Rugby's Secret for Success
I'm having a rugby moment this week. The Rugby Championship has just finished, the Autumn Internationals have started and the Six Nations is not far off. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, my partner is an (out of practice) rugby player and he has just taken me away for a lovely birthday staycation, so I’m not entirely free of bias right now...! But he and I were talking the other night about what we thought made rugby special as a sport. The answer is one that I think we can learn from and apply in so many other aspects of life - at work, socially and at home.
In 2009 the World Rugby member unions identified integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect as the defining character-building characteristics of rugby. I don’t think that anyone will argue that these are anything other than good values. But they are not unique to rugby. Many organisations will highlight the same as important and strive to embody them in what they do.
Rugby, is also an action packed sport, exhibiting speed, strategy and power when it is executed well. But again, this is not specific to rugby. Lots of sports have these qualities too.
What I think is unique to rugby is the range of player attributes in a rugby team. In the men’s game, you can have a wiry 5’6” player being just as useful as a 120kg 6’5” giant.
(I’d love to know if there are other sports that anyone can suggest that has the same range of player attributes - drop me a line if you can please!)
Because the game requires this range of attributes in order to be played successfully, each member of the team must, by necessity, welcome people who are built differently and have different skills and personalities to themselves.
Some positions require steadfast strength and relentless supporting play, often out of the limelight: a prop rarely sees the glory of scoring a winning try but without them the team has no platform from which to set up scoring plays. As far as props are concerned, the more muscle, the tougher, the stronger, the more intimidating the better.
The scrum half tends to be one of the smaller players on the field but needs to be physically and mentally tough. As well as having the chat to get into their opponents’ heads, the scrum half needs great handling and passing skills, strong kicking skills, speed, acceleration, agility and good decision making abilities.
On the wing, anything goes as far as physique is concerned as long as you are fast. Compare Jonah Lomu at 6’ 5” and 120kg and Cheslin Kolbe at 5’ 7” and 75kg. Both so fast with acceleration and handling skills at speed. Kolbe’s sidestepping gets him round the defence, whereas Lomu ran through them!
And number 7 flankers deserve a shout out of their own… frequently without regard for their own wellbeing, they will put their heads where no one else will. Tackling and ball handling skills are hugely important as is the combination of bulk with agility and mobility. Tough, competitive nutters they may be, but inspiring in their death or glory mindset.
The point is that rugby players are trained, not only to understand that you are part of a greater whole - the team - but also to welcome and appreciate otherness (what is different to you) for having the useful qualities that you don’t. Otherness is necessary to win and frequently for your physical preservation in the rough and tumble of the match.
As humans we often define ourselves in opposition to The Other, who is different, and not one of our tribe. Rugby defies this natural prejudice. The game may look fairly primitive at times, with the protagonists borderline fighting and rolling around in the mud. But rugby requires a pretty evolved understanding of how humans can be different to each other and how those very differences are essential for collective success.
So next time you are with someone who seems very different or opposite to you, hold back that natural bias to think “We probably won’t be friends”, or “I bet they’d be difficult to work with”, or “How in the hell are we genetically related?" Consider, instead, their position in your hypothetical rugby team… they could end up being an indispensable comrade!
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