These thoughts are to help and inspire people like you and me to reach higher and strive for greater things, to stand for a cause more noble than self serving, seeing the good in others and seeking it for their sake. I unashamedly weave my faith, biblical insight and life experiences into a sporting context to illustrate my personal journey to this point - I hope in a small way, I can help you on your journey to being all you were intended to be....

There are now over 50 posts to check out, tweet, link to facebook or google+ Please feel free to share a link BUT If you use any of the illustrations please acknowledge the source as Phil Manchester, Bradford, England. You can follow me on twitter @philmanchester

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Space Beyond the Ball

Seeing beyond the current space you're in to the possibilities that lie beyond is called vision. Going on to inhabit the beyond and make things happen is called application and that takes graft and determination.

Unrealised vision is simply aspiration. The power that drives change is the conversion of vision into reality on the ground.

When still a club coach in Auckland, Graham Henry the victorious Rugby World Cup 2011 coach of the New Zealand All Blacks was asked for a key coaching tip. His response was direct and to the point - "get over the gain line in the first phase".

In rugby terms that means taking possession beyond the point at which a phase of play started before it breaks down again. For example, if a player is tackled, his team are expected to recycle the ball and progress past the point of the tackle and over the gain line, before another tackle stops the advance.

Aspirational? No, because what marks Henry out as a coach is his ability to think about the game, its rules, the role of players on and off the ball and use each as a component to deliver something tactically different. He is deliberate about it, it doesn't just happen.

After the successful 2011 RWC campaign Henry commented "We want quick ball in New Zealand and so we concentrate on dominating the space beyond the ball carrier. We want our supporting players to get under the opposition and to move them backwards. We flood past the ball to create good possession for our strike runners" (The Guardian, Sunday 29-01-12).

Now that's thought through. Practical. It's every player knowing what they have to do to "get across the gain line in the first phase". It's not just great vision. It's application on the ground. If you drive the opposition back from the breakdown, you have already created the space and opportunity to get past the gain line before you even begin to move the ball again.

So successful are the thought through, tactical elements of the All Black's game that it looks like second nature. In fact, when you watch great teams, what started as a vision and was fleshed out on the training ground until it became second nature, becomes endemic in the team and is seen by onlookers and emerging new players as part and parcel of what a winning team does - new players coming into the squad simply follow suit. The reality is, it started somewhere. It was worked through with an initial group of players, but then became the norm. Delivering quick ball from the breakdown by taking the space beyond the ball is now part of All Black game play.

Now there's a great principle at work here - what becomes second nature becomes the norm, what becomes the norm is transmitted seamlesssly to peers and the next generation of players coming through. But here's the key, "every generational shift starts with a deliberate decision".

The bible has an interesting insight into how successive generations learn and understand the significance of what is important. The illustration talks about the strength and resiliance that comes from knowing God - the principle at work was written about by the warrior king, David. He put it this way: ..."examine closely the way things are structured, look at the strength that is built into them,  look at the detail and show it to the generation that is following you - model it, be it".... It's about being deliberate in thinking about what is important and how to demonstrate it.

We may be looking to introduce a change. We may be looking at our own behaviours in an attempt to improve our relationships in business, in serving people or perhaps even in our closest relationships - but remember, there is a difference between aspiration and real vision that paves the way for the next step - application. The transition from vision to reality is the critical phase, but it's where so many either fear to tread or stumble. But that transition is crucial to change becoming second nature.

Working on relationships is not perhaps the most natural thing that men lean towards. All too often we let even our core relationships drift or allow things happen by default - despite the fact that we so easily plan events, schedule tasks, review and change processes. Given people are at the centre of events, task or processes, we cannot afford to alllow relationships to develop by default.

