Playing with the A Team, Staying with the A Team

My regular followers on Twitter will know that I spend my Saturday mornings in Autumn and Winter watching my son play rugby for his school.

When he was first picked in Year 7, I was a little surprised…he hadn’t really played rugby before, and we are hardly a rugby watching family, but the traditional recruiter in me thought ‘ School Rugby right through to Upper 6ths looks good on a CV’ so he was given lots of encouragement.

Starting in the B team, he finally made the A team a couple of years ago and has stayed there since.


In truth, whilst originally picked on merit, he’s no longer an automatic starter for the A team and tends to be a sub unless someone is ill or gets injured. In the main he waits on the sidelines and comes on for 10 or 15 minutes when the game is already won or lost.

Two weeks ago was the first game of the season…he was a sub…they won 57-0…and he played the last 15 minutes.

The journey home was one of those difficult moments for a parent…whilst needing to give him encouragement…and realising that he may only continue with rugby because he thinks it makes me happy – well makes the traditional recruiter in me happy! – I told him that at the moment he is unlikely to get a start with the A team and he would probably be better off playing for the B team where at least he could get a full game every week and sharpen his skills.

Not easy to deliver, as in his eyes I’m implicitly saying that I don’t think he’s good enough for the A team. But then I had a feeling that his coach may be thinking the same way so, whilst not the most popular message, I had at least prepared him for that eventuality.

I could have taken the easy route…told him he was great, just needed a chance and should keep with the A team. I could have been a pushy parent and asked his coach why he didn’t get to start more often and get a chance to prove himself.

But I guessed that he needed to prove…to himself as much as others…why he was worthy of the A team squad.

Come last Friday, that eventuality materialised. He was in the B team. Thankfully my words the week before had clearly stayed with him…his reaction was that he wanted to show the coaches what he could do.

And those of you following me on Saturday will know that it worked. He scored 2 tries and was man of the match. He was aggressive and determined. The B team coach said to me afterwards ‘I’d love to keep him for a few weeks but I’ve got to recommend that he gets a proper run out in the A team. He just needs to play like that every week’

( Actually I hope he gets to stay in the B team for another week or two, to show that it wasn’t just a one-off effort, that he can prove himself over time)

In the end I was really proud after a Saturday morning rugby outing for the first time in ages, and he was energised and on a real high all weekend.

Why had I said that to him the week before? Well, it was sixth sense, maybe from my time coaching and managing Under 16 football (a few years ago now) or maybe from having been around a number of businesses over the years…

We all need a reality check sometimes…need a chance to prove that we really can do what’s expected of us…that we can step outside of a comfort zone and rise to a challenge…that we do really deserve a place in the A Team

Does this apply to anyone in your A team?

Is there anyone in your top talent who may be coasting and maybe needs to earn the right to stay there?

When you choose your ‘top team’ do you give people a chance to show why they should be there?

Let me know what you think?

8 thoughts on “Playing with the A Team, Staying with the A Team

  1. Merv, I love this post for a number of reasons. It resonates with me as a parent, as an employer and as a person. I’ve spent most of my career in FTSE100 businesses, the Premier League of UK industry if you like. I never felt that I was truly able to show what I could do there…..but then I had the comfort and the benefits of a FTSE100…..

    Two years ago, I stepped down a league….don’t get me wrong, my company is big……but we’re talking hundreds of millions not billions. I wanted the chance to show myself (more than anyone else) that I could take an organisation, take a team and make it something spectacular.

    It hasn’t always been plain sailing, to mix metaphors, there have been slam dunks and bloody noses. But guiding an organisation through the global recession (and delivering one of its best financial performances ever) is something that wouldn’t have been achievable in my previous lives and will stay with me for ever.

    I could have stayed a corporate hostage, like the footballers who don’t even make the bench but are happy to take the massive rewards. I’m glad I didn’t. I guess the only difference is I probably would never want to go back. Sometimes the B team can be more fun AND more rewarding.

    1. Thank you, high praise indeed from one of my favourite bloggers! Interesting to read about your journey, Theo…and the lessons you learned from being at the sharp end and having to prove yourself.

  2. There are a lot of people in B teams – B Players – that can do amazing things. They are the forgotten majority. Many of them could make the A team if, as Theo suggests, it wasn’t populated by players that are happy to coast and still take the money.

    This post also highlights the wider problem of ‘selection’ we have in organisations. Just what does make an A Player? At the moment i fear its based on an outdated, process oriented and heavily biased set of criteria.

    Well done Mervyn – your best post in ages 😉 And not a song title in sight!

    1. Thanks Gareth. You make a great point about selection methods…in most schools, sports teams will be selected in this way, with little opportunity for new faces to break in.
      Little wonder that our boys and girls go into the workplace prepared for,, and therefore accepting the same ‘selection’ process.

  3. An awful lot of motivational blogs focus way too much on being No1, beating everyone else, never accepting ‘2nd best’, and being truly passionate.
    The truth is that there many shades of grey between first and last, and not everyone can be No1.
    I’m not saying anyone should settle, or accept what cards they’ve been dealt. I am saying that its absolutely fine to find your level, and still push beyond it. Weigh evrything up, and be No1 on your own terms.

    My son, now 17, never really liked rugby, but played for the school because he was bigger and faster than the rest. He and his mate scored most of the points. They won the Glasgow school’s Cup, then he packed it in.

  4. Difficult discussion to say the least. Good choice on his part- you can’t show what you are capable of if never given the opportunity to perform. It can be a blow to the ego to take a step back- always feeling like you may never reach the status of where you once were. But it’s important to shine wherever you are at the moment. Maybe taking a step back will give more enjoyment in the long run.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s