“I don’t know what to say really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives all comes down to today. Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble. Inch by inch, play by play, till we’re finished.” – Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) Inch By Inch speech from Any Given Sunday
I remember forever the words of one of my first coaches.
It was when I was in the under 13E’s school boy rugby team. Mr…, well I will not share his name with you just in case he is still out there, so let’s just call him “Coach”, gave us a great motivational speech prior to the game. Just like Al Pacino did in the movie On Any Given Sunday – “inch by inch, yard by yard…” perhaps even better and he finished off with the words…
“I don’t care if you win or lose, just get out there and enjoy yourselves boys!”
Well 60 minutes later, after being thrashed 60 to 0 (for a Rugby match that is not a close score) Coach came out and blasted us for “the school’s weekend embarrassment”. One by one he picked off my fellow team mates and berated them for what they did wrong. Next it was my turn…
“As for you McKenzie, why do you even bother showing up? I put you in the team because of your size and thought playing as a prop suited you best. But now I think I was wrong. You should consider another sport instead.”
Mmm, it looks like Coach really wasn’t the great motivator after all and I seriously did consider giving up on Rugby altogether.
However, it was so much a part of school life in those days, so I kept at it. The next year the tryouts – now I am in the under 14’s and something happened…
That year I had a new coach and I actually went up a grade into the 14D’s. In fact, I started to learn new skills and really enjoyed myself at the same time. My coach was always there to provide direction and encouragement. Plus, I think winning a few games certainly helped as well!
The following year, now I find myself in the under 15C’s – still playing prop as I was one of the bigger boys, but that was OK. Now I had a passion for Rugby!
Next came the under 16’s and yes I was able to improve on the previous year and got into the 16B’s. There were also several games where I was on the reserve for the 16A’s and yes even had my “moment” where I was called on to the game and played for the 16A’s!
That was the highlight of my Rugby career!
Now I am not going to try to make my story out like “Field Of Dreams” – that’s the one with Kevin Costner and baseball and the character “Doc”, but I will say to you, that was the last year I played Rugby because within a week of playing as a reserve in the 16A’s, I was out of the game altogether with an injury.
You see what happened was that in one game, a scrum collapsed which with my playing as prop, left me on the bottom with grass on one side and about 14 boys from the collapsed scrum on top of me. My head had twisted under my body.
I do not remember everything that happened immediately after, the ambulance, the intensive care and the recovery. I went very close to becoming permanently injured, but that was not to be that day.
Now you can imagine how I felt as a young boy, with Rugby his whole world and who also had a taste of being in the top team and a belief that maybe the next year he would even be playing in the school’s First XV!
It was devastating, my world had collapsed. The dream was no longer possible as I was told I was to never play Rugby again.
But fortunately there was another coach at the school who reached out to me the following year. He said he needed help with his team and asked if I would be his “assistant coach”.
Now after all these years, I realise that this particular coach was doing this for me.
Perhaps he sensed what was going on through my mind. My own feeling of self-worth. The very act of an adult, somebody I respected, reaching out to an adolescent and through these actions is saying “I believe in you” was to give me some sense of purpose once again. To see my world in a different lens – after all this current world had changed for me.
So my final two years at high school, I spent coaching junior teams. I had finally accepted the reality that I could not play the game physically myself, but I could through others. Whether that be the teams I was coaching, or living the dream through other players at my school who eventually went on to represent Australia. Yet for me, it was about being given a second chance, but, on a different journey.
Today, after all these years, Rugby is only once facet of my life. Yet this experience at that age, taught me some valuable lessons of which I continue to embrace.
I have even had the wonderful opportunity several years back, to be seated next to the new coach of the Australian national Rugby team on a flight from Sydney to Singapore and shared this story to him as well and what I have learned. We spent hours talking about leadership and mindset. I truly memorable time for me.
You see, regardless of where you are in life today, whether that be in the highest of all highs or so low that the hope of anything changing is difficult to imagine, let alone a possibility, you need to have a coach who can provide you with the inspiration when you need it, the firm voice when you do not think you need it and importantly, the helping hand that will be there regardless.