Quoting Lombardi

Boys are great aren’t they? All burps and skid marks, grazed knees and puzzled expressions. They bomb around, panting like bull mastiffs, struggling to get their words out as they tell you what’s just happened; happy to run anywhere, even if they’ve forgotten why they were running at all. In many ways, they are uncomplicated. Boys tend to put their fingers in holes, scratch what itches and let their eyes tell you what they are thinking. Boys are great.


Most of the time. The problem with boys is that they will occasionally employ what I like to refer to as failure avoidance. If you have a son or have taught or coached boys of any age you might have come across this phenomena. It’s quite a clever process; one that essentially makes sense and, when you think about it, you can understand why it is employed. In a world full of ridicule and humiliation, young people, and especially young men, have a way of protecting themselves from getting things wrong. They have a tendency to apply the following mindset: “If I don’t put myself forward and have a go, then I am creating a reason for me not being able to do something and therefore, I can protect myself from having failed at it. If I don’t attempt it properly, I won’t hit but also, crucially, I won’t have missed.”

Getting young people and especially boys to put their all into something, at the risk of that ‘all’ being not enough, is one of the hardest jobs to undertake. You may well have been there yourself with a relative or friend, or maybe as you read this through, you will be remembering a time when you took this rather disappointing yet understandable option. Coming to terms with the fact that your best might not be satisfactory, is as scary as life gets.

I spend a lot of my time trying to get boys to give things a go. There are plenty of idioms and sayings on the subject. I try to commit a few to memory so I can produce them at times of need. Vince Lombardi seemed particularly good at saying them. But very few of these phrases work. It is something that only comes with time and confidence, and however much urging you do, the voice inside the head you are trying to turn, is the one that really needs to speak.

So, let’s agree the following – only by giving things a go can we fully appreciate how big a challenge we face. Yes, there are risks. In sport, for instance, not only do we run the chance of others being better, we might also endure potential injury or pain. In no uncertain terms, there is the genuine possibility of embarrassment, physical harm and exposure of our shortcomings, so why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves out there on that sporting balance beam? Because that is the price we are willing to wager on glory. Greatness, victory, oneupmanship and valour, those are the amazing rewards worth risking it all for. We bet it all on the chance that we might win.

Riddle me this then. Why sit out? Why, if ever given the choice, chose not to give things a go? Surely playing it safe and not taking part, doesn’t do anyone any good?

I find myself asking this question in light of Stuart Lancaster’s choice to rest his ‘first choice’ players during the Six Nations. Now, on the face of it, this seems a logical decision. Those boys played an incredibly physical test match last weekend and perhaps, quite rightly, deserve the weekend off. There’s a big game next Sunday, England expects and all that. But I wonder if it crossed Lancaster’s mind to release them back to their clubs?

The periphery of the England squad is a buzz at the moment. I can’t remember a time when so many players had such a genuine chance of being picked. The selectors must not know which way to look. Chances to impress don’t come along very often and with a World Cup just over six months away, the opportunities to risk it all for glory, are getting fewer.

For the purposes of this article, I thought about pulling in some favours and trying to get an answer on the subject from Jonathan Joseph. A man whose current position in the national pecking order needs very little establishing. My question would have been quite simple. Would you, had you been allowed to play, wanted to pull on your Bath jersey this weekend or would you have preferred to watch others on the TV? But then I thought, why on earth do I need to ask him that question? I know exactly what the answer would be.

Lancaster must love it. The competition for places is creating an appetite that drives standards sky high. That hunger is manufacturing brilliance; every player seems to have someone snapping at their heels, pushing them to be better, urging them to outdo their previous efforts and strive for greatness. And where better to let this happen than out on the park, in the heat of battle, on the warground that is, say, Bath versus Northampton? England’s management must have toyed with the idea of releasing those players back to the Premiership this weekend.


I think of Danny Cipriani, flicking idly through the Sunday back pages, smiling contentedly to himself. And George Ford, refraining from any news outlet, his eyes not resting on anything for too long, biting his lip and lamenting his rest weekend. “Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing.” That’s Vince Lombardi and that’s what I tell my boys. And you can’t win anything, sat on the sideline.

Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.

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3 Responses to Quoting Lombardi

  1. Stephen Guest says:

    Very good Sam, very thought provoking!


  2. Jim Fearon says:

    Sam, this was an excellent read, thank you.

    A thought: the impact of Bomber releasing those at the fringes whilst retaining the starting line-up in camp achieves three things. 1) protect the first XV from injury; 2) let the fringe players go and get a run and (hopefully) do a “Danny” as you indicate in your article; 3) amp the first XV up and Gerry then coming st the bit.

    You’re quite right, the England camp must be a great place to be at the moment. The current crop are coming along fantastically well but, for me, the more exciting bit is the wave coming through behind, led by Mr Slade.

    It could become a very interesting decade for English rugby.

    Jim Fearon


    • Jim – thank you. And thank you for contributing – discourse/discussion is what I would like to promote in these pages. I think you are right as to the reasons for not releasing players; you’ve nailed Lancaster’s thought processes. My idle mind was wondering just how tempting was it for SL to continue the momentum for everyone? My question perhaps should have been – is it better to rest the weekend before a big game or play?

      It’s all moot of course but I like trying to spend the time we have mulling over these things.

      As for the future, very exciting. There’s a lovely piece by Charlie Morgan in Rugby World and on Twitter @charliefelix re Nowell’s work at the weekend. Also, how someone like Dave Ewers hasn’t pulled on an England Shirt is also surprising. And without this sounding like a Chiefs love in, Itoje and Hankin at Sarries, Clifford at Quins, Stephenson at Saints, Ewels at Bath, Haley at Sale to name but a few. Future is bright.


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