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Business, FM Bidding, Psychology of Business, Winning New Business

What business can learn from rugby

It’s the silly season so I’ve been indulging myself writing about things that inspire me beyond the narrow confines of real work. I wrote about Neil Armstrong, and The best training I ever had, and why, which is about work, but the subject was a rugby training course. Third son is now at pre-season training and we watched the first game of the year yesterday. His coach has been building this team for 5 years and yesterday the fruits of that labour started to come together.

I love rugby, which if you knew me 30 years ago would surprise you. I played it at school and had the same view as my oldest son, “Cold, wet and painful” (His last ever words on the subject, as he walked off a rugby field for the last time at the age of 9)

But a friend got involved and badgered me repeatedly to take over the U7 group at Ealing where he was chair of Mini rugby. I repeatedly refused. I was totally adamant, but he is relentless and persuasive and on September 3rd 2000 I found myself in charge of about 10 6-year-olds, and totally terrified.

But within weeks I was totally hooked and had some of the happiest days of my life coaching children to play rugby. For me, it was all about those times where all the work, all the training, all the pain and mud came together and the team had ‘moments of greatness.’

But, enough about me. Is there anything in rugby that would help us all work better in our day jobs? I absolutely think there is.

I’ve chosen just the three I think are most important.



It’s blindingly obvious, but that doesn’t make it true. Rugby is the ultimate team game. It is a game where there are superstars but only the very stupidest don’t get that it is the nasty, painful work that other did that allows them to look good. The mantra in rugby is “Do your job” Rugby is a game of specialists, but they must come together and deliver those specialisms as a unit.

How can that help you and me? A united team is such a powerful thing that rugby coaches spend a huge amount of time and energy making sure that they have a powerful team ethos. There is a cliché that rugby is a thugs game played by gentlemen (soccer being the other way round) but it is true. We had a soccer player join us at about 13 years old. He is an aggressive person who loves the idea that on the rugby field he could be aggressive and get praised for it.

But at first he did not know where the line was… After he had run onto the pitch to get involved in someone else’s scuffle (a situation the laws specifically instruct to punish harshly) I explained to him that if he went too far it was the club that would be punished as well as him, as in rugby there is a powerful sense of collective responsibility. He was really surprised, and I think impressed that his behaviour fitted into a wider picture. He realised it wasn’t just about him.

So my question to you is, is there more you can do to create a powerful team ethos? Us against the world? Because if you do you may leverage your collective talents.


Team composition.

Rugby is famously a game for all shapes and sizes. Great rugby teams need all kinds of skills as there are dozens of different roles. In great rugby teams there are several people who like putting themselves in danger.

Lewis Moody was know as Mad Dog for very good reason. Why would anyone dive face first towards swinging boots? I can’t explain it, but it is strangely magnificent to watch.

Most of us have a tendency to hire ourselves. We like ourselves and we think we’re pretty clever, and this guy seems just like me. You’re hired!

But that is dangerous because we all have weak points and blind spots… If you all see the world the same way you will all miss the same things.


Taking the positives from the game.

It has become a terrible cliché, and it isn’t just rugby where you will hear it after every loss. But, again, it’s a cliché because it’s true. My middle son’s team lost some key players at 12-13 and found themselves in a league too good for their abilities. They lost every game that season. One by 100 points. No one left. No one gave up hope. They carried on mostly because of 1. above – the team ethos. I would say to my team when they lost, “If you can’t lose, don’t play rugby.”

But just as rugby coaches put a huge amount of effort into building a team ethos, they also put huge effort into making it a positive experience. You cannot put people onto a pitch, watch them get battered and then afterwards tell them all the things they did wrong. They’d just go home.
A great team will be honest about its mistakes, but always in the context of what positive things we can do to make it better.

Great teams have a positive, winning mindset.

We won, great. What did we do well? What can we do to be better?

We lost, damn. What did we do well? What could we have done better? What do we do now to get better?

We work in bidding. It may take years to bid a big project and then lose. There will be reasons for the loss and everyone should understand them and be honest about them.

But still what must be constantly repeated is: What did we do well? And, What will we do next time to be better?

If you don’t know how to lose, don’t play, but look for the positives and build on them.


About gristpresent

Presentation, Q&A and Engagement Coach. We help you win more business. Also BAFTA-winning film maker. See our new site www.grist.co.uk


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