Do your daily lifestyle decisions reflect the importance of your end goal?

If people were to judge you by your lifestyle and your habits, would they know for sure that your Vision and Goals were important to you?

This question seems loaded, but it’s actually quite simple: How do you show what you value to others?

We can talk a big game, we can paint dream boards and vision maps and tell people what amazing plans we have, but in the end the only currency is our behaviours.

Even more important are the behaviours that are automatic in your life. How you make habits of the activities that drive you towards your goals and how you eliminate those that keep you away from them.

People with kids always know they are small behaviour-reflectors! They will do what you consistently do, not what you tell them to do. If you see behaviours in them that you don’t approve of or are counter to what you are trying to teach them, they probably learnt them from you. Whether it’s your use of language, your temper or your behaviour towards others, your kids will do what you do.

Not everyone has kids to show them how their behaviours are failing them. But if you could take a third person’s view of your life, what would you write down about the way you do things, what you do, how consistently you do them and how they affect your vision and end goal.

If you want to increase your ability to execute your vision, start programming and tracking what you do. Let your lifestyle be a collection of the activities that help you progress towards the goals that make up your life vision.

To those around you, your lifestyle should reflect the importance of your vision and the best way to see this is in what you do every do.

Mauro’s Story – How to thrive when your mind is stuck in the desert

Photo by Wilson Szeto on Unsplash

The Story of Mauro Prosperi, the policeman from Sicily

Mauro opened the door to the old building, which seemed very out of place in the huge desert he had already been lost in for almost four days. He was severely dehydrated and had already started drinking his own urine at that stage. His survival had depended on it. 

As he stepped into the darkness, he realised that the air was quite a bit cooler than the pressing heat outside. The immediate bit of relief was refreshing. As the light streamed in and his eyes became accustomed to the contrasting darkness he noticed the grave in the middle of the building.

He had stumbled into a marabout (the burial shrine of an Islamic holy man).

The irony of him having wandered into a house for the dead in the middle of a desert wasn’t lost on him.

He made himself as comfortable as he could under the circumstances. This did, after all, feel a bit like a home for the moment, seeing as it had walls and a roof. 

He climbed up to the tower to hang the flag he had kept for the finish line, a hopeful sign to remind any search parties that the lost Italian runner had moved into the area.

Suddenly he noticed noises in the roof above him. Perched in a colony in the ceiling were dozens of bats, which explained the smell he had earlier attributed to rats. He had, for the meantime, solved the problem of food and hydration. Some animals gain their food and water from other animals because they eat them raw. Mauro was able to also capitalise on this dual purpose that the uncooked insides of the bats offered him.

On his third day at the Marabout he heard the noise of a motorised propeller. He ran outside and saw the small plane overhead and realised he would need to build a fire if he had any chance of revealing his whereabouts.

He quickly dug a pit and set alight the only flammable items he had: his sleeping bag, backpack and fleece shirt. 

As if the desert had a sick sense of humour, it brought forth another massive sandstorm just as the smoke started rising from the polyester fire. The last sandstorm had been the one that got him lost on day four of his race, nearly seven days ago.

The aeroplane continued on its path undeterred by the signal smoke fading in the storm.

Mauro cowered back into the marabout through the pounding sand. In a final feeling of deep desperation, caught in the realisation that he had just burnt up all his warm kit whilst watching his last hope fly away, he decided to speed up the inevitable. After all, he wanted to avoid the fear of suffering, which he believed to be much stronger than the fear of dying.

He picked up a piece of charcoal and scratched a parting message on the wall, asking forgiveness of his wife for coming on the trip she never consented to. He tossed his writing instrument to the side, took out his pocket knife, cut into the veins on his wrist and slowly went to sleep.

A trailer for the 30th Marathon des Sables, which was held in 2015 (From MDS channel on YouTube)

The 1994 Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands)

Mauro Prosperi was a former Olympic Pentathlete who never shied away from a challenge. When he was invited by his friend, Giovanni Manzo, to join him on a six-day, 155 mile foot race through the Sahara desert, he hardly hesitated.

The race would take place in one of the hottest and most desolate places known to man and was considered arguably the toughest footrace on the planet. The indemnity form included a section where entrants had to indicate what race organisers should do with their body ‘should they not make it’. This enticed Prosperi even more.

Four days into the race Mauro got caught in a terrible sandstorm. He was placed in 4th position at that stage, which made him determined to fight through the wind and sand.

After venturing through the pounding storm for some time, he realised it was in vain and decided to find some shelter. After all, the threat of the small dunes swallowing him up as they shifted with the wind became all too real. 

The storm lasted for nearly eight hours.

When he woke up to the sun shining on his face, he also awoke to a landscape which had changed completely in the strong storm. The landmarks which had previously gave him direction were gone and replaced with new ones.

He started running again in which he believed was the right direction, all the while believing he would catch up to the walkers and other back markers at any time.

After several hours and no sign of other runners he realised he was lost. He began to walk, as there was no further use of running.

“I had crows following me for some time. They thought I was going to die. They were waiting for it. I was slowly getting weaker, I could feel it. My willpower was the only thing that gave me the strength not to succumb.

Mauro Prosperi

Day 1 became the first night of being lost. And then day 2 and the second night. He had started preparing himself for what would be an unknown amount of time alone in the desert: he was rationing his food and peed into his bottle. The earlier he peed the better, as the urine later turns dark and totally undrinkable when dehydration becomes severe.

He also forced race organisers to equip future runners with heavier, more effective flares in following races, as the small lipstick-sized one he carried was useless in signalling the rescue helicopter that was sent out to find him on day 2 of being lost. It seemed he would remain lost.

On day 4, he stumbled onto the marabout…

The situation was very serious because four days had passed and we were getting closer to that fateful fifth day. In the desert, that’s enough for a person to be considered dead. So they started talking about stopping the search [for Mauro].”

Giovanni Manzi (Mauro’s friend and MDS 1994 race partner)

We all get lost

Everyone has problems. Sometimes they are small and slightly uncomfortable, like a flat tyre. Other times they are much more severe and derail our whole mental and emotional capacity, like a divorce, losing your job or the death of a loved one.

