After trading a promising job in the City for an international career on the rugby field, culminating in England’s World Cup win in 2003, Will Greenwood MBE now divides his time between writing about and analysing sport for The Telegraph and Sky Sports, and coaching rugby. We grill the Land Rover ambassador on how he charted his path to success – and how a near-death experience, Clive Woodward’s wisdom and his mum’s guiding influence all helped him on his way…
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
I grew up in Italy where my dad was playing rugby. Then I lived in a little village just outside Blackburn called Hurst Green. I just played sport all the time, I was never inside. Everyone assumes I played sport because I wanted to play for England, but I just liked sport. I loved the hand to eye coordination, the fitness, the discipline, the teamwork. Whether it was for the Durham University team or a British Lions tour – or whether it’s today, down at Maidenhead RFC or at Wellington College (Greenwood coaches both) – I’m addicted to sport.
WIN WELL, LOSE WELL
I’m a pretty good loser. What I mean is I’m respectful of my opponents. I got beaten regularly, but I learned to lose and that’s part of growing up - and tears and storming off was all part of it too. I do a lot of coaching and one of my absolute pre-requisites is, if we lose, we go in the bar, smile and have a drink - and if we win, we go in the bar, smile and have a drink. I hope people look back and say, ‘When I played against Greenwood, after the game it was always difficult to tell who’d won and who’d lost.’
LEARN FROM EVERYTHING YOU DO
Before turning professional, I worked in the City on the LIFFE floor, trading interest rates. I say to my mates who work in the City, the World Cup Final was a walk in the park compared to the chaos and carnage of the Bundesbank cutting rates unexpectedly. When I got some trades wrong, I would wish that the earth would open up and swallow me up, but you just learn to deal with it, cope with it and fix it. I feel I was relatively calm under pressure when I played rugby, and I owe a lot of that to my two-and-a-half-year grounding at HSBC.
SET GOALS BUT MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
(On making the decision to leave the City and turn professional) I put a two-year window on it. If I hadn’t played for England within two years, I’d go back to the City. I was 24 and I was already playing for England A (the then England development squad). I was on the fringes of England. If you don’t break through it in those next two years, you might as well pack up and go home. I think it was a fair timescale.
GETTING BACK AFTER THE KNOCKS
My worst injury wasn’t the toughest psychologically to come back from, (during the Lions tour of South Africa in 1997, Greenwood was knocked unconscious, swallowed his tongue and stopped breathing for several minutes). The thing with concussion, is you don’t remember anything. The way concussions tend to happen is ‘play, play, play, wake up somewhere else’, so the negative implications of going back into that contact zone are minimal. It’s much harder coming back from shoulder operations, because you remember shoulder dislocations and how much they hurt.
TURNING PLATITUDES INTO ACTION
Everyone will say ‘you’ve got to focus on the detail’. Everyone can say ‘the team is bigger than the individual’, but I think the great leaders, the great captains, the great coaches and the great CEOs are the people who bring relatively common phrases to life. It’s about a leader’s delivery and his or her ability to maintain your enthusiasm and focus. But (in relation to the World Cup 2003 winning England coach, Clive Woodward) setting up a camp full of 20 to 30-year-old blokes, who are driven to be the very best they can be, and maintaining the equilibrium and balance within that organisation, that’s a skill.
DON’T LIVE IN THE PAST
Obviously, I have to talk a lot about 2003 – and I’d be a fool to ignore the opportunities I was afforded all those years ago - but four days ago, the Wellington College under 15s team I help coach won the Natwest Schools final – and Maidenhead, the junior club I coach, are currently seven points clear at the top of South West division one. If you ask me right now what I love talking about, then those two get me as excited as anything I’ve done.
When writing or presenting, I try and use the mum test. There are two ways of looking at the Mrs Greenwood test: Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of other mums, because I saw how worried my mum was about injuries and how she took so much of the criticism I received to heart. I don’t write or say anything that I wouldn’t say to a mother’s face, although I’m not so worried about their dads.