How to define success, and figuring out Super Rugby 2016

Dan Vickerman Columnist

By Dan Vickerman, Dan Vickerman is a Roar Expert


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    Is the slogan ‘a champion team beats a team of champions’ really accurate?

    Is there a defined role that sees an individual like Dan Carter or a collected group of men stand up and win the game for the team on a consistent basis which defines success?

    My simple answer is no, neither option is true at all.

    Success in a professional sporting team is determined by how you measured up against the outcome you planned, coupled with how you implemented your process within a competitive environment.

    Much time and effort has been dedicated to bottling a magic potion that can deliver excellence. If only it was so simple. If only we could all be successful in what we wanted to be successful in.

    Realistically, it requires a shift in thinking and a shift in goal posts.

    The main question is more like: what do we need to do to be successful?

    What is that magic formulae that we look for so tirelessly? That is a broad and difficult question to answer, but let me give you a brief introduction into some of my thoughts as to how success is measured.

    My view is that should you understand what it is that you want or need to be successful in, half the battle is already won.

    The reason for this is simple – you know where to put the effort in. You are measurable and totally accountable for your actions.

    When playing at the Waratahs a while back, the senior players had a mantra to play well week in, week out. How could we expect our fellow teammates to have any form of guidance if we were delivering subpar performances?

    It wasn’t possible and it’s not very fair. Your words would soon fall on deaf ears, and this is not the type of culture any team wants. You do not want talkers – you want doers.

    Phil Waugh is one such player, who never led by talking. He is one of the first men on my list of guys to get into the trenches with. A true warrior and one who delivered on every occasion. I learnt so much from him as both a player and friend. You want team members that are passionate about the team, bring energy to the team and will go the extra mile for the team.

    This, I suppose, is not rocket science, but it is vitally important. It is true that when you work hard together, the victory is all the more enjoyable, because you enjoy it together. That is the brilliance of team sport or working in a group. Win together and lose together – you are never alone.

    I loved each and every team I was part of and gave my all every time I played with my mates, but there are actions that I was not proud of and they still haunt me today. On occasions I completely lost it and spoke to mates in a manner that was totally unacceptable.

    I have on numerous occasions apologised, but still that is not good enough, because it is after the fact. I will therefore again take the opportunity to say sorry to my mates. I never meant it, but at the time got caught up in the moment.

    It saddens me to think about it now, so best to move on.

    It is counterproductive having someone else giving you a hard time when things go wrong, because boy do they. The great teams have the ability to move on and move on quickly. Therefore practice not dwelling on mistakes but focusing on remedies.

    Key message: treat your mates as you would like to be treated.

    Putting this aside, no matter which team it was, the greater the clarity as to what we wanted to achieve, the greater the probability that we would achieve this. Why do you train for hours in the gym and on the field? To be able to dominate on the weekend, not to be a world champion trainer.

    You have a finite lifespan, so make each and every second count. Do not finish playing and think: if only I worked a little harder or did what I said I would. Control the controllables, which is a lot easier to do with a simple clear gameplan.

    One of the funnier sayings when a mate would win a fitness race or you would see a team celebrating overzealously after a trial match win, was that you do not win the Melbourne Cup in February.

    This was a play on words, but in actual fact, the Melbourne Cup may already have been won the day after the previous year’s race. This clarity I talk about takes ages to get right. You spend months looking into what it is that you have to do to generate that winning potion. You have generally failed on a previous occasion, and the knowledge of what not to do is essential in generating that winning mix.

    It is also vital to understand your limitations in your chosen field and avoid being a guru in an area where this is unrealistic. Why try and be the greatest ball runner when you are not explosive, fast and struggle to catch a ball?

    My goal was to identify two to three areas which were strengths and focus on those with the goal to be the best in the world. Did I achieve that? That’s debatable, but it was not due to lack of effort. Everyone has weaknesses, it is a fact. Why focus all your time and energy on these? Why not be proficient at them but make your strengths excellent?

    Key message: have a clear plan, know your limitations but work harder than anyone to identify your strengths and make them the best you can.

    Culture is all important in breeding a successful team environment. To have a group that lives and breathes the mantra is vital. Even if the mantra is incorrect, if all are on deck, at least then all are going in the same direction. Having tangible markers, key drivers and a squad of accountable members sounds simple but is difficult to achieve.

    The ideology of there is no me in team is so true. The belief or assurance that should the team do well, the individual’s success will follow is at times hard to comprehend.