My current philosophy is not to venture into creating too much Covid-content, purely because I’m trying to not think about it too much anymore. But the fact is that this article is being created exactly two months after we were locked in in South Africa, which means the mental fatigue is real.

A lot of people across the globe are really deep in trouble physically and financially. And even worse is the trouble it is causing to us all mentally. It’s really tough. For those without work it’s an uncertainty over where next month’s money will come from.

If you have a loved one that is sick, it’s the uncertainty over whether you might see them again or if their health will return to normal. 

Ironically enough, this time is also forcing families to spend an incredible amount of time together, which might be pushing a lot of unsurfaced relational issues to the top. This is especially stressful for families where dad is at work most of the time, or where dropping kids at school is a great escape for mom. Now both parents are forced to school them every day. This is great if your family is in a healthy state, but for a lot of people it’s just scratching open deep scars.

Even if you aren’t reading this under lockdown circumstances, you know that you go through your own personal deserts sometimes. I can really hit them hard when I choose to venture to the darker side of my mind and start blaming my circumstances for my problems.

The fact is that when we get lost in our troubles, it is also our own responsibility to find a way out without having to choose the most drastic option. We have to work very hard to find the smallest areas of light that help us keep moving forward. We just might find salvation in the strangest places.

There is always salvation after the storm; if we choose it

Well, maybe it’s not my time yet…”

Mauro Prosperi

The next morning Mauro opened his eyes as if waking up from a normal night’s sleep. He looked to his wrists and saw that the wound had clotted. He had survived and his dehydration had saved him, making his blood too thick to flow from the cut.

He immediately seized his fortunes as a second chance. From then on he refused desperation and knew he would survive, there was just no other option anymore.

He packed what he still had and started walking again. He knew that moving was akin to surviving and perhaps even thriving. For the next couple of days he became a desert dweller, finding snakes, mice, lizards and desert plants to eat.

It was in this time where the desert became a source of inspiration that would always inspire him for the rest of his life. When he chose survival, the desert allowed him to thrive.

His resilience paid off when, on day 8 of being lost, he arrived at a small oasis. He slowly drank as much water as he needed while resting for the day.

Noticing the footprints of goats leading away from the oasis, he realised that they would only have been led there by people, so he started following the tracks.

On day 10 he was found. A girl wandering through the desert ran away frightened when he waved at her, leading him to a tent occupied by some women. They nursed him with shade, water and food and contacted a military base nearby for further help.

A couple of days later, back in Sicily, his wife received a phone call from an Algerian military hospital. ‘Did you already have my funeral?’ was the best greeting Mauro could muster under the circumstances. Fortunately for him she had believed in his resilience as much as he did.

Mauro has what I call ‘insane sanity’. Some call it resilience, but resiliency is getting knocked down but getting back up. But with insanity, when you get knocked down, you never land. Mauro never hits the ground.”

Cinzia Pagliari (Mauro’s ex-wife)
The desert that Mauro Prosperi had to survive in for 10 days – Photo by Andrzej Kryszpiniuk on Unsplash

We can go off-course and still make it

Mauro Prosperi was finally found 180 miles (290km) off course in Algeria, Morocco’s neighbour to the south-east. He had wandered and survived beyond the beliefs of most people and, even though he had lost 16kg and took two years to recover, he returned to compete in the same race four years later.

People have an incredible strength of will. We are made to fight for survival and to get out on the other side of a challenge with the power to thrive. All we need is the ability to switch our thinking to focus on how we are going to make it, rather than to allow our mind to only see the realities of our struggles.

We have everything we need. We live in a time where opportunity surpasses our obstacles. Reframe whatever problem you have and find something to either get over it, or change your focus to something completely new. Mauro Prosperi had to suck it up and do things he would never do in periods of comfort. His survival depended on trying new things.

This is as good a time as any to face up to the dark corners of your mind and to shift your focus to things that will, once the tough times are behind you for a while, make you strong enough to flourish when trouble strikes again.

Find a vision that pulls your mind into a better picture of your future, start planning the actions you need to do to get you there and then start doing them.

What struck me was [Mauro’s] positive attitude and the fact that he did everything with enthusiasm. It seemed everything was possible with him.

Cinzia Pagliari
The Revenant: I shouldn’t be alive featuring Mauro Prosperi (20th Century Studios – From YouTube)

Putting it together:

Think of how you can apply this to your own life:

  • You have to think better…of your circumstances and of yourself. This is always the toughest area as everything around us is out to get into our heads. Turn off the news feeds, unfollow the hashtags that remind you we are in crisis and give yourself some mental breaks. Find other sources of information that inspires you, whatever it is.
  • Restart your brain: Get some music that pumps you up on your player and go for a run or long walk. Take a cold shower when you get back and give yourself some really good quiet or meditation time in the mornings so you can reset your thought patterns.
  • Find something great to focus on: Get a project that excites you, such as a new business, a superior fitness level, a new skill you need to master or a field you want more knowledge on. I know this sounds like a cliche, but it really works.
  • Map your growth: Write down the activities that will collectively make the above a success. Write down what and where you will learn, implement or practice and what the best times are to do it. Use mental scripting, habit stacking or other behavioural tools to lay out a plan of action.
  • Start doing: Dive in and do what needs to be done. Start very small and pick it up as you get better. Progress is the best motivator, so try and keep track of everything you do as a scorecard. Link every action to the purpose of your plan – that which you want to get better at or achieve so you build a burning passion to complete every task you set yourself.
  • Take a break: You have to rest as well. Don’t mind doing nothing for a day, as long as you plan for it. Use it as a reward for achieving some of the above action goals on your scorecard. Your mind is fragile, so you have to be kind to it for it to be kind to you.

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.

Creating a Culture of Ownership: How leaders can build a system of discipline

(*Part 3 in a three-part series on Ownership)

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Every team has a Harry

He is the player who is never plugged into the needs of the team; or his own for that matter. He is that team member who believes he can enjoy reward without effort. 

For leaders who have a passion for managing talent from recruitment through to high performance, these players tend to be bitter personal disappointments. It really irks me when a very talented youngster fails to convert their gifts into performance on the back of their own selfishness and ill-discipline.

