In November 2003, Jonny Wilkinson scored the points that won the rugby union world cup for England. Millions watched spellbound as he aimed a drop kick at the Australian posts. He had already missed three drop kicks.
This kick went over. England had won. Jonny immediately became a hero to millions. Four years later, in 2007, the cup is being played for again. This time, teams will compete in France rather than in Australia.
Since the historic 2003 victory by England, Jonny has had one injury after another preventing him from playing for his club or for England. However, he is currently fit and able to play. Every England supporter hopes he will play in France.
Jonny is a thoughtful and articulate hero who is capable of analyzing the reasons for his success. Success is important to him but he does not depend on success for his happiness. As long as he puts in enough work to deserve success, he is reasonably content:
"I can't always succeed but I can always deserve to."
Jonny is a great fly half and a ferocious tackler but a huge part of his value to his team lies in his goal kicking abilities. He is one of the most reliable and accurate kickers in the world. He can be relied on to kick penalty goals, try conversions and drop goals (the point scoring kicks in rugby union).
He maintains his kicking ability by constant practice. This is done mainly on his own. As he plays for Newcastle in the North East of England, he often has to train in cold and inhospitable conditions. It would be easy to go home early.
Who would know? Jonny has a typical answer to this question:
"I would. Cutting corners is not my way. I reason that if I train harder and better than anyone else, I will come out on top. Others might get lucky every now and again but, the way I look at it, life has to provide a reward for all the effort in the end."
He is willing to give up the pleasures enjoyed by most of his fellows so that he can spend more time on the training field. Drinking after the game has always been a huge part of the culture of rugby. It is not part of Jonny's culture!
The last time Jonny drank alcohol was in June 2003. After the world cup victory in November, he only drank a couple of diet cokes to celebrate.
Jonny realizes that the benefits of a hard training session can be lost by eating unhealthy food afterwards. Major keys to achieving success, in general, are staying alive and keeping healthy and this means eating healthy food.
Jonny does not eat sweets, biscuits or chocolate. He even passes gifts of Easter eggs on to someone else! He does not allow himself to take even one bite. He would regret such a bite as a sign of mental weakness.
Like the scouts, whose motto is 'Be Prepared' Jonny believes in preparing for each game by practice and more practice. He sums up his views with another memorable phrase:
"Preparation is power."
Jonny has been accused of being an obsessive. At the world cup, someone described him as a 'basket case'. He accepts this description because he believes you have to prepare obsessively if you want victory:
"When I go out on the pitch, I want to look at my opposite number and feel as if I am stronger, quicker and better than he is. I need to believe that whatever he throws at me, I will be more than equal to it. For that to happen, I have to prepare obsessively."
Many people give up on their dream of becoming an expert when the constant repetition needed to reach the level of a master or mistress becomes boring.
They don't realize that overcoming this boredom and just focusing on what they have to do is the only way to achieve the reward of mastery. The result of hours of effort and boring repetition is anything but boring.
The skater falls on his or her backside hundreds of times before we see them gliding effortlessly like gods and goddesses around the ice rink. They practice the same moves over and over again until they look natural and graceful.
In 2003 all the boring work that Jonny had put in led to a drop goal which changed Jonny's world and his team mates' world. They were now world champions.
That glorious and world famous drop kick was not the result of luck. It was the result of one boring repetition after another as Jonny practiced kick after kick after every one else had gone home.
Some people stop practising because they are no longer 'enjoying the training'. They do not realize that enjoyment comes and goes and that most of the enjoyment comes from the results of their training.
I never really enjoyed playing in rugby matches because, as a forward, you seldom had a chance to run with the ball. You spent all your time shoving and pushing and struggling with the opposition to get hold of the ball so that the backs could run with it and take the glory of scoring a try.
Quite often, they would drop the hard won ball or fail to pass it on at the right moment and the whole process would start again. However, after the game was over, I loved the feeling of having made an all out effort. Of course, your enjoyment was much greater if your team had won the game.
Training in the martial arts can be boring and even painful but, eventually, if you keep going, the boring training results in the satisfaction of achieving your black belt.
The day after I gained my first Taekwondo black belt was a day of joy in spite of the fact that I had to roll out of my bed in a straight line because of the pain in my side where I had been kicked in the ribs.
All the training and effort then seemed worthwhile. A black belt does not mean you are invulnerable but it does symbolize the fact that you have trained very hard to achieve a worthwhile goal and have succeeded.
We can all set similar goals and enjoy the euphoria and the sense of improved skill and power that comes with achieving them.
Jonny would work on his place kicking (when the ball is kicked from the ground) after a day of light training. He didn't put a time limit on these sessions and some would last as long as three hours.
After a heavy day's training, he would practice his drop kicks (when the ball bounces just before or as you kick it). He would kick at least twenty with his left foot and twenty with his right.
He describes his training during the world cup tournament itself:
"I made sure I hit forty drop goals every day, twenty off each foot, so by the time of the final, I had probably kicked something like 7,000 drop goals in four months."
Jonny plays the odds. He believes that the harder he works, the more likely he is to succeed. But there are no guarantees of success. He missed his first three drop goal attempts against Australia.
However, he believes that the scales will eventually balance. He will, in the end, get out of the match the energy that he puts in.
His fourth drop goal went over. It is probably the most famous drop goal in history.
Jonny is now followed every where by photographers. He does not want; nor does he enjoy fame. He would play rugby 'if only one man and his dog was watching'. He loves the game for its own sake.
What were the secrets of his success? They are not really secrets at all. Like most 'secrets' they have been known to humans since the start of history. However, they are still secrets to those who are not yet aware of them:
You cannot guarantee success but you can do the work necessary to deserve success.
You should be prepared to practice your core skills even if this means boring repetition in a tough and lonely environment after every one else has gone home. Accept that boredom is inevitable at times when learning any skill.
Do not cut corners. Train or work harder than any one else. Eventually, the universe will reward you for your effort in some way or other.
Give up any pleasures that might hinder your improvement. Eat healthy food so that you do not destroy the benefits of your training. Avoid alcohol.
Prepare thoroughly even if other people think you are crazy. Preparation is power.
Enjoyment may not always come while you train but it will usually come as a result of your training.
Practice, sometimes, by setting a limit on what you plan to do and, at other times, do not set a limit.
Realize that celebrity is not important and will not last. Doing what you love, with one hundred percent effort, is far more important and the resulting satisfaction will last for the rest of your life