Lessons from the Rugby World Cup (so far)


Pool play is almost finished in the world cup and it’s fair to say the NZ public isn’t overjoyed at the all blacks performance so far, although most seem to agree that they looked to come good against Tonga after a shaky first half.

So what’s happened up to now?  Well I’m no expert in rugby but I’ve got a couple of theories which I thought I’d throw out because right or wrong – it relates to your development on the Jiu Jitsu mat.

Firstly the commentators I’ve heard – both studio and couch based – seem to be in agreement.  The early games have seen the ABs trying to do too much, be too fancy when they needed to just focus on the basics.  Jiu Jitsu is the same.  It’s very easy to get captivated by the latest cool toy – new sweeps, guards, new positions that involve various degress of upsidedownness.  These are all great. One of the best things about Jiu Jitsu is how it continues to evolve making it easy to stay engaged and have that “new student shine” for years and even decades into your BJJ career.  But this *must* be built on a solid bedrock of basics.  If the basics fall apart the fancy stuff won’t work.  If your basics are ingrained into your DNA you will be able to integrate the fancy stuff very quickly.

Antidote:  Get to Essentials class!.  Once you’ve got your first or second stripe it’s easy to get excited by the new toys and sparring opportunities offered in general class.  But remember your requirements to blue belt are all covered off in Essentials.  Learn to pace your training so you don’t have to choose between Essentials and General but can do both in a night – the best of both worlds.  If you find that’s too much of a mission it may be you’re going too hard, being too tense or doing that weird thing white belts do where you forget to breathe while doing your techniques.

Back to the All Blacks.  The important question is why have they started the cup with poor execution on the basics?  Here’s my opinion.  In a pool with no opponents that would be considered a serious threat how do you impress?  I’m assuming they do want to impress the fans, and more importantly themselves to build confidence and momentum going into the elimination games. So how do you do that against “weaker” opposition?  You do it by posting something that looks more like a cricket score than a rugby score.  That’s what’s happened in previous cups when the mighty sides have faced the minnows.  Put aside for a moment the fact that the context has changed with many “minnow” nations now sporting professional players that play in Europe.  What does the lure of the big score actually do to the mindset of players?  It takes the focus off the process and puts it back on the result.  Which is seldom a recipe for success.  Time and again when we research into the mindset of elite performers the same thing shows up.  The mental focus is not on the result (looking into the future) but on the excellence of execution of the behaviours that will inevitably lead to the result (focus on the now).  John Will talks about BJJ being a focus on process not goal.  Hence position before submission.

Antidote.  Less focus on the tap, more on positional control, setting up the situations you want to be working from, noticing what’s working and what’s not.  If you’re in BJJ you are in it for the long game.  How many taps you get tonight or tomorrow night is irrelevant.  How well you focus on the process of learning, developing, and getting the next technique in the game is crucial. Oh and incidentally the most fundamental thing to focus on to start with – is coming to class.  Get that right and the rest will follow.

My prediction is that as the ABs hit the money rounds, they’ll put the focus back on precision execution of the pass they’re making, the ball they’re catching, the ruck they’re controlling and we’ll see them perform well in the second half of the tounament.

I may be wrong about that, like I say I’m no expert on rugby.  But I do know this.  On the BJJ mat – focus on the process and the goals will come.  Make sure your fundamentals are rock solid and people will start asking how you got so advanced.

And who knows, you may also find find that setting goals, focusing on just the next step and doing the simple things well, yields results in that other, non-matted part of your life.  I hope so, after all that’s the point –  we train on the mat to improve the world off the mat.

See you in class.