Although I don’t believe there is a perfect model for developing disciplinary protocol in a team, it is essential to have a formal stance on dealing with problem players. Even if it is a laissez-faire one, every team leader needs to know what the philosophy is.

Here are some tools on building disciplinary systems that I’ve taken from my time working with young professional teams or picked up from colleagues in other systems:

1. Make discipline a team sport

Strong teams will always be in favour of group behaviour that allows everyone the ability to perform, whether it’s sport or work, so it would be meaningful to make the practice of team discipline a group project.

A great way to make discipline a personal matter is to attach it to the values of the team. Any team that is worth its success will have a set of values or themes that drives their behaviour.

Once a team agrees on its values, they should define and list the types of behaviour that would characterise the growth or devaluation of the team’s performance environment. A lack of discipline entails diverting from the team’s values.

This list of positive and negative behaviours constitutes the team’s code of conduct and draws its boundaries for disciplined behaviour. 

Having this process run by the team ensures ownership of any outcomes that may arise from disciplinary issues during a season.

2. Make sure every action has a reaction

If, for example, Extreme Sacrifice, is one of your team values that prioritises the performance needs of the team above personal luxuries, then drinking the night before a game, arriving late for sessions or not doing personal prep would be behaviours liable for consequence.

Consequences for transgressions should be decided upon upfront, be simple, limited to a handful of ‘transgressions-and-punishments’ to avoid an onerous rulebook and their nature requires full team buy-in. They should also be meaningful for players to want to avoid them.

Consequences can range from spot-fines and menial tasks (minor infringements), to matchday suspensions and eventual dismissal (serious infractions). It is up to the team and management to decide what is fair given their philosophy on discipline.

3. Appoint an objective executioner in your team

Make sure that the result of the above process is a one-page document that each player gets to sign and stick up on his wall. This places firm responsibility for its implementation in their hands.

If players have a guide for performance-driven behaviour then there can never be an excuse when they decide to entertain their own desires above the needs of the team.

The most powerful use for this code of conduct is that it acts as a third party that makes decisions unemotionally and objectively. This takes the onus away from management to try and make consistent calls every time someone transgresses. The team’s own code of conduct essentially makes the decision on the outcomes of misbehaviour.

There will be times when misbehaviour can’t be accurately categorise. In these cases there needs to be a mechanism to interpret the code of conduct and implement its application. Such a mechanism is discussed next.

4. Involve senior team leadership in team discipline

It’s always recommended to empower senior members of a team to apply the terms of a code of conduct when needed. The code of conduct originated as a team-driven process so the resulting consequences should be driven by its leaders.

Almost all teams will appoint a senior players group, so to task them with this process is a no-brainer. Team management can vary the control of this process depending on the age and experience of its players.

Older athletes can take more control of the disciplinary process up to a point where top professional teams often have their full disciplinary systems run by the senior players.

The severity of the transgressions also determines the level of player involvement. You don’t want to call a leadership meeting every time a player arrives late. You know your system is working when players feel empowered to solve misbehaviour themselves.

5. Consistency is king

It is crucial to create a system of consequence that means something. Meaning is created by consistently and effectively applying your discipline system for the whole season.

A disciplinary system especially starts to suffer during the later stages of the year. Certain team members might have become crucial to success, so when they misbehave, leadership often won’t follow through on punishment.

Long seasons also affect the energy levels of leadership so management members’ willingness to engage in off-field challenges dwindles as a year gets long.

A good solution for this is to make disciplinary problems part of a specific management member’s portfolio, which effectively makes it part of his year-end KPI’s towards the team.

6. Hang the dirty laundry out to air and then move on

Make sure that the team is aware of any player transgressions that deserve attention. This puts guilty parties on the spot and ensures team members know there are consequences for breaking protocol.

There is no need to shame anyone in this process. Allow transgressing players to take ownership of their breach of protocol in front of their teammates and then allow them to move on. 

Get teammates to encourage this practice of honesty and support and praise team members who own their mistakes. This practice can build a culture of safety and keeps a clear line within which to perform. People generally focus better when they know where the boundaries are.

7. If the person can’t change, change the personnel

Needless to say, if it is clear that a player is never going to start pulling his weight, replace him with someone who is.

This is a straightforward principle, but not always simple to implement.

It’s not easy to transfer a player mid-season. Likewise, contracts often can’t be terminated without a long and arduous formal disciplinary process. This often requires more energy than what it would cost to just reduce a difficult player’s gametime.

If benching a constant problem-player is the chosen route, make sure to have a strategy in place should they use this as a good reason to really derail their behaviour.

The best route, if not immediate dismissal, I believe, is to notify him that he will not be receiving a contract extension once his current agreement ends. This will often kick them into gear, but effectively it opens the way for him to start his exit from your organisation. If you can transfer him straight away, even better.

If you are lucky, he just might request an early release from his contract!

8. Don’t take it personally

If you have truly done what you can and followed the above steps, you should never take a team member’s continued poor character as a failure of your own leadership. It is your responsibility to create a receptive environment to allow players to grow, but if a player simply isn’t willing to, then don’t dwell on it.

What is your responsibility, however, is to put the plan in place to deal with people like this. Always act when needed, keep a record of every discussion with the player and then make the tough calls when needed.

Leadership’s overarching goal is to build strong teams, win titles and be sustainably profitable. These are the tenets for survival of any organisation, so if an individual is continuously going to undermine this, without any real desire for rehabilitation, then he can’t be a part of that organisation.

Unfortunately you cannot be responsible for the fortunes of every person in your care. Everyone is responsible for their own fate. Do as much as you can to help them. And then let it go, let them go and move on.

Leadership legend, John Maxwell, condenses some of the above lessons for a business environment. (From the John C. Maxwell YouTube channel)

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.

OWN IT!: Admit that you are responsible for everything that happens to you

(*Part 2 in a three-part series on Ownership)

Photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash

Taking Responsibility is a tough pill to swallow

“You are the product of every decision you ever make.”

“Whatever you do, you do to you.”

