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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Rugby: life lessons, friendships and leadership

The Rugby World Cup kicks off this weekend in France. 🏉🌎🏆

For those that don't know (and those that I've played rugby with in the past) I'm a still a very average rugby player with Old Collegians Rugby Union Football Club - I've just played my 11th "last season" and I'm looking forward to next year already. I'ts my 33rd straight season of playing rugby.

I had a good chat with an old friend of mine last week John Short Ring - a friend from UCL. He's blogging on the topic of leadership in education (check him out if you're in the education sector).


It got me thinking about the people I've played the great game with over the years and also how much I value team sports in life.


Rugby, like many team sports, is a crucible for leadership lessons. Here's a reflective perspective on what rugby can teach about leadership (with further reading on where the sentiment is echoed):

  1. Teamwork is Everything: Rugby, at its core, is a team sport. Every player, from the fleet-footed winger to the stout-hearted forward, has a role. Leadership is about harnessing the unique strengths of each team member and aligning them towards a common goal. (For more info read James Kerr. (2013). Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. Constable & Robinson.

  2. Leading by Example: The best leaders don't just bark orders; they lead by example. On the rugby field, it's the captain making a crucial tackle or pushing hardest in a scrum, showing the team the level of commitment and effort required. (Eales, J. (2001). Learning from Legends: Rugby. Slattery Media.)

  3. Communication is Key: A rugby match is chaotic. Leaders must be adept at communicating clearly and effectively, ensuring that every team member understands their role and the game plan. Pichot, A. (2017). Leadership: Key to Rugby Success. Sports Leadership Journal.

  4. Adaptability: A good rugby leader knows the importance of reading the game and making tactical changes on the fly. Similarly, effective leaders in any setting need to be agile, adapting to changing circumstances without losing sight of their goals. Hansen, S. (2015). Steve Hansen: The Legacy. Rugby Union Productions.

  5. Resilience Under Pressure: Rugby is as much a mental game as it is physical. Leaders must maintain composure, especially when things are not going as planned. It's about getting up after a hard tackle and pushing forward, even when the odds seem insurmountable. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House.

  6. Value of Preparation: Winning a rugby match requires more than just turning up. It demands rigorous training, strategic planning, and preparation. Likewise, leadership is about doing the groundwork, being prepared for challenges, and ensuring the team is well-equipped to tackle them. Smith, W. (2012). The Preparation Ethos: A Coach’s Perspective. Rugby Coaching Review.

  7. Respect for All: In rugby, respect for teammates, opponents, and officials is paramount. A leader understands the importance of treating everyone with respect, recognising that every individual, irrespective of their role, brings value. Roberts, G. (2010). Rugby: A Game of Respect. Sports and Ethics Journal.

  8. Accountability: When mistakes are made on the rugby field, they're visible for all to see. Leaders take responsibility for their actions and those of their team, learning from missteps and continually striving for improvement. Maxwell, J. C. (2007). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Thomas Nelson.

  9. Knowing When to Delegate: A leader understands they can't do everything alone. In rugby, while the captain is the primary leader, they rely on other team members to lead in their respective roles. Leadership is about recognizing and trusting the strengths of those around you. Covey, S. R. (2004). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. Free Press.

  10. Building Trust: Trust is forged in the trenches of a rugby match. Players must trust that their teammates will be there to support them. Similarly, leaders build trust by being consistent, reliable, and always putting the team's interests above their own. Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.

Rugby and the communities around it have given me more than I could ever give "it". In conclusion, rugby provides rich experiences that mirror the challenges and rewards of leadership. The lessons learned on the rugby field can serve leaders well in any arena, instilling values of #teamwork, #respect, #resilience, and #adaptability.


But more importantly: Who do you have to win this RWC?

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  • Ireland

  • France

  • South Africa

  • New Zealand



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