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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

How Rugby Taught Me Being Delusional is OK

I came to the wonderful game of rugby rather late in life. It is a game that, like many others, has valuable lessons built into it. The bad news is that I’m just learning the lessons now. The good news is, I’m learning the lessons now. The biggest lesson for me?

It’s good to be delusional!

England v New Zealand - QBE International

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “since when does someone in the mental health profession say it’s good to be delusional”. Let me see if I can explain myself.

I was a division 1 player from the first day I started playing. From the beginning, other players commented on how hard it was to tackle me. In games it wasn’t uncommon for me, with ball in hand, to carry several opponents on my back in a game. The question is what made that possible? I’m a big guy, but hey its rugby, there are TONS of big guys, and many of them bigger and stronger than me, so it wasn’t strength or size. I’m fast (or at least I was)… for a big guy… which means about 75% of rugby players were faster than me, so it’s not speed. I was a smart player, but again, there were many more experienced, smarter players than me, so it wasn’t brains. So what was it?

In my heart, I believed that no one could tackle me. Really.

The funny thing is, I got tackled all the time, and that didn’t stop me from believing that I couldn’t be tackled. That sounds kind of crazy doesn’t it? I continued to hold on to a belief (“no one can tackle me”) even though I was getting tackled… 30, maybe 40 times a game. That, by definition, is delusional!

But… I think that being able to hold onto my belief, in the face of evidence that I could be tackled, allowed me to run harder and be stronger than my physical traits alone would dictate. So, the belief made me stronger.

I don’t think I’m particularly special in this way of thinking either. Take a look at some of the highest levels of sport like professional football (though please note, as much as I’d like to, I am not likening myself to a professional football player!). In the NFL, we constantly see video clips of running backs or receivers telling the camera that no one can stop them! It seems pretty clear that they believe it too! And yet, at the end of the day, every single one of them has been tackled a million times over their careers.

So, it’s a “strong belief, loosely held”. I have come to believe that the ability to have these kinds of delusions can be helpful. In my rugby life, it translated into confidence, decisiveness, and fearlessness. Those are three qualities that I think can make any aspect of your life better. I’m still working on translating that kind of belief into other aspects of my life: career, relationships, and family.

So, while for the most part being realistic and rational is critical to success, if sometimes being delusional can bring a sense of fearlessness, confidence and decisiveness into your life, shouldn’t we all strive for a bit of that?

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