“A man’s life is the result of every choice he ever makes.”

“You are (mostly) responsible for everything that happens to you.”

I buy into all these narratives on cause-and-effect living. Some of them seem harsh in light of the fact that there are people really struggling with terrible hardship or physical challenges, but even in these cases a lot of inspiring people live beyond their limitations and manage to do massive things by keeping a strong mind.

For capable and aspiring top performers in sport (and in life), however, these laws are going to stick to you as if Isaac Newton himself invented them. The important choices and sacrifices that you make during your career as a professional are going to add up and weigh the value of your commitment to success.

Sometimes situations can turn on you even if your initial intentions were entirely innocent. The irony and tough reality is that the outcomes of these events are still of your own doing.

Our rugby academy used to operate out of Stellenbosch, a student town about 30km from our main senior team’s high performance centre. It was an unfortunate tradition for some male students to prove their equivalent testosterone worthiness by picking fights with our young academy players. To be able to better a professional athlete in a pub somewhere in town proved to be a right of passage of sorts.

Although not all of our youngsters could proclaim total innocence when it came to appointing blame for the cause of a fight, the outcomes for the guilty and innocent remained the same. Injuries and sizable legal claims for physical damages turn out to be a serious roadblock to any player’s career.8

When events turn against you as a player or professional, the bravest thing you can do is to still take ownership for its outcomes. You will find that almost every undesired event can be traced back to an initial decision that you made. If you can acknowledge this as a basic principle, you are already on a good path to performance as you will be fueling the attitude that you are the one controlling your decision-making and behaviour process.

The Proof of your Responsibility shows in your day-to-day living

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (Former First-Lady of the USA)

As a professional, everything you do affects the successful attainment of your outcomes. You can’t wish for something and then expect to get it if you don’t act in a way that reflects the character required to achieve that outcome. What you put in is what you will get out.

James Clear delivered this truth so well in his book on building better habits, aptly titled Atomic Habits. He suggests that the starting point to achieving a desired outcome is to develop an identity that successfully portrays this outcome. 

An example of this could be: ‘I am a hard-working professional that does what is required of me to be successful (and avoids that which detracts me from it)’.

He further explains that every associated action you take or don’t take, is a single vote for or against this identity. All your decisions to take action (no matter how small) drive your process of becoming the type of person you want to become.

If you are the type of aspiring professional that goes out and drinks during the week and arrives half-inebriated at training or work, or consistently breaks team protocol, you are certainly not showing your management that you are the type of performer they can rely on or should invest in in the long term.

Less obvious, yet with similar effect, are the smaller votes you cast against your identity as a performer. When you don’t sleep enough because you watch Netflix until the early hours of the  morning, or if you don’t do your recovery work, prefer the high sugar snack over the healthy one, or decide to skip that last tedious injury rehab set because your girlfriend is waiting.

Big or small and regardless of how inconsequential you might deem them to be, your actions will drive the type of performer you will become. Your decision to take responsibility for every outcome in your life will also be one of your biggest steps to professional maturity.

Poor Harry

“The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

John C. Maxwell (Author, Speaker and Pastor)

I was mixed with anger yet real sorrow for Harry because he completely butchered some great opportunities to realise his talent. He won’t believe this because of our numerous run-ins, but I really liked him (and still do). He is an incredibly warm and influential young man. His joy and strong personality has a very real ability to lead his group of peers and I even believe him to be a great potential captain.

Unfortunately, though, Harry could never openly take responsibility for the fact that he invariably has to own his circumstances, whether willingly or not. He never realised that his lack of progress wasn’t necessarily because he wasn’t doing what was required to move forward, but because he wasn’t avoiding the things that kept him from progressing.

I also believe that the systems he was part of failed to appoint decisive and effective punishment for his actions. He continued to sidestep the type of repercussions that would have conditioned him to realise, especially in high performance, that every action has an effect on your success.

In the end, if you want to be a top performer, you have to take ownership of every potential outcome in your life and do what needs to be done to achieve the outcomes you really want.

The master of Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink, perhaps states it best at TedX University of Nevada in 2017.

Think of how can apply this to your real life:

  • Motivation is a strong driver of Responsibility and progress drives motivation, so make sure you can measure your progress, even if it is very small. When I do core strength training, a great measure of progress is my ability to activate certain muscle groups (such as my glutes) when I am working or reading. If I can control the activation of a muscle group, I know I am getting stronger, even if activation is something that happens very quickly after you start exercising those muscles after a period of inactivity;
  • Be patient and take on small decisive actions. Success takes time so continue to steam along, don’t let setbacks turn you back to playing the blame game. Often the outcomes take longer than you’d hope, or you will achieve positive outcomes that weren’t even planned. Unplanned outcomes are often better than planned ones, because they are a more natural and organic result of your process, as opposed to something you tried to force;
  • Be the boss but be humble. You own your lifestyle but you don’t own your life. Anything can happen at any time so always be grateful that you have the ability to exercise free will, so use this freedom of choice to make a positive difference to your life and to those around you.

*My next post will focus on what we learnt about how to manage team members with a poor sense of ownership and discipline.

**Harry is mostly based on a single player who was in our academy a couple of years back, but he is also a representation of a couple of ill-disciplined players that we had to deal with over the years.

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.

When Harry decided to Fail: Your off-field lifestyle will predict your professional success

(*Part 1 in a three-part series on Ownership)

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

**Harry’s story

I got to know Harry during his final year of school as we were considering offering him a professional contract to attend our academy the following year.

He was perhaps one of the most talented young players I had seen at school level, almost being as well-rounded a player as others in his position at top professional level.

He had immense pace, could kick the ball a mile and was very powerful for his stature, never backing down on defence. Besides that his position-specific strengths were also exceptional. I really believed he had the ability to make it all the way to the top.

Around the time of finalising his contract, whilst in the middle of his school rugby season, he committed an offence serious enough to warrant expulsion had we been living in a time when discipline was still a clear line. It seems today that all forms of punishment have to be weighed against the possibility of upsetting the guilty party. Perhaps a strong penalty would have been the best lesson for his future. In the end he came off with a warning and we ended up still contracting him. 

