8 Rugby Lessons That Will Help You Become a Better Entrepreneur

Business is the ultimate test of wills, focus, determination and pushing through the pain when things get tough. In fact, if you can take lessons off the rugby field and into the boardroom, you'll be a better entrepreneur.

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Building your own business from scratch is tough. It really is not for people who enjoy predictability, low risk and comfort. There are often times of doubt, discouragement and outright confusion, accompanied by frequent unpredictable moments that can challenge your sense of humour and test your resolve.

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So why do it then? Because you can. Because there is something in it that just makes the effort worthwhile. 

I’ve been on my own entrepreneurial journey for the last ten years. I’ve always been interested in how human behaviour affects performance and so I’ve been drawn to work in competitive environments. These have included both the corporate world and sports, and I’ve learnt that there are a lot of overlaps between the two. 

As an ex-rugby coach and someone who is currently still involved with international and provincial rugby, there are a lot of rugby lessons that are extremely valuable in the business world. 

If you want to achieve peak performance in life and business, here are eight key lessons that you can learn from rugby.

1. It’s all about overcoming resistance

What gave you the belief that just because you had an idea that you knew would change lives and make money, the universe would lay down a red carpet for you and invite you to dine at the table of greatness? 

In this scenario, setbacks come as a surprise, competition is seen as unfair and you discover alarmingly that the economy and your bank manager, strangely enough, are geared towards debt and failure rather than success.

You are the only one who believes. Remember that. This is your desire. If you don't like being tackled you shouldn't play. The same with your business. If you don't like the hard hits, pick employment.

It’s up to you to get it to work and that means you are about to learn to push through: Three steps forward, five steps back, ten steps forward, two steps back, four steps sideways, one step forward…

Remember This: If you don’t believe that your destiny lies in your idea, you will give up. Guaranteed. 

2. Passion does not last

Getting psyched before a game is all good and well. Yes, it makes you feel invincible, indestructible and as close to superhero status as humanly possible. But in the end, passion is just an emotion, and emotions can change. Very quickly in fact, especially after your first hit.

Don’t get me wrong. Passion is a fantastic emotion, but to base the success of your endeavours on an emotion is naïve and even reckless.

There is nothing glorious about the hard graft, no matter how you paint it. It’s sweaty, bloody and thankless. This is why desire is so important. Desire is deep seated and rooted in purpose, not emotion. It fuels the hard graft.

Remember This: People only care about what you do with the ball, not what you did to win the ball.

3. Control the ‘controllables’

A rugby ball is peculiar in that it has an unpredictable bounce. Life is like a rugby ball. One day it can stay in the field of play and you win the game. The next day it bounces out and you lose the game. Same ball. Same circumstance. If you don't understand this, it can mess with your head. 

If you try and control what is impossible to control, you will simply blow your mind, and your mind is your greatest weapon. Don’t give it an impossible task.

  • You can control what you do every second of the day. 
  • You can control how you respond. 
  • You can even control how you play the game. 
  • You cannot control people.
  • You cannot control the economy.
  • You cannot control what is going to happen tomorrow.
  • In fact, your real genius will lie in how you handle the unknown and the unpredictable. 

Remember This: Do what you can to control the bounce but don’t take it personally when it does not go your way. Just respond.

4. Hit or be hit

If you’re passive in the tackle, hesitant or just put your head down you can get yourself into serious trouble, even break your neck.

Don’t avoid problems, tackle them. The key here is to ensure that they don’t build up momentum. The faster they are going, the bigger they seem to be. Hit them early.

Move towards them, get yourself into position and hit them hard, making sure you take them to ground, otherwise they can keep going.

Remember This: Fear is a killer when it comes to the hits. The problem is only as big as you make it out to be.

5. Play your game

Rugby is unforgiving to the team that tries to play a game plan that is borrowed from another team. The best teams in the world build a plan around who they are. They don’t force a game plan on the team, they take an individualised, tactical approach.

Your individuality is your greatest competitive advantage. Build everything around who you are, but keep an eye on why you are there. This is not an ego trip. You are there to get the job done better than anyone else. 

Remember This: Use your uniqueness to craft an approach that is close to impossible to replicate by your competition.  

6. Rugby has rules In rugby, every time you break the rules you lose possession of the ball. Do it continuously and you can lose a player.

Do something really bad and you never see the player again. 

Innovation and invention are key change drivers. It’s what allows entrepreneurs to disrupt a market and attract new customers. But, contrary to the myths out there, disruption is not about breaking the rules; it’s about exploiting the rules.

The team that usually wins knows how to use the rules to their advantage. The same in business. So, if you really want to disrupt, change the rules. Ignore or break them, and you may find yourself with very little left and a whole lot of angry fans.

Remember This: The rules define the game. They make the game possible. Take the time to understand them. Then exploit them to your advantage.

7. Play into space

A crowded space on the field is busy, dirty and messy. It’s where you stand the greatest chance of losing the ball. The key in rugby therefore, is to create space. It is space that allows you to gain ground and set up a chance to score. Yes, the busy space is inevitable but to make it ‘normal’ is foolish and unnecessary. 

You want minimal contact and maximum space. It’s the same in your business. 

De-clutter and simplify. Keep things tidy. Do everything you can to avoid complex, messy situations that can bog you down and cost you unnecessary energy. But this will only be possible if you have a clear, tactical vision that keeps you moving into clear space that is easy to dominate. It has to be part of your thinking and planning. If you just ‘wing it’ you might be alarmed to find yourself in an expensive version of U9 rugby.

Remember This: Always look to create fresh space. Just make sure you are running in the right direction. 

8. Know who you want in your team

Rugby is played by 15 players who are on the field to each play very distinct roles. Each role is an important piece of the larger puzzle and demands a very specific skill set, physical attributes and mental approach. You cannot simply just change position. Yes, some roles do allow for more flexibility and a fullback can play flyhalf. But a lock will never be a hooker or a prop. The best in the world play one position. Only.

Do you know who you need in your business or are you relying on ‘jack-of-all trades’? This may be great for a Sunday pickup game but if you’re aiming for the big leagues, plan properly. Don’t think for a moment that your generalist will suddenly become a specialist either. That is the quickest way to destroy talent. Ask any player who has been labeled a ‘utility back’.

Remember This: Specialisation is not an evolution. Be prepared. Start with great people who know exactly what they’re doing and put them exactly where you need them. 

Pulling it all together

Above all else, never forget why you’re playing the game. Prepare to win. Practice to win. Play to win. Stay humble. And never forget that personalities make the game.

Simon Hurry

Written By

Simon Hurry is the Founder and Chief Strategist & Innovator for the Human Strategy Group, a niche management consulting company. He consults globally to entrepreneurs, businesses of all sizes and professional sport teams. Visit simonhurry.com