score more goals than the opponent and in so doing earn the coveted crown.  In life too we have to set goals and take steps to achieve them.  When we go with the flow, life just floats along and as we have no set destination we end up some place some day, doing something with someone.  Though we may have to change the goalposts from time to time it is important to set goals to help us chart our paths to our desired objective.

ii) Targeting– In order to win a game a team needs to hit the target.  Team members are aware of the target and they know that there are obstacles in the way.  They keep their eyes and minds on the target, never losing sight of it. We too should have targets.  What are you aiming for?  Do you know what you want, why you want it and how you will know when you have achieved it?  What would happen if you don’t hit your target; more importantly, what would happen if you do?  Many of us have learnt to handle failure but struggle with success. We can’t afford to hit our target only to have it slip from our hands, for we weren't prepared for it.

iii) Drive – Irrespective of a team’s position in the league tables, they must have drive.  There is no shortage of takers for the position if a highly-placed team loses momentum and its performance slips.  Complacency has no place in Rugby League or indeed in Rugby Union. In life too we must maintain our drive.  It is normal for one to tire or to lose interest but it is not how many times we fall, but the number of times we get up and get going again.  If you are serious about achieving a goal you have to keep up the momentum.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help if necessary; often the end is imminent though we may not be able to see it. 

iv) Teamwork– Rugby is a team game; no one individual on his own can make a team successful.  A group of people come together to train, plan and execute; sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.  A successful goal and resulting win is celebrated by all, not just by the individual who was lucky enough to score. In the wider society we have to adopt an attitude of cooperation.  This is not a new concept - countries form economic blocs, corporations merge or form strategic alliances in order to increase their market share, individuals form partnerships and capitalize on each other’s strengths to access bigger contracts. “No man is an island”.

v) Forgiveness– Individuals within a team at times make mistakes that may lead to the awarding of a penalty to the competitor; needless to say, the resulting goal sometimes makes the difference between winning and losing.  The team has to put the error behind them, acknowledge their loss as a team and not focus on the individual who made the mistake.  We too have to forgive and not allow ill feelings to fester.  We have to look for the good in the person and not dwell on the offence.  Forgiveness liberates; it is not about the other person being let off the hook, for that person will have to live with the consequences of his actions, forgiven or not.

vi) Celebration of small successes- When a rugby game is in progress each goal is celebrated, even if there are 80 minutes left to play.  Although the game is not over, the players, their management team and indeed their fans celebrate the successes along the way.  Too often we think that we have to conquer the entire mountain before we are entitled to celebrate. Don’t be pessimistic!  Celebrate the small steps, for the big achievements are made up of smaller (often invisible), consistent actions.  Life is also about the journey, not just the destination.

vii) Time management – Rugby players have to turn up at pre-determined times for their practice sessions and they have to commit an agreed amount of time to practising.  Time is a very important factor on the field – matches start at set times and players are expected to play for 80 minutes and extra time if necessary.    Time is a great resource – not one to be wasted.  There are many factors in today’s society that can waste our time if not managed effectively – emails, text, telephone calls, attendance at events, social visits, meetings, traffic etc.  We have to identify the time wasters in our lives and manage them. 

 viii) Commitment and dedication – Rugby players generally earn significant sums and although they have not been in the news as much as footballers for example, there is no doubt that there are many who feel that they earn too much in comparison with other professionals.  What is often ignored is the level of commitment and dedication that they put into their preparation.  They have to be out of their beds at unsociable hours in wind, rain and sun in order to train with the team.  We too have to be committed and dedicated to whichever endeavour we undertake.  We cannot run away when the going gets rough or when we cannot see the wood for the trees.  We have to develop staying power; if we believe in what we do we’ll stay and see it through.  Aim for sustainability and longevity; if your venture eventually fails, at least you can say that you gave it a fair shot.  Learn your lessons, move on and try not to repeat your mistakes.

ix) Staying calm under pressure- This characteristic is shown particularly when players are taking penalties.  There is tremendous pressure and the result of their effort may not reflect their level of skill.  There are many elements in life that put us under pressure – economics, politics, technology; environmental, social as well as personal matters, for example.  Our ability to remain calm reduces our stress level and strengthens our coping mechanism.  There will always be hills and valleys in our path but we have to look beyond the immediate and recognise that there is always a way, even when we cannot see the way.  Bear in mind that if we fail today “tomorrow is another day.”  The quickest distance between two points is not necessarily via a straight line.  There is a fitting Jamaican proverb: Shortcut draws blood, long road draws sweat – we have a choice.
x) Resilience– I have never seen a rugby game where all the players remain on their feet.  Invariably they fall over and over and although they may hurt, they keep going.  In life we will be hurt sometimes, knocked over - even trampled, we may be broken and we may bleed but once there’s life, there’s hope. Get up and bounce back!  You owe it to yourself.

