A Lesson in True Humility
The following is an extract from my new book ’59 Lessons – Working with the world’s Greatest Coaches, Athletes, & Special Forces’ where I share my greatest insights into what makes winners truly great.
There are many lessons I’ve been so fortunate to have learned from the world’s best winners but few were as powerful as this one.
During my time with the great Ashley Jones at Canterbury Crusaders, in New Zealand I’d get to the weight room by 6:30 AM each morning to spend time with Ash before things got too busy. The Canterbury Crusaders at the time supplied most players to the dominant All Blacks rugby team.
Many mornings, one player would get there around the same time and let me into the simple, workmanlike gym under the Crusaders stand. “Yoda,” as the players called him, was rehabbing an Achilles injury (at about 115 kilograms or 250 pounds, he was obviously a prop and so bore zero resemblance to the real, diminutive Jedi Master).
His diligence was impressive. Every morning he was first man in to work on his rehab exercises. I would strike up a casual conversation, but despite my eagerness to learn from him, he ended up asking most of the questions. He told me that he’d been to Ireland and England, asked exactly where I was from, and we chatted about hobbies and the rehab process. I’ve always found the most interested people to be the most interesting too.
Melting Pot of Talent
Being in the Crusaders gym back then was like walking into a melting pot of the world’s richest rugby talent. Even in those days under Robbie Deans, they were the most dominant club team in the world. Led by Richie McCaw, the Crusaders also had Aaron Mauger, Kieran Read, Brad Thorn, Campbell Johnstone, Chris Jack, Leon MacDonald, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Casey Laulala, and, of course, Dan Carter.
Make your Own Shake
Almost everyone in sports has heard the term “sweeping the sheds” about the All Blacks. But few realize that years before it became a foundational habit of the national team, it was practiced at Canterbury. Years before anyone had heard the term, I watched these very players carried out the cones to help Ashley and Luke Thornley set up the field before practice and cleared it up again afterwards. Nobody made post-workout shakes for you here – you made your own. I often hear coaches from other teams complain about entitled, lazy attitudes or lack of leadership from their team, yet they miss the greatest opportunity to develop it. The All Blacks have learned this lesson long ago.
A Humor Factory
One other aspect of the Crusaders’ culture was humor. Chris Jack was wisecracking and cutting any player who got too confident down to size. Casey Laulala just had a constant smile on his face. Campbell Johnstone, Corey Flynn, and Wyatt Crockett were continuously firing verbal barbs at each other like feuding brothers. And even the golden boy of world rugby, Dan Carter, had his own sense of dark, self-depreciating humor. This symphony of hard work, focus, and kidding around was masterfully orchestrated by Ashley, Luke, and Robbie Deans.
The humility of the group was typified by Aaron Mauger, who had captained both the All Blacks and Crusaders. He was interested to find out more about Leicester Tigers, who he’d agreed to move to after the end of the current Super Rugby season was over.
That evening back at my hotel I wondered how many times Aaron had played for the All Blacks. I flipped open my laptop, went to the All Blacks website, and looked through the pictures of current squad members. As I scrolled down, I noticed a familiar face: Yoda. Rather than being Luke Skywalker’s green mentor, he was actually Greg Somerville, a mainstay for the Crusaders for years and at one point, the longest serving prop in All Blacks history with 66 caps.
Yet from our first talk onward, Greg had never even mentioned he played for the All Blacks, said who he was, or tried to impress me by regaling all that he had achieved. Instead, he was only interested in getting to know me and, when we were done talking, focused on rehabbing his ankle so he could get back on the field with his teammates. His willingness to learn, curiosity about others, and complete lack of ego left a lasting impression on me.
It was here sitting alone in a Christchurch hotel room that dawned on me what true humility was and why it is arguably the most underrated quality in true winners.
by Fergus Connolly
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