We should have followed our hunch and allowed him to pursue his future elsewhere, as the next year would prove to be a massive test of our own disciplinary systems. The repercussions of his total lack of responsibility, and our failure to dish out proper punishment, played a part in one of the worst group cultures I had seen in my time working with teams.

When cause and effect are the worst of friends

It wasn’t long before Harry showed us that his ‘brush with the law’ at school didn’t teach him any meaningful lessons.

In his very first week at the academy he led his clique of friends to arrive late for a training session smelling like a distillery. They were consequently ‘rewarded’ with some laps to sweat out (and expel through other oral means) the alcohol in their system.

He led a half-hearted apology on behalf of his posse and promised to never transgress again.

A couple of weeks later he broke our code of conduct protocol by drinking in his apartment, which led to another disciplinary meeting and a stern warning. 

The rest of the year became a comedic exchange between unprofessional, arrogant ill-discipline and uncertain, ineffective application of consequences on our part as management. 

When Harry and his group of followers burnt a hole in the academy apartment’s coffee table with a hookah pipe coal, nothing happened. They were warned with some physical training and apologised, but kept their places in the academy and the team.

It was the same story when they were regularly caught drinking and smoking in the same apartment on numerous occasions. (Players could drink and smoke if they wanted, but not on the academy property). Always ‘sorry’ but never sorry enough.

We had no less than five disciplinary meetings with Harry and his mates and besides his usual empty ‘sorry we won’t do it again’, he started adding another regular tune:

‘But the other players are also doing it so it’s unfair to punish us’. The ‘others’ (who happened to be his teammates) just happened to be responsible enough to not get caught. His ill-discipline had now added the blame game to his resumé. He also accused the apartment ‘housemaster’, in charge of monitoring conduct at our facility, of targeting and purposefully trying to catch them transgressing. 

When he was finally summoned to a formal disciplinary hearing, his defence remained the same: ‘But the rest of the team are also doing it, we are being unfairly targeted’. 

The labour consultant, appointed to facilitate the hearing, took the liberty of reprimanding him for not even expressing the slightest sign of remorse and for shifting blame as a strategy to improve his own ends.

By the end of the process the consultant left the outcome of the hearing to our management and, again, Harry walked away with a warning. The only difference was that, this time, the warning was written down.

It only Takes one drop to poison the watering hole

Harry’s poor discipline influenced a very talented, albeit impressionable group of friends, to also follow him into social disrepair for the season. The way this group was allowed to buck the system led to a very unhappy team culture and eventually resulted in an enormously talented intake to underachieve on their potential as a team.

Sadly, although we had some strong positive leaders in the group who were also top performers, the space created for the troublemakers to take control led to our leaders giving up on their will to sacrifice for the team. Some of them even left for other teams the following year as the perceived toxic culture was not worth their long term commitment to our structures.

Fast forward a couple of years and Harry has since missed out on any further forms of contracting due to his poor performance. He also dropped out of a university rugby scholarship due to his dismal academic results. He ‘surprisingly’ blamed his rugby commitments for his failure as a student. (On this occasion he neglected to mention that most of the ‘others’ who were also playing rugby and studying, even more difficult courses than his, all passed their years).

None of the friends he kept at the Academy have made it further in the game.

Straight Talk to performers

It doesn’t matter how good you think you are. If you manage to maintain an ill-disciplined lifestyle off the field, it will eventually catch up to you. There is no escaping this fact. You might be good enough and receive enough lucky breaks and favours from kind coaches to get you to a level of professional representation, but once you get there, you will be exposed as quickly as you can open your next bottel of beer.

There are so many top athletes who are immensely talented that failed to reach the true heights of greatness because their personalities were just too much to bare with. They failed to realise that they are part of a team and that they are responsible for the performance of one part of its collective effort. After a while another player with just as much talent but twice your character will arrive and replace you.

If you are prone to being disciplined or feel you are ‘misunderstood’ or ‘marginlised’ or ‘targeted’ by a coach or manager or leader in a team, take a serious look in the mirror and ask yourself why. Most of the time it is something you can take responsibility for and fix yourself. Don’t play the victim, play the boss and own it.

It goes without saying that often discipline problems stem from deep-rooted social challenges. If you feel misunderstood and you are really struggling to face mental challenges, which leads you to lash out as a way to deal with emotional pain, then it is still your responsibility to reach out and get help. Almost all teams and top organisations have support structures for mental health issues and offer assistance as part of their performance programmes. These are here to help you grow, so make sure you plug into them as you would any coaching resource.

10 NFL Players Whose Careers Went Downhill From Off Field Issues: From the TOTAL PRO SPORTS YouTube channel

Think of how can apply this to your real life:

  • Cultivate your responsibility muscle and take ownership for events in your life by thinking in terms of opportunities rather than challenges;
  • Don’t ever blame the economy, weather, emotions, feelings, capabilities, resources or situations. The really big outcomes occur when you act in the eye of these storms. My best time to run is when I can go outside in the cold and pouring rain with my longs, layers and a shell and stride through the billows of exhaling steam whilst pumping my running playlist in my ears. Likewise to take on the scorching heat at midday and sweat away my stress before earning that ice cold shower afterwards;
  • Make a point of never blaming anything ever again, even if something else really was the cause of your problem. Complaining and shaming won’t solve your issue. Rather take ownership of the solution and get going on fixing the problem straight away;
  • If you feel mentally drained, or worse, have a deep-rooted mental challenge that has been keeping you down for a long time, seek help and talk to someone who is qualified to help you. It might even be great to just start sharing with a friend or family member that you trust enough to share with.

*My next post will focus on taking responsibility for the outcomes in your life by building an identity that portrays successful behaviour, instead of the opposite.

**Harry is mostly based on a single player who was in our academy a couple of years back, but he is also a representation of a couple of ill-disciplined players that we had to deal with over the years.

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.

The Road to the Top: 3 steps to High Performance Success

A number of people have asked me what lies between the day a talented kid leaves school and the moment he scores a World Cup winning try. There is so much to the high performance process that can be unpacked to answer this question, but I know that most people who ask this question prefer the basic format answer. One day I will realise my dream of writing the definitive, multi-layered and in-depth study on what the formula for success is, but this is not it.