xi) Physical exercise and keeping fit– Rugby plays have to be fit; they constantly exercise in order to be able to outmanoeuvre and outlast the competition.  While some of us will be overweight, what is important is that we endeavour to keep ourselves healthy to the best of our ability so that we give ourselves the best chance of achieving our goals.  Keeping fit includes avoiding excesses that harm our bodies and make us unfit to achieve our purpose.  It includes getting enough sleep and feeding our mind, body and spirit.

xii) Passion - Those who play rugby are not only drawn to the high wages and fame – they generally have significant passion for the game.  This is what makes them get out of bed consistently; it keeps them going even after they have made their millions.  They are doing what they love to do and it may not even feel like work.  We too must find the source of our passion.  If we enjoy our work we are more likely to turn up in the rain, wind and snow.  We will be motivated and we will want to do it well.  Passion gives us staying power – makes us tough when the going gets rough.
xiii) Regard for family – After a tournament players can often be seen relaxing in exotic places with their significant other.  Good sportsmen spend time with their families; returning to basics for a dose of reality from time to time.  They balance work life with family life, ensuring that neither suffers. Too many families fall apart because individuals within the family fail to make time for others.  They are caught up in their own careers and they think that being able to shower their family with money and expensive gifts can replace quality time.  Ultimately their personal lives get into trouble initiating a vicious cycle as their professional lives start to suffer. Life is about balance – achieve the right balance and your happiness and success will be enhanced.

xiv) Strategy – Even if like me you don’t know much about rugby, you are likely to be able to recognise effective strategies on the field when you see it.  The game follows key principles and formations i.e. strategies that the team would have prepared. There is a saying that goes “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.  If you fail to plan a strategy to achieve your goals they will just remain there and become dreams, or may even turn into nightmares.  If you just go with the flow chances are you will wash up anywhere.  While that may work for some people most of us have to put strategies into place in order to survive and thrive. 

xv) Flexibility– Although the team would have planned a particular strategy with their manager, they often have to change, based on the actions of their opponents.  We often see managers replacing players or we may see a change in strategy after half time. Players have to play in varying climatic conditions – they have to adapt.  In life we too have to be flexible.  Having a strategy is essential but as we do not exist in a vacuum we must bear in mind that the external environment will impact and we may have to change our strategy; we have to be aware of and responsive to the actions of other people.

xvi) Positive thinking – Rugby players believe they can win every time.  The moment they consider defeat is the moment they are defeated.  They have to believe in themselves and their ability to conquer the opposition, thus satisfying their fans and safeguarding their status. Every change begins in the mind.  Your thoughts lead to your actions and consistent actions become habits.  If you don’t develop a habit of believing in yourself it will be difficult to conquer your mountains, indeed your molehills will start to resemble mountains.  Once you are realistic in your aspirations there is no reason for you to doubt yourself; just use positive affirmations and consider that if it doesn’t work out, this too shall pass.

xvii) Perseverance – Rugby players have to keep going.  No doubt they tire tremendously after 80 minutes of consistent running, however they block out the pain as far as is possible, keeping at the forefront of their minds the goal they are pursuing. Many of us tire quickly, we have very little staying power and when the going gets rough we retire our projects and move on to something else.  “Rolling stones gather no moss.”  The next project will not necessarily be easier and we may find that the grass is not greener on the other side.  Stick with it - take your project to completion.

xviii) Instinct – Irrespective of the level of the coaching and instructions given to players, when they are on the field they are masters of their own destiny.  They have to weigh the consequences of their actions against the risk of a goal being scored.  At that moment intellect is good but instinct is better. We too have to be in tune with our intuition and know when to take actions that will impact our situations.  Our mentors have no access to our gut feelings; we have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that instinct is an innate quality that aids our decision-making.
xix) Self-control – Rugby players may get into tussles on the field if they feel they have been disrespected or if their egos have been bruised.  However, for the most part they do exercise self-control.  One could argue that their restraint is attributed to the power of the referee’s yellow cards which will see the player forced to leave the pitch for 10 minutes while the game plays on.  This man down could have disastrous consequences for a team. Self-control is a key factor in emotional intelligence - one which enables us to exercise tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and patience.  If we allow others to make us angry and we lose control we give away our power.  If we don’t control our emotions we lose opportunities and close doors that could lead to good places – indeed we harm our chances in life.

