The Right Athlete, the Right Coach and at the Right Time Will Naturally Gravitate Towards Each Other – This Is Where We See Magic Happen.
As an avid rugby fan and former School and County Player (scrum half) I have found myself glued to the current Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, as many other diehards have.
As I watch the big hitters such as New Zealand dominate in their opening games, the Springboks play their usual cheeky tactics, the Australian’s scramble due to selection and injury crisis and the England team typically struggle with on and off field discipline and finding form.
I found myself strangely drawn down to the grassroots and intensely study the nuts and bolts of the Welsh Rugby team. They are only just getting the job done in most cases but doing it in such a crude yet inspiring way it is mesmerising – even my Australian wife catches herself barracking for the Welsh (fleeting though it may be, they haven’t played the Wallabies yet).
I mean I am passionately English through and through and will be ecstatic when Jonny Wilkinson and the boys again take out the Rugby World Cup for England! But, I started to realise there is something about the performance of the Welsh team that is very familiar to me in their attitude and approach… something that isn’t flash, spectacular or even overtly entertaining – but effective, ballsy and synergistic in drive, discipline and passion.
I should have realised this familiarity was due to a mutual connection when I saw his signature style permeate this team. It was, after all, the same person who influenced the direction of my sporting career and beyond to my chosen profession today.
Over the past few weeks as I watched this Welsh team jostle for the ball and make plays out of scrappy nothings, I found myself thinking about my own sporting career, no not my low level Rugby Union success, but International Gymnastics.
“Gymnastics?” I hear you say!
I know – it is not the most socially accepted, publicly revered, or indeed sexiest sport out there – but one I was passionate about and therefore found I excelled in.
To be honest with you, I was more physically suited to Rugby Union than I was Gymnastics: I was stocky, exceptionally inflexible, had the coordination of a three legged rocking horse and, due to a hearing disability, the balance of an intoxicated old man on a Sunday afternoon. NOT the traits of an aspiring dynamic and nimble Gymnast. However, what I lacked in talent I made up for in heart, tenacity and a willingness to learn.
All I needed was someone who was patient enough, technical enough and stubborn enough to mould me into a true sportsman!
But I had a problem (I know I had a few) but this one was huge!
I was very young, inexperienced and oblivious to what I needed…
So how would a young one like me identify and recognise that certain person who had the correct skill-set to get the most out of me; the person who had the opportunity and the drive to push me in the right direction; and the foresight to see beyond my physical shortcomings to see my passion.
Well, I didn’t know where, how or even why I needed to find that coach. That is not to say that I didn’t have the right person, because I did – only I didn’t have the maturity to recognise the right person at that stage of my life. (Funnily enough, these days as a consultant I find this scenario repeated week in week out.)
So I got to thinking as the Welsh pushed on and through their opponents in a scrappy dog fight – does the athlete select the coach or does the coach select the athlete?
As an athlete I would have said unequivocally the coach was along for the ride on the coat-tails of successful, talented and hardworking athletes. As I look back now I would have said the athlete needed the coach in order to be the athlete they have buried deep inside them… and often could not make it without them.
I think it is one of those process of natural selection: the right athlete, the right coach and at the right time will naturally gravitate towards each other, filling the void and finding their positioning.
And this is where we see magic happen. If all the stars line up and the timing is perfect, these two can create a sustainable champion, an athlete, a team even a club that is something special, something unique. It takes both sides to be shining at the same time to make them something special – and therein lies both the skill and the problem.
You see I realised what I was seeing in the Welsh Rugby team was the influence of a special coach-player dynamic, a belief and passion and a synergistic drive.
What I saw was in fact my coach – LITERALLY my coach. Yes, my Gymnastics Coach of many years ago, Mitch Fenner had recently been working with the Welsh Rugby team. The same drive, tenacity and passion he had helped nurture in me was now shining through these hard hitting, scrappy, rough-around-the-edges work horses.
Every now and then someone comes along who helps you become that little bit more than you would have been. They help you shine just that little bit brighter, for that little bit longer.
The secret is to recognise that and embrace it at the time, as together champions are forged and apart athletes are lost.