Rugby Lessons (vol 2)

Being a professional player for 13 seasons in 4 different countries did mean I gained a lot of experience in the sport and took a lot of lessons. As the Smithkin business gets rolling I’m sure we’ll be a lot less autobiographical but, for the time, I’m keen to extract lessons with a positive correlation to business. So, without further ado, here’s the second tranche of rugby lessons

Sharpen the blade
When rugby first turned pro, there was a distinct fracture in playing sections, those that knew the world of work outside and those that didn’t. As the professional game was new and trying to justify its status, full daily schedules were formulated so those who had ‘other jobs’ were cajoled into quitting and dedicating themselves full time to rugby.
Slowly a culture developed with any interest outside of trying to be the best at rugby getting undue criticism. ‘If you’ve time for ‘that’ you aren’t working hard enough’ was how people looked at those taking time no other pursuits. However, the polar opposite was the truth! Tunnel vision was a hinderance to development while it was a lot more beneficial to get away from the oval ball.
During the length of my career there was a huge cultural shift and now clubs actively push players to find interests away from the game. Be it work experience, training or offering time charitably, taking time to ‘sharpen the blade’ made players more focussed when they were at work. The same applies to business; get an interest, find a hobby, walk the dog – do something that allows you to switch off from the primary focus and you’ll be amazed at how work gets easier
A quick check on google for the woodcutter parable will show this tale in another form.

Rob Baxter was and is one of the best coaches I ever played under. His talent was in communicating with players to consistently get the best from them. He did this by keeping things simple and speaking a universal language that was easy for everyone to understand. Perhaps one of the biggest things he did was to underpin the value of enjoyment.
Rugby players in my day loved an acronym and the final component of the abbreviation to our promotion and first seasons in the Premiership was Enjoyment (A.C.E and G.R.A.C.E – we’ll discuss the rest of these in a later blog!). Rob noticed that, as the game progressed, lots of my peers and myself were losing the ‘why’. He asked a few questions, ‘do you celebrate when a try is scored, do you congratulate your teammates on little victories; a big scrum, solid tackle or turnover… if not why?’
He traced back why we all played the game and to a man the underlying reason was enjoyment. We all loved to play rugby but, in the process of being ‘pro’ rugby players, we’d lost the sense of fun. By putting a mirror up, it became all too apparent that in order to really succeed, you must enjoy what you do AND ( here the important bit) acknowledge it.
If you watch the Chiefs now, every player celebrates a lot during the game for a variety of reasons but, when a try is scored, the whole squad engage! By re-affirming ‘the why’, it became all so much easier to do them. In work it may not be as clear cut as the rugby pitch but take time to celebrate the little victories, be it good feedback, winning a client or a colleague doing well, find the why and enjoy it!

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Chris Bentley
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