The art of not losing

Ralph Roar Guru

By , Ralph is a Roar Guru


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    Somebody wise once said the road to success is paved with failure. I don’t know who that was, but I’ll bet there was plenty of failure in that life because this kind of understanding doesn’t fall from the sky like confetti.

    Sure, you can tell people it’s true, but until they embrace the joy of failure it’s like water off a duck’s back. Even the phrase ‘the joy of failure’ sounds like an oxymoron.

    I mean, did you see the time Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon? He didn’t look happy at all, he looked totally gutted. He was crying so much it was embarrassing. On the other hand Nadal, the winner – well he looked pretty happy with himself.

    Thing is, what if you knew, at the outset, the only way to get where you yearned to be was through failures? What if you knew that every time you failed, it stepped you closer to being the person you needed to be to hit it out of the ballpark?

    Just to be clear, I am not talking about Bart Simpson reaching for the electrified cupcake on top of the fridge, simply repeating the same mistake over and over. That’s not it. And not that there aren’t super talented people in the world who fall into something and find themselves at the top overnight. That happens.

    But for those of us who are not Roger Federer, as we walk the roads of failure, as we pick ourselves up, as we endure, as we overcome, something immensely strong is built into us. Not because we have a big list of auto-magical tricks to do when things go wrong. Rather, it is these acts, of picking ourselves up, of enduring and learning to overcome, these change us.

    Sure, failure can look pretty unattractive at times. Your fans might disappear like morning fog before the sun. Even halfway down your road to success, the faithful fan might throw their hands in the air and scream, ‘Where is the consistency?”

    Team sport is, of course, the hardest of all. The run-on rugby team is 15, 23 in the game-day squad, 30+ in the wider training squad. That’s a lot of people all walking their roads paved with failure. So I thought I would share with the long-suffering Wallaby fans my thoughts on consistency and how to achieve it.

    Maybe the Wallabies are well down their road paved with failure, I don’t pretend to know. But I believe it was Sir Graham Henry who said something to effect that it’s near on impossible to click three games in a row, so I am pretty sure they are not alone on that road.


    (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

    1. Depth
    Rugby is high contact, physical game that has an inescapable attrition rate. To maintain consistency requires a system that builds depth. Australia has an immediate depth problem and on the evidence that Kane Douglas doesn’t know where he sits in the wider team plan, probably a system problem.

    2. Combinations
    The old adage was you always played your best as a team, but as the game has developed this has become steadily less possible. Modern game injury rates and player management has dictated more focus on the whole game day 23 and various rotation style strategies. None of this helps combinations.

    How often do we see a phrase like, ‘they played as if they had just met on the bus to the game’. Constant personnel changes at the Wallabies since the Rugby World Cup has made developing trusted combinations quite hard.

    3. Gameplans
    Even the best people can’t deliver if they don’t know what exactly is required. At one level, rugby is a simple game that doesn’t change in its goals, yet teams are constantly changing the way they use the ball and manipulate space.

    Use of video and computer tools mean the time it takes your opposition to decode and counter your plan has shrunk, pushing the need to move it on as quickly as possible. Against this is the time it takes to develop a plan, break it down to player actions, communicate the plan and practice the execution of it until it’s natural.

    Any misstep in the plan, perhaps like some of Nathan Grey’s defensive patterns, just make the challenge that much harder.

    4. Leadership
    Leadership is a somewhat of an ephemeral thing, in that we often recognise more when it isn’t there. Exactly how we create more of it is not so obvious. We can say that it is very hard to attain any heights of true greatness without it and right now Australia seems to have a considerable lack of it.

    5. Mental toughness
    I define this as the ability to push aside all mentally competing thoughts and focus on the next action required. Pete Sampras had it, with his ability to pull out an ace serve when he needed it most. It doesn’t come out of thinking about the tremendous need for that serve. It comes out of a completely reverse place where there is no past or future, only the now.

    Like leadership, it usually disappears like a wet tissue when you over-analyse it, but without the fabric of it, consistency can’t be built.

    6. Confidence
    This happens when your depth is good, and everyone has played with and trusts the player next to them. Every team member should have a clear understanding of what the team is trying to do and what actions they themselves are responsible for.

    If there is strong action when things are going wrong and every team member can stay in the moment, then a sort of ‘zone’ is entered into. In this zone, somehow even the mistakes turn out well. A deep sense of relaxation is created so even when the wheels fall off, they can be put back on again.

    People still think, sometimes with very little immediate evidence, ‘we can do this’.

    If I had to sum up this whole thing in four words I would say, ‘Persistence is the key.’