This will be an honest and simple three-step insight without the science and the data. I’m sure there will be some research out there to back me up, but this is purely a summary of my own personal experience.

So what determines whether a kid will make it or not?

  1. Innate Talent and Genes

We all have limitations. I don’t have the right genes to be an Olympic weightlifter. I don’t have the right genetics to be an Olympic sprinter. Or gymnast. Sure, if I trained my whole life, perhaps I could have become fairly decent in those sports.

Jocko Willink (Former Navy Seal)

This is not the Quade Cooper, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Spencer out-of-the box freakish talent. I am referring to an athlete’s specific genetic makeup (your physical traits) that he or she is born with and will die with (height, size, speed, amongst others). I don’t believe your genes completely doom you to a certain field, but they do play a crucial role in what code you have the potential to be a top-level high performer in.

What I mean is that you have a physical makeup that enables you to fit the requirements of a specific sport(s) or role within a sport and if you don’t fit them within a reasonably expected range, you have to be a such a hard worker (see point number 3) that your limitations become negligible (such as the incredible work ethic and planning of a Tom Brady for example).

I weigh 100kg and am quite bulky at 6’2″, so I was never ever ever (ever) going to excel as a jockey or trapeze artist. I am also not blessed with incredible pace, so my size was always going to shove me towards the forward pack in rugby, regardless of how badly I wanted to play on the wing.

Did you know that if you were responsible for packing the kit for an Olympic team’s opening ceremony, you would be forgiven for packing the tracksuit jackets of the swimmers with the middle-and-long distance runners’ pants?

Why? Because the physiological ratios of the respective team members’ lower-and-upper bodies (swimmers vs runners) are generally inverse to each other. What on earth am I saying? That, almost as a law, swimmers (who are generally much taller than runners) will have a similar tracksuit bottom inseam length to runners, even though they have a longer upper body than runners. (Swimmers: shortish legs, long torso / Runners: long legs, short torso).

These genetic physiological advantages have played a big role in why these athletes are Olympians in their respective sports in the first place: A tall body can be propelled like a torpedo by fast-moving, shorter legs, while long muscular arms pull them through the water. Similarly, distance runners have an endurance advantage over the average human, with long strides that can briskly carry a lighter upper body.

If you are 18 years old and have peaked at 5’5″, you will almost certainly never win a rugby world cup for the Springboks or All Blacks as a forward, so you better make sure you are the world’s best scrumhalf at that height, which will be unlikely if had to play in the forwards somewhere in your life leading up to the consideration of being a career rugby player.

Likewise, if you are 7 feet tall and tip the scales at 18 stone, you can let go of your dreams of winning the Olympic gold in the marathon or synchronised diving. You should probably be on the basketball court.

The ‘fit’ between physiology and athletic success is perhaps the easiest connection to make and young athletes (and their parents!) need to be realistic about this when large mismatches are evident. Know where you stand in a sport and be realistic about your athletic ability. 

By all means please don’t quit if you know you won’t compete at the very top! But be content and happy that, if you are going to spend time and energy on a sport without being convinced that you can professionally compete in that sport, then you better know you are doing it for the love of the game and not for the accolades. This is a very hard truth and might seem harsh for me to write, but I have seen so many parents push their kids into trials and academy systems with bloated expectations. This puts massive pressure on a kid and few things are worse than sitting with a youngster in tears who just wants to enjoy his sport, while his dad wants to be the father of a Springbok.

For further reading on this topic I can strongly recommend my favourite book on this discussion, David Epstein’s The Sports Gene.

  1. Competition and Coaching in a High Performance environment

A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.”

Ovid (Ancient Roman Poet)

Iron sharpens iron. Swords are forged in fire. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Need any more analogies?

You must spend considerable time with other athletes who will push you for a place in the team. That other runner at your school who keeps beating your new PB is your biggest asset, stay close to her.  There is no such thing as a smooth ride to the top in sport. You need constant speed bumps.

I have interviewed literally hundreds of school rugby players and their parents as part of our professional academy recruitment drives. One of the questions I get asked by most parents is ‘how many older players will my son compete with in his position?’. This is always a great filter question to find the kid who is willing to come and fight. If a youngster chooses to go to a team with an easy pathway, he very seldom performs consistently because there is no one to push his improvement.

I have seen very talented young players fall out of professional sport purely because it was too easy for them, leading them to lose their competitiveness and drive.

Likewise, this environment also needs specialised attention in the form of good coaching, from sport specific to conditioning. You have to have great people helping and pushing you to excel.

Strangely enough, a qualifying high performance environment doesn’t necessarily have to be based in a world class facility, only that there are qualified people helping you (experienced coaches) and healthy competition against you (other top athletes). This collection of people creates the culture that will produce top athletes into a specific sport. Naturally being in a state-of-the art facility can provide a competitive advantage in the form of cutting edge scientific support, but when it comes to the bare bones of competitive culture, the people around you are more important than the brightness of the shine on a lifting platform.

In The Goldmine Effect, Rasmus Ankersen chronicles his search for the sporting world’s hidden talent gold mines. One of his most fascinating discoveries was that some of the world’s best performing nations in a specific sport often had the most basic facilities available to them. This included long distance runners in Kenya (dusty running track in a semi-rural community) to sprinters in Jamaica (disorganised, understocked gym and grass running track) and a Russian tennis academy with very limited tennis courts.

What they did have in common was a culture where competitive athletes were continuously trying to better one another though competition on the track, court or field. What good is it if you can lift more than your running competitor in a top quality gym, but he beats you out on the track every time. Make sure you can compete consistently in your sport’s core activity.

I realise that this view might be a bit counter-intuitive in an age of multi-million dollar facilities and cutting edge science, but I believe that if all else were equal, the people make the place, not the other way around.

Amongst all the decisions you need to make as a young athlete (or parent), make sure that you go into an environment where it will be tough. Intentionally choose the high road, because this is eventually from where you will have the best view. If you choose to compete with the best, and you come out on top, it will mean that you are now better than the best.

