Kieran Read talks from personal experience about dealing with external noise and high expectations.
The higher the level of rugby, sport and business, the greater the expectations there are on you to succeed. This should come as no surprise, but it is amazing how many sports teams and businesses are not prepared to face this extra scrutiny. Performing at the highest level in sport and business requires a mental shift in our ability to deal with outside ‘noise’.
The noise ramps up at this level because the expectations are increased from our employees, fans, clients, customers, stakeholders and, of course, the media. If you think you can operate at the highest level without an increase in the noise from these people then you’re kidding yourself. What you have to do first and foremost is acknowledge these higher expectations that come with high performance. Once acknowledged, how do you put these external expectations to the side and stay focused on your own goals?
Let me tell you about my second year in the All Blacks in 2009. Through injuries and rest, we started the year without a number of our more senior players for two Tests against France and one against Italy. Even though we were a young team, the expectation on us externally and internally was that we should win, and win handsomely. In the first Test in Dunedin, things did not go to script and we lost 27-22 to France, my first loss in the black jersey.
Losing a Test for the All Blacks is one of the worst feelings in the world. You sit alone in the changing rooms thinking about all the things you could’ve done better or differently and you say to yourself and your teammates that we don’t want to have this feeling ever again. So, to Wellington we went, needing to win to draw the series. I remember that without a lot of our senior players around that week it felt really lonely. We were labelled the worst All Blacks side ever and all you wanted to do was go to training then hide away in your room.
The external expectation was that we had to win, and if we didn’t then it could spell the end of a number of our careers in the black jersey. We did not handle this expectation well. Yes, we all had a huge internal expectation of ourselves, but we ended up playing as if burdened by the external expectation.
Playing not to lose, we scraped a 14-10 victory which, although it was a win, didn’t feel much like one considering how we had played. The victory didn’t quieten any of the critics, and we went to Christchurch to play Italy with a looming cloud over our heads. We would win an ugly affair...
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