I’ve read quite a few articles on the topic of career transition recently, and one that I found quite inspiring, albeit discussing athletes in general, was a piece written in the Telegraph last year.
There is a lot of doom and gloom around retiring from rugby and pursuing your next career. I want to focus on the positive attributes rugby players often bring to their new working environments, and why many players go on to have incredibly successful second careers.
The points outlined are not unique to professional players. These characteristics extend to all amateur club sides, and the reason a lot of very successful people still continue to play club rugby whilst juggling their 9-5. I know these points are generalisations, but they resonate with far more players than there are exceptions.
You can have the odd stand out player, but successful rugby sides are almost always greater than the sum of their parts. The majority of us have experienced being in both successful and underperforming sides. The learnings you take from these experiences are invaluable, and translate directly into other environments. Whether it’s the way you greet your colleagues every morning, to sticking together when things get tough, rugby players are renowned for their ability to thrive when part of a group.
Dealing with Pressure
Without realising it, rugby players develop a range of processes to cope with the pressure of performing under extreme duress. Whether it’s sticking to your pre match routine knowing you are about to play infront of 80,000 fans, or controlling your thought process after making a crucial error. These skills are very interchangeable to suit the appropriate environment. Throw in the fact that we are under review every match and training session, you develop some core proficiencies to deal with pressure. This means that players often thrive under it in their second careers.
‘Cutting the Shit’
The majority of rugby teams play every weekend during the season. Therefore if changes are going to be made to team structures, or tactics adapted to face certain opposition, they need to be made right away to ensure they are embedded fully. We have a very tight schedule during the training week, which means that meetings cannot afford to overrun and solutions must be reached in the set time. We don’t have time to skip around problem areas and hope that they sort themselves out. If it needs to be fixed we’ll address it, make the appropriate changes, and ultimately improve as a side.
Most of us have been blasted in a team meeting before, either by a coach or one of our teammates. You learn very quickly to not take this personally, that it is to ensure we perform better as individuals and as a collective. There is no sulking, no storming off and calling your agent. You either defend yourself, or you stick your hand up and apologise. Some of these blasts would have corporate HR directors reeling in horror, but this is a rugby review, the same rules do not apply.
Resilience and Growth Mindset
Nearly every match or training we make individual and team errors. One of the characteristics that the most mentally resilient players have is the ability to accept failures, and focus on the next challenge, we call it ‘winning the next moment’. Dwelling on mistakes is something that you learn to overcome, but is one of the greatest lessons rugby teaches you. As Wayne Smith, the former All Blacks coach once said, “get comfortable being uncomfortable”.
If you cant be coached, you won’t make it in professional rugby. It is one of the key skills we take into our second careers, as we will often be thrown into the deep end, and our ability to listen, ask questions, and upskill ourselves, is one of the main reasons players thrive in their new roles. I listened to an interview recently with ex-Springbok Brendan Venter discussing coachability as the most valuable tool to improve team culture. He stated that “If you are not humble enough to take on board criticism, and react to it, then the path to the top becomes exponentially more difficult.”
There are obvious parallels to draw between the elite sporting and business worlds — from literal goal-scoring to the pursuit of organisational goals; working with teammates in a highly competitive environment; the need to perform at the highest level under extreme pressure; and having the right balance of commitment, humility and perseverance to bounce back from failures.