Promotion of a Lion!

It was mooted this week that Andy Farrell is in the running to be Lions’ head coach for their tour of Australia. The IRFU has stated that it won’t stand in the way if its main man is indeed the choice. Good news for Farrell and for rugby fans alike as Farrell’s appointment, if rubber stamped, is a shrewd move.

Interestingly, though, Farrell’s would-be promotion creates an opportunity for one of our own to shine in his absence. You don’t need to be Sherlock Homes to deduce that Paul O’Connell is being lined up to succeed Farrell as Irish head coach. When the Munster legend was catapulted into the Irish set-up a couple of years ago, all signs pointed to this being an integral part of the IRFU’s succession plan for the national team. The universal plaudits O’Connell has received since his arrival attest to the monumental impact he’s made.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that in the event of Farrell shipping off with the Lions, O’Connell is a ready made stand in. Sounds like the perfect plan, right? Of course, these days Lions coaches get carte blanche to pick their assistants and the former Wigan man may well want his Irish assistant with him in his jaunt down under if appointed to the Lions. However, from an Irish perspective, it makes sense for O’Connell to deputise with Ireland while his boss is away with the Lions, should that scenario come to pass.

So, although the IRFU has said it won’t stand in Farrell’s way should the Lions come knocking, will its condition be that O’Connell stays put for the duration of the Australian tour? I imagine the union won’t want to lose both its star coaches to the Lions when Lions’ tours always provide such great developmental opportunities for the players left behind. For Irish rugby, the dream scenario is Farrell leads the Lions to an historic series victory and that O’Connell stays behind to begin his apprenticeship as Ireland head coach in waiting.

Of course, much water has to pass under the bridge for any of the above to emerge. Life is fluid and things change very quickly. One day, you’re hot and the next you’re, well, not. But, all things being equal, this series of events could work out very well for all concerned in Irish rugby. The road map for succession is laid out before our eyes and few rugby nations are in as strong a position. Big Paul striding into his first press conference as head coach, you sense the excitement just thinking about it. With Farrell linked to the Lions’ job, Irish rugby has talked about contingency. That contingency has to be Paul O’Connell.


Winning the moment in front of your face!

I heard an interesting podcast interview with Paul O’Connell recently (you can listen to it here). In the interview, the Irish rugby legend discussed how he struggled to cope with the mental preparation for games in his younger days. It was an interesting insight. We think of O’Connell now as the ultimate professional; a consummate leader who always adapted well to the rigours and disciplines of professional sport.

Not so. In the interview, the Limerick man discussed how, on the contrary, his psychological preparation often left a lot to be desired. In particular, he recounted how his goal-setting, especially, was extremely unrealistic and often quite counterproductive in terms of achieving the desired outcomes. Despite his tremendous success, the big man was often anxious about his performance and struggled to enjoy his enviable life as a rugby professional.

To remedy the problem, Paul sought out sports psychologists and sourced advice from other renowned sportspeople and coaches to establish how they coped with the dreaded pressure to deliver, to achieve constant success. In the end, the former Irish captain used a variety of techniques to help him enjoy what is often the tedious, daily grind of the elite sportsman. However, interestingly, it wasn’t a psychologist that offered the most useful and applicable piece of advice. So, what were the words of wisdom the big man found so helpful? How to stop fretting about the past and silence your nagging doubts about the future? Simple. “Win the moment in front of your face.”

Think about it. It’s genius simplified in terms of advice. And it’s universal. In fact, it’s hard not to think of a scenario where the advice above isn’t useful. Worry and stress are certainly destructive emotions, if left unchecked. We all do it. It’s so easy to let the demons take over and succumb to the negative force that is worry. Whether it’s fretting pointlessly over perceived mistakes from the past, agonising over a decision, or torturing yourself over future scenarios, many of which never come to pass. Preparing endlessly for disasters that never happen. The hectic nature of modern life encourages and exacerbates these stresses in a way that didn’t happen in days gone by.

Everything is measured nowadays. Everything has a (often quite artificial) deadline. We all feel rushed and hurried. Either we’re late for something or it feels as if we should be! More and more is demanded of us and we often  struggle to cope with the pressure. The strains of modern life can be extremely burdensome. So much to do and so little time to do it in. I must admit I’ve struggled myself with prioritising tasks and separating the urgent from the dispensable; the immediate from that which can be deferred safely. Like a lot of us I suspect, my reflex instinct is to try to do as much as possible, regardless of the task’s actual urgency. I set unrealistic goals and often beat myself up for failure to meet self-imposed deadlines and targets.

And you know what? All that stress and worry is ultimately futile. Pointless. So much wasted energy. I guess that’s what Paul O’Connell discovered, albeit belatedly in his career. There’s a great saying in sport: “Control the controllables.” It makes total sense. Don’t worry about the superficial and irrelevant. Don’t let ancillary factors distract you from the task at hand. Don’t worry about what your teammates or perceived rivals are doing. Just focus on yourself. Do you what you can to improve and don’t dwell on mistakes. Learn from them.

Concentrate on being the best you can be and shut out unhelpful, irrelevant distractions. Let’s be honest. Life can be stressful enough. Why let unnecessary worry destroy all joy and fulfilment from your daily routine? Ever since I heard the interview, I find myself regularly reinforcing the message. I can’t get away from it. It’s so simple. But it’s beautiful in its profoundness. So next time you’re lamenting a supposedly bad decision or worrying needlessly about the future, don’t. Listen to O’Connell instead. Just win the moment in front of your  face. It’s all any of us can do, anyway. The past has already happened and the future will take care of itself. “Mindfulness for rugby players,” O’Connell called it. The wise sage who provided this advice? Joe Schmidt. “Win the moment in front of your face.” There’s a lesson for us all in there somewhere.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey