by Tom Billups
Irish and British Lion Keith Wood and I had an understanding. We both believed that we were bloody good hookers and had contrasting strengths in our game. We were both competing for the starting #2 Harlequins jersey in the late ‘90’s. Early in our time as teammates we came to an understanding that we would both individually do everything in our power to be as good as possible, and from there, we would let the coaches figure out who was going to start the match.
Let’s take a step back and recognize that the common measure of success in sport is wins and losses, and the opposition plays heavily in this equation. It is the norm for competitive rugby players to measure their performance against their fellow teammates (for playing time) and their opposite numbers on the other team, and this all makes a lot of sense to me. But sports psychologist Ranier Martens says we don’t start out this way.
Martens believes that at some point in our childhood, we change. We change our sole focus from being on what we are doing, and how well we are doing it, to measuring how we are doing in comparison to others. Martens feels that competition is good, but that it is not just “you versus them, but you against you." Keith and I fully embraced this as we both pushed to reach our potential as professional athletes.
Think about it. Children on the playground can spend hours throwing a ball in the air and trying to catch it. They are often self-absorbed in the act of trying to improve at catching the ball, and then measure how good they are at catching based their own previous performances. According to Martens, it isn’t until a little later in children’s development that they measure how well they are doing catching the ball against others.
I contend that this is an important aspect to a player's full realization of his potential. That it is vital not just to measure your performances against the opposition, but more importantly, to continue on and ask the question, “How good can I be?”
The best modern-day sporting example is Tiger Woods. He has not only measured his abilities against other golfers, but has pushed beyond just doing what is required to win a tournament, to doing everything in his power to reach his potential.
How good can you be?
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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