    This culture is learnt and if it is lived by the senior players and leaders in either a sporting team or organisation it is then instilled and becomes synonymous with that group.

    It took us two years of work at the Waratahs in 2006, 2007 and finally in 2008 when we almost won in New Zealand against the Crusaders. We worked so hard as a group, and eventually after identifying what worked for us, we had a group of players that loved playing together, but knew one another well too. One of the best teams I have been a part of.

    Once achieved, this culture is unwavering and the only thing then left to do is design a gameplan that is realistic and suitably designed for the team.

    Key message: culture is key. Get this wrong and you are doomed for failure

    I am a firm believer in being able to revert to type regardless of circumstance and know exactly what you are striving for. Once known, it is then crucial for one to reaffirm this daily, both visually and mentally.

    Make sure you are able to perform your role regardless of being under extreme pressure or no pressure. Be unrelenting in your approach to getting the micro details correct. Live what you desire – ‘I am the best at x’. Rather than ‘I will be the best at x’.

    Do not be unrealistic. I was never going to be a sprinter, so having a goal to win the 100m gold medal at the Olympics would have been doomed from the start. Be realistic and pursue what you are trying to achieve with vigour.

    Document it, put posters around the place of goals and dreams pertinent to the outcome. Have fun driving everyone to help achieve the desired outcome. In saying this, it is imperative that the planning is done prior to attacking your challenge.

    Do not get caught out through poor preparation.

    There is no excuse for not controlling what you can. This equates to sloppiness and laziness and is ultimately inexcusable. Be honest with yourself first and foremost. ‘Did I do what I promised myself I would do?’ should be a question you ask yourself daily.

    In life as with rugby, one has to be willing to deal with disappointments, but never be content with losing. Learn from your mistakes, tweak your plan to adjust weaknesses and make sure mistakes do not become habitual. Make winning the habit you associate yourself with.

    Key message – Revert to type through uncompromising preparation and be clear where you are going.

    So with in mind, who do I think will be the team to watch after viewing three rounds from the outside?

    Take it with a pinch of salt, but my picks are the Brumbies, Highlanders and Waratahs. Why I hear you say are the Waratahs in the mix? Because I have been involved with the team when they won and they have a great culture which is an overriding factor.

    The team plays for each other, and the individuals will selflessly give to the team before they take for themselves. The same can be said of the other two teams I mentioned. The Brumbies have been driving a standard under their new coach and I think their strengths are superior to their peers.

    They have not tried to be brilliant at everything, but their forwards are effective and dominant, backs explosive and they play both near to the ruck and with width with ease and ability. You can see the enjoyment that the team has when they score points too. Back slaps, smiles and congratulations are there in abundance.

    This shows to me that they are playing for each other, not just for individual glory. It optimises the word ‘team’.

    The Highlanders know their gameplan backwards and they are able to revert to type no matter what the situation. This is not to say that they will always win, but more times than not, they are able to come through with the goods when it matters most. They do not panic and try to reinvent the wheel.

    My crystal ball has projected the image of these three teams, but there is not enough paper to discuss all the other teams that I think have been showing a great culture and ability to perform under immense pressure.

    I may be wrong with my team predictions, but what I firmly believe is that the team that wins will have a great culture, will have lived their ethos each and every day visually and mentally, would have had a clear and concise plan perfected by tireless training both the team and individuals and key to all this is they will have fun doing it along the way.

    Oh and I forgot, generally they have a number of highly capable players too directing the troops around when the pressure is on.

    Dan Vickerman
    Dan Vickerman

    Dan Vickerman played 78 Super Rugby games for the Brumbies and Waratahs and 63 for the Wallabies as a lock between 2002 and 2011.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2016 @ 9:25am
      Machooka said | March 17th 2016 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Thanks Dan… a thoroughly enjoyable read.

      And as a die-hard Tahs’ tragic supporter for longer than I care to remember, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank, and praise you, for your time at the sky blue.
      It was a long struggle for the Tahs for many years, and with many disappointments along the way. But I was never down on the team if you lost while playing the best you could. Frankly, as a real supporter that’s all you can ask or hope for.

      Your mentioning of Phil Waugh epitomises this perfectly… he wasn’t the greatest player of all time, but what a team-mate to have along side you. And having people like that is a key ingredient to what it takes to build good team culture.
      No team culture… no chance of success.

