Iconic England Rugby Player, Jonny Wilkinson, now utilises his experience in high-performance sport to aid success in the corporate world as a keynote/ motivational speaker. He talks to SME Today about his career, the challenges and his motivation.
What specific physical and mental skills are necessary to thrive as a rugby player?
“To thrive as a rugby player, it’s the same as any other job or profession. It simply requires you to be fully present, clear, aware and ready.
“I guess it comes down to what ‘ready’ means. It means owning the space you stand in, but also having a relaxed spontaneity and creativity about the way that you move.
“In terms of mentality, it’s about clarity, having absolute intention about what you want to achieve. But also the adaptability, flexibility and creativity to find the best way to get there, according to what’s happening around you.
“It’s the same in business. Maybe there’s a few things that are different, like running into people – that doesn’t happen in every profession! There’s a certain amount of training that goes into that, but from a physical and mental perspective, it’s the same thing.”
What was the toughest loss you had during your career and how did you overcome it?
“I think the toughest loss I experienced was when I played one of my first full international games over in Australia, and we were beaten heavily, by 75 points.
“If you can imagine, as a young kid all your dreams about how your international career is going to go and what a joy it’s going to be, suddenly you’re in a changing room feeling absolutely humiliated, to the extent that the crowd at the end of it are jeering and laughing.
“On that day the organisers of the event had a group of people doing press ups on the side of the field for every point scored, and the joke was that by the end of it, they couldn’t do it. There were too many points, and the crowd were laughing.
“With all that initial pride and self-importance, feeling like I know what I’m doing to then feeling completely empty. It was enormously impactful, and left me in a very challenged space for a good three or four days.
“But, as a result, the shift that came from experiencing that would rest as one of the bedrocks I built upon.”
How do you maintain motivation?
“I think the side of motivation that makes it most simple is when you’re motivated about finding out or exploring your absolute potential, of what you are capable of and what’s possible, everything else falls underneath that umbrella.
“So if you go to the very top, everything else is infused by that same passion. You have that passion and energy for deeply revealing what life can be for you. Nothing else can take that away. And in fact, everything else only stirs and sparks.
“And the greater the challenge, such as losing or things not going the way you intended, the sort of strong resistant emotions, all those kind of things become just a greater trigger of that passion because you become more excited about celebrating challenge. You become more excited about investigating your resistance. You become more excited about those limits and what might be on the other side.
“So, in fact, it’s a certain degree of invincibility. If you get what you want, that’s brilliant. But when you don’t, that’s even better.”
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
“Even though I’m retired now, I’m experiencing the best parts of my career each and every day.
“As I explore the boundaries of who I am, and I look back at what I went through, it starts to mean more now than it did at the time.
“At the time, it was just about winning, being ‘someone’ and being a success, and therefore if you asked me that question before, I probably would have said, ‘oh, just lifting a trophy, winning a World Cup’.
“But as I get older and start to remove those boundaries of who I am, I see things more fully. And now, when I look back at my rugby career, I realise that it was just an incredible experience of learning.
“I enjoy my career so much more now that I’m retired than when I was playing, because I’m able to see so much more of what it meant, the connections and energy exchange between players. The way we served each other as team-mates, and how our experiences were serving us.
“While with the England team, we lost the World Cup in the quarterfinal, 1999. We then lost the Grand Slam, and every time in pretty much the last game we had our dreams robbed of us, every single time.
“And if you’d have asked me then I’d have said, ‘oh, what a waste of time, the world is against us’. Then we had most ridiculous year in 2003 where we won everything, and actually won the World Cup!
“After that I had four years of injury, which was crazy, and then when we came back for the next World Cup we got to the final, almost won it. And then I had more injuries, went to France and that was crazy, I learned a new language. And at the time you’re just thinking, ‘oh, the next thing, the next thing, the next thing’.
“When you look back, you realise it’s an unfolding journey of whatever was needed. It all maps out and is beautifully connected. It comes not because you work it out, it comes because you let go and it all makes sense.
“What was the highest point of my career? Absolutely all of it. Just all of it. From start to finish.
“Even the bits where I was injured and dropped, when I would have said ‘it’s the worst thing in the world’. Looking back now, it’s just beautiful.”
Jonny can be contacted via The Motivational Speakers Agency. The Motivational Speakers Agency are experts in supplying some of the world’s best leadership speakers.