In my career, I sometimes found myself on the receiving end of bad news. This often came in the form of selection or injury. Luckily for me both forms had the same remedy. Work hard in training and rehab. Now I have retired I often give the same advice to younger players who are looking for answers and the best way to go about the same scenario I found myself in all those years ago.
The 2007 Super Rugby season was a tough one for the Queensland Reds and the game against the Force was even tougher. We were playing against a good Western Force team full of players we all knew on a personal level. When you know your opposition well, at times it makes the battle and losses that much harder.
We lost and got an absolute pasting in the sheds afterwards from our then coach Eddie Jones. As with all disappointments in life there are always some great positives to come out of it, if you’re open to learning.
I think I had one of the worst games of my career and Eddie let me know about it on the Monday afterwards. I was dropped from the match day team and I knew I needed to focus on things that were controllable ie: training standards, mobility, video analysis, game education, attitude and how I could help the group.
I desperately wanted to get back in the team but whilst I couldn’t control external factors, I could do everything in my power to influence team selection and ultimately team performance by the way I approached my training. If you compete well in training then the standard of players around you naturally rises because they have to compete with you and vice versa. So raising my training level in all aspects only served to benefit the team in the long run. The byproduct of that is that you’re seen as a crucial cog in the wheel that drives high standards overall.
You might be asking why wasn't your level of training already at a high level? It was, but the thing about sport is ( I'd imagine also in many areas of life ) that when you've trained for so long and you've reached your goal, ie regularly starting each week, winning games etc you can easily become complacent with where you're at and dip in your level of performance. The thing you've been focussing on has been reached, so where to now? The problem with that is that the players and competition around you are still improving, competing, jostling for their right to play and win. All of a sudden you find yourself in this lull trying to figure out how you got there. My lesson was that I needed to continually maintain high standards as well as trusting that hard work will pay off, so I didn't get left behind. As a younger player this was something I didn't do well, but as I matured and grew I was able to mentally change my focus towards setting small achievable goals in training which put me in contention for selection.
Sometimes you want to rush things like coming back from injury too early, but in the long run you only end up hurting the team when you injure yourself again. Playing the long game is a great way to develop patience and maturity, and also allows you to delve deep into your own understanding of who you are as a player, colleague, or whoever. The best moments of understanding come when you're under pressure and have your back against the wall.
The few weeks following this game I received a call from Eddie telling me he was pleased with the way I had been performing in training and was taking me on our tour to South Africa, selecting me in the first tour match against the Stormers in Cape Town. He was fair like that, he didn't write you off after a poor performance, he made you work even harder to get your spot back.
I remember when he announced to the group after training in the week leading up to the game that I was back in, the boys whooped and cheered, patting my back and scruffing my hair making me feel so grateful and like I was on debut again.
Hard work does pay off. Don't be afraid of failures, because they are crucial to success and character building. See them as a refining process to grow from and you’ll never see disappointment as “disappointment” again.