by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
There are several elements tied directly to whether a rugby team reaches it’s potential. In my humble opinion, the most important of these elements is the desire to play hard. At the core of a successful team is an appetite for work.
Having talent alone is not enough for a team to reach it’s potential. Technical systems and ploys will not be enough to see a team through. The best teams possess the ability to play very hard from start to finish. Having athletes who have an appetite for work is so important to a team’s performance, that coaches place a premium on it. One of our new coaches on campus is Mike Teti. I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation recently from Coach Teti where he shared a few interesting stories about his personal experiences as a competitive rower and coach of Olympians.
Mike Teti became Cal’s new head crew coach upon fulfilling his duties as US Rowing head coach at the conclusion of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Teti is a highly decorated international coach who has lead athletes to gold medals in World Championships (’97,’98,’99, 2005) and Olympics (2004).
Crew and rugby have many things in common; both are physically demanding and are sports not suited for everyone. In both, there are opportunities for athletes to physically and mentally coast, always at the expense of the team’s performance. Additionally, in crew, each seat in the boat is up for the taking by the strongest rowers, similar to selections of a rugby team.
In his presentation, Coach Teti spoke about his own early experiences as an athlete trying to make the Olympic team. He related of how he learned a valuable lesson from a Polish national who was the U.S. coach at the time.
Teti’s story begins during an Olympic selection camp. The camp was held to serve two main functions, the first to have athletes perform ergometer rowing tests and the second to hold race-offs. The erg tests were performed on the dreaded indoor ergometers pitting the athletes against the stopwatch. The second function was to hold “race offs” on the water between competing pairs of athletes.
Teti had won his final race-off, and believed his selection to the Olympic camp was in the bag. A short time later, when the list of selected athletes was posted, his name was left off, so he approached the head coach.
When asked why he was omitted, the coach said in his broken English that Teti’s ergometer rowing scores where not very strong, mid table in fact, in relation to the other athletes. The coach acknowledged that Teti was talented and knew how to race, but believed that even though he had won the race-off, he had not consistently demonstrated the desire to work as hard as would be required, and therefore was not selected.
If a rugby player doesn’t have an insatiable desire to do the work, not much else matters.
Coach Teti went on to share with us a story of an athlete he coached who made great personal sacrifices to reach his potential, even though it did not meet the Olympic standard. This particular rower had done all that he could possibly do to succeed in making the Olympic team. Success in this instance is the piece of mind that comes from putting your heart and soul into your preparation and, regardless of the final outcome, the knowledge that you had done everything you could.
Even at the Olympic level you can’t forget to put everything you have into each performance. To due any less would demonstrate a lack of appetite for work.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) 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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