  1. Hard Work and Grit

“Hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Kevin Durant (NBA Basketball Player)

One of my colleagues frequently uses the above quote. It is always the most important factor in the success formula. It is the key ingredient that is going to make your innate talent limitations negligible or turn you from a naturally talented athlete into ‘one of the best there ever was’.

It is also the single most important thing that will distinguish you from teammates in a high performance environment.

I will put it as straight as it can be: If you don’t work hard (and I mean very hard) you will never make it. There is always someone working harder than you, whether he is the senior ahead of you, the peer in the same year as you, or the youngster at school who is yet to come and push you in two or three years’ time. He is going to arrive no matter what.

And work ethic is not just about pushing yourself to the limit when you run a fitness test. It’s also when you arrive on time (which is 15min early) for each and every session, physio appointment, injury report, strapping session, team meeting or coach’s meeting.

It’s the mundane time spent recovering on a foam roller or a yoga mat or the hours of video work and research you do when your sessions are done.

It’s the intentional rest and recovery you put in when your teammates are in town boozing.

It’s a bad relationship you sacrifice for your mental wellbeing.

It’s the two books a month you read or the extra course you study to make sure you are balanced and grounded.

Work ethic is your entire lifestyle. It’s how you intentionally plan your life to be successful and stick to it day after day. Angela Duckworth puts it plainly in her book Grit: “as much as talent counts, effort counts twice [as much].” Her work on the power of passion, sustained over time, is fascinating.

Angela Duckworth shares at Ted on her research about Grit, which is Passion sustained over time

I have seen exceptionally talented athletes blow it in this area. This will make or break you. The sporting graveyard is full of tombstones inscribed with the names of very talented players who could not deliver on their promise because they weren’t willing to be honest and work hard.

There are few tips I can give you here. You either work hard or you don’t. It’s a very personal realisation that you have to undergo and internalise. Not working hard is either a factor of your background (you never learnt it as a habit) or you have coasted on your talent your whole life (teammates or competitors couldn’t match up to you).

If you never learnt how to work hard (maybe you were in a small school that didn’t emphasise performance or your parents never valued it in your upbringing) you can programme yourself to religiously do the tough things even when you don’t want to and slowly build your ‘hard work muscle’ over time. This can happen through hours of mental preparation, viusalisation or dream-building. Next you need to clarify what behaviours and habits will lead you to your vision and outcomes. Lastly, you need to intentionally practice these habits day in and day out until you succeed.

If, however, you have always been the big fish amongst the smaller fish and excelled based on your superior athleticism, it’s going to be tough for you to adapt. Your mental conditioning has been programmed to tell you that you are naturally better and don’t have to work as hard as your teammates. When you arrive in a high performance environment, this mindset will kill your career. Unless you get a serious wake up call and manage to recondition how you think and act, which I have almost never seen in this type of case.

Work ethic is part of the identity that precedes you wherever you go in sport. Make sure it’s the right identity that coaches and teammates get to know.

Putting it together

Think of how you can apply this to your real life:

  • Parents must emphasise efforts over abilities when praising kids, being smart or strong or quick has nothing to do with succeeding, hard work and not giving up do;
  • Similarly, don’t inflate abilities if they don’t need to emphasised. Focus on what your kids are good at and be happy with and encourage talents and interest that might not be in line with your expectations;
  • Encourage your kids to try things themselves and make them do it until completion if possible;
  • Make the super talented young athletes in your teams work much harder than the others. Give them more responsibility and empower them to embrace leadership;
  • Plan your life around your natural proficiencies and continuously practice the learnt skills that you want to apply to your life. Get to know yourself well and be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Find out what skills will be economically valuable in the next decade and start learning them;
  • Seek out people that want the same success as you and spend time with them. Eject the reject friends who bring you down and smoke up your mind with negativity;
  • Find successful people that are experienced in the same areas you want to perform in and ask them to mentor you. Most successful people also depended on good mentors and realise the value of giving a hand-up to the next generation of performers;
  • Become very good at executing your programmes. Be clear on what you want, plan what actions need to be done and when, but most essential is to specialise in getting started on those actions.

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.

Here’s to getting started on something new

Can you remember the last time you started something new that really excited you?

What was it? (Think about it…)

Was it planned or were you steered into it by circumstance?

What inspired you to start?

How did you plan your time to prioritise it?

How did you stay focused on the most important actions?

What did you do to make sure you never quit?

How did you measure the success of its outcomes?

Were you successful?

“…no career choice might have been lost on me”

In 2003 I entered Stellenbosch University as a new financial management student. I had settled on this route due to its ‘more lucrative’ earnings potential, shafting winemaking and marketing into the backseat. This was after my high school aptitude tests recommended that I could be a great doctor. It seems no career choice might have been lost on me.

By the end of my first attempt at a final year of undergrad I was offered a generous bursary to study at the university’s very exclusive faculty of journalism.

This opportunity, rather fortuitously, also earned a place in the rear with the target market and wine glasses when I failed my final year and ushered in a second attempt to finish two of my subjects. (I had also changed my major twice already over the course of my degree). Little did I know that it was the start of great things to come.

When I finally finished my degree in 2006 and up to 2012 I built up a relative list of qualifications and experiences (some of which had overlapped):

  • Sports Editor of my campus newspaper,
  • Eighteen months as real estate agent,
  • An honours in Finance,
  • Seven years of rugby coaching,
  • A postgraduate qualification in Sports Management,
  • Six months of unemployment,
  • An incredible month supporting the Fifa 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa,
  • Two-and-a-half years as a business consultant,
  • Meeting my future wife, getting engaged-and married,
  • …and dealing with the deep depression of zero job satisfaction.

“[The] journey into high performance management… would become my first true career pursuit.”

The biggest career breakthrough in my life came in mid-2012 when I was approached to take up a dream job at the Western Province (WP) Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch.

‘The Institute’ was the performance academy and starting point for WP Rugby players who would eventually represent the Stormers in Super Rugby, a relative number of who also make it to test-rugby level.  This step started a journey into high performance management that would become my first true career pursuit.