      Off topic… it’s sorta funny that your article turns up today after Poey’s decision to take next season off for a sabbatical was announced just recently. I have no doubt that your article, in support of him here on the Roar, was well received by him.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2016 @ 10:48am
        PeterK said | March 17th 2016 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        chook – agree with your sentiments, thanks for the good read Dan.

        Only issue I had with Waugh was that he did not execute the coaches gameplan if he did not agree with them, re McKenzies comments on this.

    • March 17th 2016 @ 9:42am
      Lostintokyo said | March 17th 2016 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Thanks Dan. Your degree in Land Economy at Cambridge is a good basis to understand that once goals are set, many variables are important to focus on to achieve them. Many rugby coaches would be nodding their heads in agreement while reading your article. Hope to read of your coaching exploits in the future.

      You singled out the Crusaders. They combined great players with a strong culture. Hard to beat a team that has both. Think the Wallabies may be heading down this track. Certainly hope so. We shall see when Eddie and his ‘body-line’ boys arrive.

    • Columnist

      March 17th 2016 @ 10:21am
      Geoff Parkes said | March 17th 2016 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Thanks Dan, excellent stuff.

      Culture is indeed key. It always amuses me when there is debate about players like Cipriani, Kevin Pietersen etc… and how people try to justify their inclusion based on “ability” overriding concerns about breakdown of the team ethos.
      Look at how well the Australian Davis Cup tennis team is travelling – can’t imagine anyone rushing to have those blokes in the trenches alongside them.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2016 @ 10:46am
        PeterK said | March 17th 2016 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Shane Warne was selfish and it was about him and not the team yet his ability justified his inclusion.

        does not automatically follow

        • Columnist

          March 17th 2016 @ 10:53am
          Geoff Parkes said | March 17th 2016 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          That’s way too simplistic Peter. Many see Warne as a bogan, and a nob for a lot of what goes on, he’s mates with KP and so on. But I don’t doubt that every second he was representing Australia he was giving 100% for his country and his team.

          • March 17th 2016 @ 11:54am
            Lostintokyo said | March 17th 2016 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            Without his antics off the pitch Warne would have been Australia’s captain. And likely a great one. But the antics were probably worth it! You only live once.

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2016 @ 11:07am
      Harry Jones said | March 17th 2016 @ 11:07am | ! Report

      Great article!

    • Editor

      March 17th 2016 @ 11:42am
      Patrick Effeney said | March 17th 2016 @ 11:42am | ! Report

      Thanks again Dan – showing the insightful side of the man!

      I left off the end of Dan’s piece by accident earlier. His ending is a ripsnorter too, so my apologies about that.

      Did anyone see Dan’s last column appear on Rugby 360 last night? How good!

    • March 17th 2016 @ 12:00pm
      grapeseed said | March 17th 2016 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

      Team of Champions vs Champion Team is a false dichotomy that seduces people through vocative semantics. Inherent within the term “Champion team” is the fact that the team has already won – otherwise how could a “champion team” lose and still be referred to as such. “Team of champions” is intentionally pejorative in this comparison, conjuring images of self-serving individualists who are, again by implication, unable to work together coherently.

      Look at the 2011 or 2015 RWC All Blacks – are they a team of champions? The roster speaks for itself, replete with World Rugby™ MVP nominees and winners. Are they a champion team? Well, two silver gilded trophies answer that question.

      Re the rest of your article – The key element of any team is leadership, in particular the guy at the top. The most important factor is clarity of vision, and this needs to be a singular vision that then gets shared by the team (sorry Reds). The realisation of this clear vision requires a bunch of personal and professional qualities to enable it, such as clarity of communication, development of enabling frameworks etc. But ultimately, clarity of vision leads to unity of purpose, which is the very essence of teamwork.

      I found this to be an interesting article Dan, and don’t be too hard on yourself that through a rush of blood you chastised your teammates on occasion. Homogonous teams (as opposed to glued together parts) easily withstand this type of emotional turbulence, and the apology that follows can actually lead to greater galvanisation. Think of the forging of steel – when it becomes superheated, it starts to liquefy, but then when the cold water is poured on, the steel retains its shape, becomes hard and homogenous. The hammer blows that follow make it harder again. Every mistake presents an opportunity, and adversity and redemption are often the greatest opportunities a team can get.

      • March 17th 2016 @ 6:26pm
        Sam said | March 17th 2016 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

        You raise an excellent point. Perhaps the better way is to say that a team is greater than the sum of its parts. Another favourite analogy is 1 Cor 12 “12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body.

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