xx) Respect– Rugby players must show respect for authority.  They will tell you how much they wanted to be in the starting line-up for games but their managers had other ideas.  They may be substituted on the pitch and they have no choice but to respect their manager’s decisions. Respect for self and others are key ingredients in personal and professional growth.  Movers and shakers do not like disrespectful people and will not go the extra mile to help even when it costs them nothing.  The Jamaican proverb:  “Manners takes you through the world” conveys this well.
xxi) Professionalism – It must be very painful to lose a game, especially the ones that are deemed important in league tables or which are played on the international stage.  Despite any disappointment or aversion players shake the hands of their opponents and they often cheer them at the end. Even when they are suffering an embarrassing defeat they don’t abandon the game.  Whatever we do we should ensure that we adopt a professional approach.  It is tantamount to integrity and these are the factors that make us look good and add value to our repertoire.  Pain is found in every walk of life and although we have the right to hurt, we do not have the right to remain wounded.  As the saying goes:  “Today for you, tomorrow for me”.

xxii) Discipline – Despite what people may think rugby players are generally highly self-disciplined.  They have to be careful about what they consume, they have to refrain from certain vices and they have to ensure that they have sufficient rest in order to keep themselves fit for the team. In life we must maintain discipline if we are to co-exist peacefully.  At the very least we have to be tolerant, respect diversity, obey the law and pay taxes.  No one wants to live in a lawless society where our security is compromised because people simply disrespect authority, disobey rules and ignore responsibility.

xxiii) Fearlessness – Watching a penalty shootout is a very tense moment even for those who do not play the game.  Imagine therefore the fear that the penalty taker must feel, aware of the responsibility on his shoulders.   If left unmanaged fear stifles creativity; it stops us from taking risks that could propel us forward and it curtails our drive.   It is a natural phenomenon that we all experience but we have to develop strategies to control it. Feel the fear and do it anyway (Susan Jeffers).

xxiv) Money making – Rugby players earn big money.  They found their purpose, play with passion and earn well from their chosen a career.  They do not waste time in roles that do not pay well and if they are not playing well they are replaced.  We too must find worthwhile opportunities and ensure we are making good use of our time.  While it is fine to be in entry level jobs for a while, the onus is on us to grow professionally so that we can meet our needs and be a blessing to others in due season.

xxv) Work hard, play hard – We have already established that rugby players work hard.  They play hard too.  It is not unusual to see photographs of them in the press enjoying themselves in some faraway place with their mates or loved ones.  In our aspiration to acquire the finer things in life we often forget to have fun.  We end up taking work home, working overtime, just to make a few extra bucks to save for a rainy day.  Unfortunately by the time we get around to enjoying our savings many of us find ourselves alone, are ill or may even be dead.  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

xxvi) Patience – There are often debates about whether a manager should be fired after an unsuccessful run or if such a manager should be allowed to complete their intended contractual tenure.  Often it takes a while for success to come; the board, players and fans alike have to exercise patience and allow the team to gel under the manager’s leadership.  Patience is a virtue; too often we give up early because we don’t immediately see the results we are hoping for.  There is a Jamaican saying that explains this phenomenon:  the darkest part of night is when day soon light”.  There will be difficult moments but with patience and hard work we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

xxvii) Gratitude – Many rugby players, indeed many sportsmen will tell you that one of their greatest joys was the fact that they were able to purchase property for their parents.  Many will have assisted their friends and family to set up business, settle debts or purchase items beyond their reach.  We too must not forget our roots; we must reach out to those who helped us in our formative years and those who may have struggled with us before we achieved success.  There is a famous quote that says: be careful how you treat people on your way up because you might meet them again on your way down.

xxviii) Generosity – From time to time we hear of sportsmen who have donated money and resources to individuals.  It could be as simple as purchasing drinks for everyone at a venue or leaving a handsome tip at a restaurant.  They generally do not count their pennies; they focus instead on bringing in the pounds.  In life we too must be generous with our resources.  It doesn't have to be financial help – giving of our time, effort, know-how, physical resources, among others is just as good.  For those of us who do business we must ensure that we negotiate win/win contracts so that all parties feel valued.  There is no need to attach getting to our giving; indeed giving is the seed to your getting.

xxix) Philanthropy – Right across the world there are projects that are set up and/or funded by sportsmen.  Altruism goes beyond one’s immediate social group and extends out to humanity, perhaps building a school, funding a charity, purchasing equipment for a hospital, developing a sport facility within a community.  Human beings must seek to leave a legacy, however small, not only to our family but to the world.  We are bound to support our own children but how many of us help other people’s children? We may not be able to help everyone but surely we can help someone.

xxx) Hard work brings true joy – As we watch the various teams go for glory, one cannot help but cheer, irrespective of our allegiance.  When you listen to their stories and see how far they’ve come you recognise how deserving of their place they are. They believe in themselves, work well as a team, remain calm under pressure, exercise patience, perseverance, professionalism and discipline; conquer their fear, plan their strategy and execute their plans.  At the end of the tournament they can be proud of representing their countries, regardless of the outcome.

Every corner of our life is packed with lessons to be learnt and shared.  These are some that rugby players, and indeed other professional sportsmen can teach us.  Let us explore these factors in our lives and start to build a legacy.
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.  (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).