What Happens After You Win? Lessons From The Rugby World Cup 

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By Gillian Watson, Associate-Elect, Lighthouse International

Against the odds, South Africa lifted the 2019 Rugby World Cup trophy again. Sport is so often used as a way to talk about the bigger picture of issues in society, so how can we maximise the potential impact of a sports win in our own lives?

Against the odds, South Africa lifted the 2019 Rugby World Cup for a third time, 12 years after their hard fought victory in 2007 and 24 years after unexpectedly lifting it in 1995 in the presence of Nelson Mandela upon returning from international sanctions.

The Springboks have played three Rugby World Cup finals and won them all - the only nation to have made the World Cup final and never losing one.

In sport, so much goes into the hype and preparation, the adrenalin in the moment and then the explosion of emotions and camaraderie when the medal is won and the cup lifted high, then what? 

There is a romantic notion about winning at sports - that it is the most important thing in the world and can fix all manner of social divisions. Simply the result can bring grown men to tears; a perceived ‘bad call’ by a referee can cause massive chaos and the media can turn a victory into grand headlines and declarations of patriotic pride. 

Can something as simple as 15 players on each side chasing a ball across a line on the other team’s side, really unify a town, a nation or a global community?

Making History When No-One Else Believed in Them 

Although the team has achieved these amazing milestones after following a well thought out and strategic campaign, personally coming from South Africa myself, I've seen the headlines inevitably focus on topics about inequality, socio-economic disparity and diversity. Sport is so often used as a way to talk about the bigger picture issues in society, so how can we maximise the potential impact of events like these?

The documented history of sport goes back at least 3,000 years with it often being involved in the preparation for war or training as a hunter.  When putting it that way, it does make sense that a team’s purpose can be about coming together for a common goal.

In history, it was to gain confidence in each other and that was essential on the battlefield with survival being a core element to victory. But in a modern setting, we can lose sight of the opportunity that coming together can bring. It can be the start of how we want to live together, how we want our interactions to be. We need to tap into that inspiration and motivation better.

So what happens once the confetti of a win like this has died down?

Success Should Be Measured In Impact, Not Only Results 

By winning the World Cup, the players and management have achieved fame, immortality, and an unassailable spot in the hall of fame of their nation's sporting heroes. Their names will forever be referenced when statistics are sited and the World Cup returns every 4 years.  The question remains, what happens after each win?

After a public victory like this, there is always talk of uplifting grassroots communities to improve the quantity and quality of young players who don’t come from privileged backgrounds and where rugby may not be played at their school. It may be the case in small pockets in the country, but a large majority of the focus will not change.

As with any public figures, should we be putting this much pressure for overall change on the shoulders of these sporting heroes?

As Marvel Founder Stan Lee wrote in the popular Spider-Man comic book, now known as the Peter Parker Principle;

"With great power comes great responsibility". 

These players could be using this platform and momentum, but for every expectation we place on these public figures, surely we should be putting some on our own shoulders too?

They Can’t Do It Alone

We all have the potential to take this joy and sense of unity and apply it in our day to day life. Tap into the celebrations to motivate you and those around you. Sport can be a powerful catalyst, but your meaning and passion will determine the focal point of your energy. Sport can, even if temporarily, get people to set aside their differences. There is great potential to create meaning and change from that shift in mindset.

Pursuing a Common Purpose, With The Intention of Hope

The mindset of the Springbok team is one of hope. Taking the pressure of the World Cup and turning it from a burden to one of privilege. Rassie Erasmus said:

“Hope is when you play well. And people watch the game on a Saturday and feel good afterwards. No matter your political or religious differences, for those 80 minutes, you agree”.

Creating Opportunity Through Consistent Growth and Momentum 

You never know when your investment in someone else will pay dividends.  As Simon Sinek says:

“Don’t give to get. Give to inspire others to give”. 

The South African coach will be using his momentum from this win to ensure every level of the sport gets his attention, to use his win as an opportunity to continue making a difference.

It was his forward-thinking to award Siya Kolisi his first professional rugby position and look at the result!  The South African captain said:

"You believed in me when I was still in school, I worked under you at Western Province & now we are sharing this moment forever!"

Uplift Others

There was much criticism of the Springbok squad before the final, however, Rassie Erasmus stuck to his plan and inspired the team with his support and resolve. In doing so, he has been applauded for his people management and conduct off the field, not only the fact that they won. He showed he was a leader, by creating space for every person in the squad to be their best, whether a player or in the management team.

He gave his team a reason to win that was not about the trophy, it was about hope, it was about purpose, it was something greater than just the win. Many would say this was the complete opposite to the England team where Head Coach Eddie Jones said many times that their goal was "to be the best in the world."

Seizing The Opportunity From a Win & Taking Action

Everyone has the opportunity to take those principles showcased in successful sports teams to improve the lives of ourselves and those around us. This Springbok team can surely help motivate and inspire us, but should we wait for someone else to give us the ‘win’ to bring about change in our own lives?

Change starts with us!

Why should we wait for those sports stars or government-sponsored programmes to change the world? We may be waiting a long time if we are. What about looking around and seeing what we can change in ourselves everyday, so when the larger community catches up, we are prepared to go the distance together!

Now that the confetti is cleaned up, the news headlines are moving onto the next political scandal and watercooler gossip has returned to the latest TV series, how can you ensure the passion and unity shown during that 80 minute game continues?

How To Apply This

Have you ever thought about how the celebrations and positive energy from a sporting win can turn into practical applications for your own life and those around you? 

Here are 3 areas of focus to give some ideas to reflect on...

  1. Common Purpose
    • Is there a project or area that needs attention in your community?
  2. Creating Opportunity
    • What can you do for someone who may never be able to repay you?
  3. Uplift Others
    • How could you inspire hope in someone else today?


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