My initial responsibilities focused on commercial management (finances, marketing, operations, admin etc.), but with time I became much more involved in the personal development of players, which included career-and-vocational planning, academics, mental coaching and personal performance planning. I also became WP Rugby’s main junior recruiter for school leavers entering professional rugby, so I managed the scouting, talent ID, recruitment and contracting of players entering the academy. 

I was also continuously exposed to but less formally involved in the coaching and conditioning-and-rehabilitation functions. My colleagues were coaches, physiotherapists, conditioning coaches and other sport scientists and I was responsible for coordinating all the functions into a single line of reporting to the director of rugby for WP Rugby, which for the majority of my time there was Rugby World Cup (with the Springboks)-and Grand Slam winner (with Ireland), Gert Smal.

Ironically enough, my job environment was not the primary trigger to start discovering the value of personal improvement as the basis of chasing high performance. It was (don’t laugh) the three years my wife and I spent building a network marketing (aka Direct Selling or Multi-Level Marketing) business from 2013 to 2016.

My lack of real passion for the industry that we were operating in, together with the commitment pressure of my job and a new baby, led to us finally withdraw from active business-building. One area, though, that changed my life and which I still continuously pursue is the obsessive focus on personal development and consistent action as framework for being successful.

Any good network marketing company has programmes that prioritise reading empowering books, listening to expert industry advice and studying the tricks of the trade with religious fervour.

When I left the network marketing industry I at least took this principle with me. Why should other industries be any different?

Performing through the Storm

By the end of 2018 I was managing the WP Rugby Institute with the continued theoretical input and inspiration of thought-leaders on high performance (and associated fields) like Stephen Covey, Angela Duckworth, Adam Grant, Charles Duhigg, James Clear, Carol Dweck, Cal Newport, Dan Pink, Macolm Gladwell, David Epstein, Simon Sinek, Daniel Coyle, K Anders Ericsson, Steven Kotler, Scott Jurek and more.

I became obsessed with building models of high performance that aimed to incorporate elements of all the above experts’ research findings and applying it to the academy. For reasons associated with the numerous challenges within our organisation, however, I was never able to really integrate much of this planning into the management of our players.

At the start of 2020 I formally ended my relationship with WP Rugby. I managed the transition of the junior academy players to my colleague and continued as a part-time Player Welfare consultant to the Stormers squad. My main focus for the duration of the Super Rugby campaign was going to be to assist individual players create balance in their life, attend to any matters of wellbeing and also help them plan the personal performance systems in their professional and personal lives. I was looking forward to the prospect of working with a strong group of players that included seven recent Rugby World Cup winners. I was ready to learn a lot.

And then the Coronavirus hit, leaving the world a remarkably changed place. Professional sport, in general, has been changed forever and I believe it is going to be a very long time before we see large stadiums filled to the brim with fans again. 

As a team we have also been greatly affected and everyone has since moved to a remote performance programme where each player and management member is responsible for their own personal improvement in backyards, garages and small home offices across Cape Town.

Having a role that was very much hands on and personal means that my involvement has pretty much all but ended. The fact that all training delivery, planning, feedback and improvement is happening remotely between a sizable management team and a big squad of players, has necessitated that communication stay uncluttered. I decided to not add to the noise by also trying to deliver information over text messages and performance apps. I try and keep in touch with some of the players I have a good relationship with and that is good enough for now.

Needless to say, lockdown and time spent indoors with the companionship of my own gnawing need to create something, finally (after perhaps three years of thinking about it) led me to start writing on a topic that has become a very dear passion of mine: High Performance Living.

“I’m at the beginning of another new pursuit”

At the start of this article I asked a number of questions related to starting new pursuits. These questions served a number of purposes: to get you thinking about the new pursuits in your life, to loosen your mind to receive this information and to introduce you to the type of process thinking that high performance planning and action requires.

As I’m typing this I’m currently at a new beginning. I’m where I was in 2003 when I started university. I’m in December 2006 when I graduated. I’m in 2009 when I moved to Cape Town for my postgrad. I’m on 11 June 2010 when I watched the opening game of the Fifa World Cup. I’m in 2012 when I said ‘yes’ to a lifelong commitment to my wife and shortly after to the new job that would change my life. I’m also in 2015 and 2016 at the birth of my kids. In 2020, amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic and a South African nationwide lockdown, I’m at the beginning of another new pursuit. I want to serve you with what I have learnt from a great couple of decades in a performance career.

With High Performance Living I intend to not only put some money where my mouth is and actually execute a good idea for a change. I also want to be a source of inspiration for you as someone that really wants to improve the way they do things. I am talking to you whether you are a young professional at the start of a career, already established and growing and in need of a performance enhancer, caught in a rut wherever you might be trying to break through or even if you are a parent, coach or mentor of a future high-performer. Everyone needs a strategy to succeed.

The secret to performing is not about attaining massive achievements, but instead about a system of small but consistently executed intentional behaviours over time. The steering wheel for this system is the realisation that action is always the best form of planning. Get the whole system moving first and it’ll make steering it a lot easier through detail and planning as you progress. Learning how the system worked yesterday will help you make it better tomorrow.

Your fuel source for this system is what happens in your mind. How you see circumstances determines how you approach them. Stephen Covey commits a whole introductory chapter to his most important life’s work to perspective and points of view. I like calling this role of perspective, attitude. And ATTITUDE is not a word in all capitals on a motivational poster with a guy hanging from a rock face, giving you a fuzzy feeling before forgetting about it the moment you look away. Attitude is your relationship to life. Are you active or reactive? Do you make things happen or do they happen to you? Your mindset is the result of how you mentally cultivate this attitude over time and this drives your performance system.

To make an already long story short…the above mentioned self-defined summary will be the basis of pretty much everything that I plan to share with you across a number of different platforms. I want to help you devise your strategy for how you are going to build you performance system.

My wish is that you will find inspiration in my work. I trust that I can help you with tools to implement for better performance; or assist you in developing a way of seeing your place in life that will make you better at living it successfully. 

This is the first in a long line of planned articles. Let ‘s hope I can practice what I preach and deliver on them!

Sign up for my newsletter INSPIRED to receive a once-a-week quick reader.