The Wise Words of Rudyard

Firstly may I wish you all a happy, safe and successful 2004. Like many of you, I spent a peaceful (occasionally) and happy Christmas break with my family and feel refreshed and ready to get stuck into 2004. I have also have taken the opportunity to sit back, relax and watch a good deal of sport on the TV and have spent quite a bit of time catching up on reading material which I don’t seem to get the chance to read during the year.

In keeping with my oft-quoted favourite saying “You’ll be the same person in 5 years time as you are now, except for the books you read and the people you meet”, I have read some books and articles that will take my mind forward and keep me learning. One piece of writing that I have come across these holidays is not a book, or an article, but a poem. I’m not a great poetry fan to be honest, but I first read this one when I was about fourteen and I recall it made an impression on me then. It can’t have been a huge impression however, because I had forgotten about it until I came across it again in my ramblings around the internet. It was written nearly a hundred years ago, but its message is as fresh and as pertinent now as it was when it was written. It also gives me the chance to start 2004 with a bit of philosophising – which is good for my soul at least.

As coaches, we are all “significant others” in the lives of those we coach, whether you are coaching at NPC level or coaching a team of eight year olds. We are role models, teachers and influencers of our players. I believe that the things discussed in this poem are a wonderful guide for us as coaches. Some of the language may be dated (and non gender-inclusive!), but the message is certainly not. The poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I will include it in its entirety for you to peruse and think about. If you don’t know the poem, but recognise the name, Rudyard Kipling is the same bloke who wrote the Jungle Books (Mowgli, Baloo and all their mates)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Now I’m no professor of English literature, and poetry is probably more about how it is interpreted by each individual that it is about what the poet meant, but the messages I get out of “If” are clear and meaningful. To me, it’s a poem about values, about self-esteem, about focus and mental toughness. Perhaps old Rudyard was a rugby coach when he wasn’t writing the great material he wrote over his long life. This is what I take out of Kipling’s great poem, with some of my own embellishments. I hope Rudyard might have forgiven me for the liberties!

Verse 1

• Stay calm, stay focused. Deal with distractions by focusing intently on what you need to be focusing on at the time. Don’t be too tough on others who can’t show your strength of purpose. Show empathy and leadership. Inspire and encourage your players or team-mates.
• Have trust in yourself and your ability. Don’t second-guess your decisions. If you cock it up, deal with it later. Understand that there is a time for thinking and a time for doing. Don’t be doing when you should be thinking and don’t be thinking when you ought to be doing.
• Be patient. Hang in there. Plan your work and work your plan.
• Stick to your standards – don’t be dragged down by others who have lower standards than you. There will be times when it will be tempting to do so, but don’t give in to temptation. If you are a leader, you lead by what you do and what you don’t do, what you say and what you don’t say. You can’t “not lead”. Remember that leaders must get used to being happy with being respected by their peers rather than worrying about being liked all the time. There will be time when your peers may be hacked off with you if you front them about their poor standards. Don’t worry about it. Do the right thing and you’ll rest easy in bed at night. If you don’t, you must learn to.
• Be humble.

Verse 2

• Have dreams, but remember that life is about a journey. Enjoy the journey. Life is not a dress rehearsal – it’s the real thing.
• Think the right thoughts, because these thoughts will guide your actions. You will be judged by your actions (not your intentions), so think the right things, do the right things and form a habit of doing both.
• Judge your results by how well you perform, not whether you win or lose (at the risk of stating the obvious!). Yeah, I know, the higher up you go the more you’re judged on winning or losing. But if you get the performance right, the winning will look after itself. Don’t celebrate too spectacularly when you win and don’t sulk for a week when you lose.
• Don’t worry about what people who you don’t respect say about you behind your back or to your face. Judge your self-esteem by how you think about yourself, not how others think of you. Listen carefully to criticism from people whose integrity you respect and whose knowledge you respect. Let the rest be like water off a duck’s back. Learn to control the controllables.
• Learn to bounce back from mistakes and disappointments. Be strong, learn from your errors and take up the challenge. Don’t keep making the same mistakes. Be sure to be self-analytical after your wins also. Fix things up that need fixing and prioritise the most important things. As Alan Martin of L.V.Martin’s always said “It’s the putting right that counts”.

Verse 3

• Have a crack at things. Don’t die wondering “what if”. What if I’d improved my interpersonal skills, what if I’d improved this or that? As the old saying goes “If you find yourself on thin ice, you might as well dance”. Take big steps forward – you can’t cross a chasm in two small strides. Go on an occasional wild goose chase – that’s what wild geese are for. Read Wayne Bennett’s book Don’t die with the music in you. Make the best use of the abilities you have been given.
• Be mentally tough. Never give up until the final whistle. Understand why you are coaching or playing and know where your “wellspring of desire” resides within you so you can call on it when times get tough. And trust me. Times will get tough if you take on big challenges.

Verse 4

• Know who you are and what you are and never change your values to fit circumstances. If you’re bloody good - be humble, if you’re struggling - keep your head up.
• Judge yourself primarily by what you see reflected back in the mirror. You are unique. Don’t let people who have hurt you have power over you by hating them or thinking about them too much. If you are hurt by friends or loved ones, remember that if you care about something and lose it, then it will hurt. But you are still you, you still have all your special qualities, and that’s enough to be going on with.
• Live life to the fullest. You only ever get one crack at it. As Kathy Mattea’s song “Come from the heart” goes:
You've got to sing like you don't need the money,
Love like you'll never get hurt,
You've got to dance like nobody's watching,
It's got to come from the heart if you want it to work.
• If you follow all the advice above and develop the sort of qualities and character outlined by good old Rudyard, you’ve got a pretty good chance of reaching your personal destiny, of being the best you can be. You can’t do any better than that.

Now I don’t know about you, but this seems like a wonderful template for living a pretty good life to me, if my interpretation of Kipling is anywhere near the mark. It also seems like a fairly good philosophy for aspiring coaches to take on board for themselves and their players.

But I suppose if you think coaching is just about improving skills and designing great game-plans, you’ll likely dismiss the above as the plaintive ramblings of someone who’s been getting into the bubbly too long and too often over the Christmas break. If so, you’re wrong. I was merely sniffing the corks.

Good luck for the season ahead. Keep up the good work. You are needed and appreciated. And for the great coaching the players of New Zealand are about to receive, may they be truly thankful.