Dealing with the highs and lows of Sport - Jamie Farndale

Highs and lows are evident throughout sport. Just recently we have seen the revived successes of sportsmen like Tyson Fury and Tiger Woods, witnessing just how much a return to the top of their game meant both to themselves and to their fans. It is the lows that we go through as sportsmen, teammates and sports fans that make the highs feel just so high. 

One year ago a new Scotland Sevens team came together with new players, a new coach and new management staff. Over the past year we have weathered the highs and lows together and come into this season with a fresh determination that was evident in Dubai. With a years experience in the head coach role, John Dalziel has implemented his own structures and style of play to suit our current group, the fruits of which were evidenced on day one of the competition. Having clinically defeated Kenya, themselves four-time tournament finalists, we backed this up by doing everything we needed to do to beat Fiji in game two. If it were not for my own misjudgment we would have booked our place in the quarter finals. Luckily for me the team rallied and got the result we needed in the final game against France to progress us to the quarter finals regardless. 

With only seven players on a full sized rugby pitch, having to execute skills in much more space under both fatigue and pressure, mistakes are inevitable, but my failure to score against Fiji is hard to top. 

I was beyond devastated. The next few moments seemed to last a life time, replaying the scene on a slow motion loop in disbelief. I can not speak highly enough of my team mates who, while going through their own disappointment and frustration, got right behind me and pushed the focus to getting the result in the next game. 

We are constantly dealing with the highs and lows of emotions that the game of Sevens presents us. With six games over two days, we have learned the hard way that you simply cannot afford to get caught up in the emotional extremes of winning and losing. If we were to celebrate at every victory and despair at every loss, bouncing from on top of the world to rock bottom and back again in the space of just a few hours, not only would we go into day two physically exhausted but emotionally so too.

Putting emotion to one side is arguably the hardest skill a Rugby Sevens player has to deal with. We have learned to combat these emotions with routine. After every game, whether in victory or defeat, we will react in the same way. Straight off the pitch, we will huddle together and quickly debrief the game. After this we will shower, take on whatever recovery protein shake is needed, change and eat. After this we are straight into analysis, looking at the previous game, discussing clips with one another, before focusing on our next opponent, looking at how we might adapt our game against them. 

It is a funny skill, and one that I actually find harder to do after winning. At the Twickenham Sevens in 2017, we beat New Zealand in the quarter finals. No Scottish team had ever done so in rugby history, and being the first team to do so had been a huge target. The added drama of coming from 21-0 down at half time and winning in extra time made the result even more special. But in between games, we followed the routine, focussed on the next job and managed to win both our next games, beating England in the final to lift the cup at Twickenham. Had we let emotions interfere, it might not have been Scott Riddell lifting that cup.

And so it was for me, last Friday lunch time in a lonely feeling changing room in the Dubai desert, feeling utterly devastated, that the simple action of my team mate patting me on the shoulder and handing me a protein shake made all the difference. It pushed me back into routine and got us all back out there to do what we needed to do to make the cup quarter finals regardless. The immediate solidarity and support I received from  those around me I will never forget.

After a year of travelling and living out of hotels together, away from families for long periods of time, going through these highs and lows, there is a special bond being formed in this Scotland Sevens team, one that I’m sure many other teams on the circuit will have too. As a development programme, a first taste of professional rugby for many, it is invaluable. Yes, rugby skills are developed. Passes have to be longer, rucking more clinical, opposition have to be defended with more space to be beaten in and all under extreme fatigue, heat and pressure. But it is the off field skills that make the Sevens such a valuable programme. It is no wonder so many of the current crop of Scottish Internationals who are having so much success have had some sort of Sevens experience. 

As the final fireworks fade and the last supporters stumble out of the gates, the crazy spectacle that is the Dubai 7s comes to an end. With the Sevens Series marching on to Cape Town we find ourselves competing in the top half of the competition.Drawn against Canada, Wales and Australia we go into this weekend with increased confidence that we are competing with the best, capable of performing against them all.With the personal and collective lows this team has experienced, learned and excelled from, we are driven on to reach those sporting highs. 

Written by
Jamie Farndale