Understanding the dynamics of change and being deliberate in our thinking can be the key to making the right adjustments, at the right time and in the right way. Relationships and the people we interact with are after all at the heart of winning teams on the pitch, in business, in areas of service and in families.  Are we allowing things to happen to us by default or are we being deliberate about change?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Tackle Count

"..You can't simply wait for the opposition to make a mistake to regain possession. You have to stop their progress and defend your ground and if you want to get the ball back, you have to tackle with an attack mindset.."

Physically demanding, requiring a sense of timing and technical skill, making a tackle in rugby union doesn't automatically give you possession of the ball. But making a good tackle will:
  • stop or slow the advance of the opposition
  • prevent encroachment into your territory
  • set up the possibility of a turnover
  • bring an opponent down
In life, we frequently talk about tackling issues head on in an attempt to resolve something, to make progress or clear a hurdle on our journey to reaching a goal. But hitting something head on can have consequences. I remember playing in one match against a team made up predominantly of coal miners - I decided to tackle one of their lock forwards head on. He was about 6 foot 5 inches tall (about 1.96m). Going down on one knee as he approached, I launched him over my shoulder - but he smashed my face in the process. I took him down but I paid the price. There are times when a more subtle approach is required and I guess that is true in life too. 

Here are a few key elements to tackling that are worth considering in the context of life, relationships, business, serving others:
  • it sounds obvious, but unlike American football where blocking is legitimate, in rugby you can only tackle the player in possession of the ball - knowing what you are going to be tackling is pretty important, as we too often tackle the wrong things and frequently in the wrong order
  • your line of approach and point of impact are key to an effective tackle - how we approach something and the point at which we engage are often fundamental to the outcome of our interactions
  • you cannot tackle a player who is off the ground, you can't use a straight arm tackle, tackle a player too high or tip a player beyond the horizontal (spear tackles are illegal) - there are ways of handling people if we have to tackle important, sensitive or difficult issues.
All too often as men, we are prepared to commit to the physicality of the tackle on the field of play and in life scenarios, we all too readily fly into conflict situations. But there are some things in life that are even more important than the oval shaped ball. How often do we shy away from addressing relational issues? Alternatively, we fly into them in the same way we would tackle an opponent, when a more subtle approach is required.

Sometimes, making one tackle isn't enough. We can make a tackle and almost stand back in admiration at what we've just achieved, only to see our opponent get up and carry on or offload the ball to a team mate, exploiting a space we have failed to defend. Tackling is such an essential part of the game that to relent is like conceding a game. Recently, I looked into the number of tackles made during an 80 minute game of rugby and discovered some valuable insights.

In the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Australia beat the South African springboks in a tough, physical encounter. It was a game in which the Aussies made an incredible 147 tackles. South Africa had the bulk of the possession, but the Wallabies were resolute in their game plan. Tackle after tackle. Tackle, get up, make another tackle. Sometimes two man tackling was required to pull down their giant opponents. 147 tackles.

Now something fascinating comes out of the stats when you look closer. Generally there is a correlation between the tackle count and the number of penalties conceded. In other words, in the contact area, players hold on, don't make an effort to roll away and commit an array of other offences. Match analysts tell us a penalty is conceded every 8.3 tackles. In the Aussie game, that ratio went out to one penalty for every 24.5 tackles. The Aussies only gave away 6 penalties in the entire match and only two were in potential points scoring positions for South Africa. In the second half the ratio was an astonishing 42.5 to 1 - only one penalty given away for every 42.5 tackles. One word summed up the approach that day. Discipline.

The tackle count - their commitment to halting the opposition with an attacking mindset and discipline - their level of concentration, physical courage in the contact area and game awareness won the day. What an illustration. Sometimes we have to get back up and keep tackling our way out of tight corners, whilst maintaining the discipline that prevents us from compromise; taking short cuts, perhaps bending the rules slightly, taking the law into our own hands, not quite being truthful in relationships - building the potential penalty count against our credibility.

Knowing how, when and what to tackle and having the commitment and discipline to work through issues could be the difference between conceding or regaining ground.