Apart from fighting obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental wellbeing and lowering cholesterol, what exactly is playing rugby good for? The lessons at school that have best served me have come not from academic areas like maths or science but from playing rugby. Here are a few things I’ve learnt while playing rugby at school that you can apply at a high level in your business life.
It’s only pain, boy
This was something that our coach, Steve, used to yell at us all the time. Even now this conjures up imagery of someone lying winded on a cold muddy rugby pitch after being hit by a player twice his size. There was no sympathy for superficial pain like not being able to breath. We all had to make sacrifices to improve. Most gains in my professional life have come through making some kind of sacrifice, whether that be foregoing social events to finish a project or going outside of my comfort zone to try something new. Whenever I feel like I’m not getting the results I want, I put in extra time to develop the skills I am missing. I’m a pretty slow reader due to having dyslexia but I now try to read as many books as possible. I love to read books on branding and business strategy. Also admitting you’re not the best at something can be emotionally painful, reaching out to others for help can also feel embarrassing, but at the end of the day it’s only pain, boy.
You’re only as good as your last game
To stop us getting arrogant after a big win Coach Steve would focus in on what we did wrong in that game and repeat the phrase ‘your only as good as your last game’. So right now we were the dog’s bollocks but that would mean nothing if we lost our next game. I remember going over the same drill again and again as I could feel the mud under my boots start to freeze in the cold winter evening. In your professional life you may be getting lots of sales but this doesn’t mean you can relax. In fact this is the best time to start looking for more clients as these attempts usually have lag time. It’s too late to start looking for clients when your business is quiet. How many companies do we know of that were at the peak of their game until a plucky young startup threw a big pile of disruption in their face? I’m looking at you Blockbuster. And Netflix, don’t you get too cocky either, a business disrupting punch to the face can be just around the corner.
You can’t do it all on your own
The great thing about rugby is that it’s a real team game unlike superstar obsessed football. Each position needs you to be a specialist in that area. You need small little whippets to run through the big guys, tall giants to catch the ball, big guys to push the other team back when the ball get's stuck and some cheeky bugger to take the penalty while the other team is looking the other way. In business I’ve found that I often have to call in the talents of another person who can do the job better than myself. I always try to work with designers that are better than me. You can learn from almost anyone, even if it’s looking at incompetent losers to learn what not what to do. Isolation will kill your business skills.
Crossing the line is what matters
I was no where near being the best person on our rugby team, in fact I felt lucky to be playing with a bunch of very talented players. Having said that, I did score a few tries throughout the season. One of the easiest tries I scored was when my team mate did all the hard work by running through lots of nasty looking opposing players only to be tackled at the last moment where I picked up the ball and scored the try. Was that worth less points? Nope, the only thing that mattered was the ball crossed the line and I touched it down. In many businesses they only measure results, how you get there doesn’t matter. (As long as you don’t kill any kittens along the way.) The amount of effort you put into a task isn’t important. Is a logo that took 2 months to design better than one that took 1 day? Isn’t it actually better if a design is completed sooner rather than later as long as the quality is the same? Do your customers care that you stayed up all night finishing a product? No, they just want it to work really well. It’s worth striving to make things as effortlessly as possible, ironically this may take a lot of hard work to get there.
Playing to win
The idea that “it’s the taking part that matters” never entered our heads. We trained as a team to win and we expected to win as a team. There was never any doubt what we were there to do. In the final season it came to a point where a lot of other teams didn’t want to play us and canceled their games. This positive attitude is key to any project. There is no point turning up half-hearted, every project needs commitment and focus.
Your positive attitude can influence your customers, suppliers, investors and all those that you come into contact with throughout your day. A positive attitude is infectious and those around you will hopefully be inspired by your positive energy, unless you over do it and in that case you’ll be seen as some kind of fake guru that goes to the toilet to cry when things get tough. A positive attitude opens your mind to new opportunities rather than dismissing them as unworkable. Having a negative attitude is more likely to lead to a negative outcome. Although that’s not to say a good dose of cynicism isn’t a good thing when approaching new opportunities.
Our school was just a normal state school with kids from a mixture of backgrounds. The school was comparatively small and not as well funded as the private school in the nearby town. Every year we would be narrowly beaten by them. Losing to a private fee paying school that had the word ‘Royal’ in their name always felt like a slap in the face. They seemed to have an advantage in every area, money, training facilities, boys that started playing rugby much earlier to name a few. None of which we could ever use as an excuse, what would benefit would that give us? The only thing we could do is train harder and smarter. In our last season the hard training finally paid off and we beat them by just a thin margin. It was amusing to see them lose their temper when they were beaten by an "inferior" state school. In business it’s easy to sit back and say someone is doing better than you because they have the right family contacts or they got ‘lucky’. While it may be true that someone has an unfair advantage over you, it does no use to use this as an excuse to not improve. Dwelling on it only has negative effects. And you know what? No one wants to hear you moan. The best thing you can do is to use it as motivate for improvement and take your business to the next level.
On a final note I’d like to say a big thank you to our coach, Steve Bradley. I think he was the biggest catalyst to our success and motivation. A lot of the lessons I’ve learnt from him have served me well in many situations throughout life.
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