What can a winning Australian football team tell us about living life?

My Australian football team won the Grand Final…..YES !!! Just a couple weeks ago I was glued to my laptop here in Albuquerque at 1 am (5 pm in Australia), cheering wildly.

This blog gives some valuable lessons for living, even if you are not a sports fan of Aussie rules. I will summarize these learnings in the conclusion below, so you can skip down there if you choose. However, the learnings will mean a lot more if you read the entire blog.

First, if you don’t know that Aussie Rules is the greatest spectator game on earth, click on this video link to see some action. American football is quite tame by comparison (the video should close by itself if you wait a minute).

My team is the Hawthorn Hawks, a suburb of Melbourne, and not the Adelaide Crows where I am from. My brothers and nieces/nephews call me a traitor for giving up on the Crows in 2008. But I have had the last laugh…..the Hawks won the Grand Final this year in 2015, but also the last two years of 2013 and 2014. Yes this is called a three-peat, and is very rare. So even if I am a traitor, I have had three years of emotional fulfilment. I encouraged my brothers to shift their allegiance, but they have chosen to stay emotionally unfulfilled.

However I do feel for the Crows supporters this year, and can understand their loyalty, because their head coach was killed by his own son a few months ago. Drugs and mental instability seemed to be a part of the son’s life. Despite this massive setback, the Crows made the finals which was roundly applauded.

Luke Hodge the captain with three grand final trophies (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

Luke Hodge the captain with three grand final trophies (click and scroll down to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

What has led to the Hawk’s success I wondered?
• They have a master coach Alistair Clarkson. When the Hawks lost to Sydney in a close game in the Grand Final of 2012, I thought Clarkson was a bit soft. But this year the hard-hitting Hawks players are known as the “unsociable” team. Clarkson has stated that they play better when on the attacking edge.

• The Hawks have networked brilliantly over the past 6 or 8 years, shrewdly buying/trading in good players from other teams.
• They let players go who are not performing well enough, or not giving their best.
• Most of the best players in the Grand Final were the “oldies”, whose age was above 29. Age 33 is about the end for Aussie Rules players because the game is so tough on the body. Yet when everyone wondered if they were too old to win another premiership, these old blokes from Hawthorn stood up and played better than their junior teammates.

• The players are imperfect role models occasionally. Their captain, Luke Hodge, is a great leader on the field but was pulled over for DUI a couple weeks before the Grand Final. He was fined by the club of course, but not penalized from playing as a younger player would have been. Humans can disappoint, and it is good to remember that we all have failed at some point in our lives. What I love about the Christian faith is its emphasis on forgiveness and not having to carry a load of guilt around.

Superstar Cyril Rioli celebrates with his two medals (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

Superstar Cyril Rioli celebrates with his two medals (click and scroll down to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

In supreme contrast, the best-on-ground player in the Grand Final was Cyril Rioli, a quiet unassuming aboriginal. Before the Grand Final, I had chatted by phone with my mom who is 92 and a Sydney Swans fan. My brothers seem to think its okay for her to be a traitor, as she was raised in Sydney. I said, “Mom, watch for Cyril Rioli as I think he’s the most brilliant player in the whole league.” Mom knew who he was, and she said she would watch for him. Rioli did play brilliantly of course and won the Norm Smith medal.

• Rioli’s medal was unexpected partly because he had serious hamstring problems last year, which left him missing about half of the year’s games. No-one knew if the hamstring problems would crop up again this year. Except for the Hawthorn trainers, who cleverly tweaked Rioli’s training procedures, designed to strengthen his hamstrings. And it worked….. Rioli played more games this year than in most other years, and he played better.

• Rioli is from the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. The tribe has only 2,500 population. So the odds of him winning the best-on-ground medal are very low. More amazing than this, Rioli has two uncles who had both won the same medal in different years, which makes the odds of this happening from such a small tribe almost unbelievable.
• Rioli dedicated the award to his cousin, Fabian ‘Brocky’ Brock, who was killed halfway through this season. “That was my driving force for the second half of the year, dedicating the games to him,” Rioli later said.

According to a recent article, Daniel Rioli, age 17, is a nephew of Cyril’s. When Daniel first moved away from the Tiwi Islands to Ballarat near Melbourne, he thought almost every night about moving back home. He called his mother but she told him to stick it out. When he caught the train to Melbourne to spend the occasional weekend at Cyril’s house and watch him play, his uncle told him the same thing, that he knew how he was feeling and that it would be worth it to hold on.

“Every time I saw him [Cyril] he told me how hard it was for him. He told me how he stuck it out and that if I did the same thing then time would go by and I’d be right,” Daniel said.
“To come from a small community is pretty hard and I still miss it a bit. It’s where my family is, but I reckon I’d be back home on the island not doing much if I hadn’t made the move.”
“For my football and my education it’s been the best thing, and it’s made me grow up a fair bit too. I did stick it out and now I just have to keep working hard at it and see what happens.”

Hawthorn football club celebrating their 2015 grand final win (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

Hawthorn football club celebrating their 2015 grand final win (click and scroll through pics to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog).

Learnings summarized:
• Find yourself a good coach. Locate someone who has experience in whatever area your goal is. Be humble and ask others to share their wisdom. Especially important for millennials, who usually only ask their Facebook peers.
• Whatever your goal is, play hard and get on the edge. Be positive: the glass is half full, not half empty. Be creative: get out of your comfort zone. Use both sides of your brain (right brain intuitive + left brain analytical).

• Network. One of the best things I have ever learned. Lower your pride, and ask for help. Better to send 15 minutes on a phone call than two days trying to solve a problem yourself.
• Don’t let age deter you. A new friend, retired just a few years ago, has written his first book called Red Gold…..a thriller about hunting for lost treasure out of Albuquerque. I read the book in three days and loved it.
• Humans can disappoint, and it is good to remember that we all have failed at some point in our lives. However forgiveness is always possible, to free us from the guilt of failure.

• Be strong if you are a minority. Cyril Rioli comes from an isolated tribe of only 2500 aborigines. Yes prejudice exists in Australia as it does here in the US. Don’t let this squash your talent….. find ways to overcome.
• Be caring about others. Cyril Rioli dedicated his best-on-ground medal to his cousin who was killed earlier in the year. Help someone to hope!
• Stick it out. Hold on. Work hard. Never give up. As time goes by, you will grow and you’ll be okay.

Conclusion: In over 100 years of Aussie footy only one team has ever won four Grand Finals in a row The Hawthorn Hawks could achieve football immortality by winning the Grand Final in 2016. The old blokes seem to have the resilience to keep playing well, and you gotta know that the desire and the drive to pull this off will be there. One of the oldest and best players, Sam Mitchell, summed it up nicely. “We always put our faith in our system….. and we’ve always got Cyril.” I can hardly wait for the next footy season to start in 6 months time!

I hope you will find in this story some inspiration which can be applied to your own life or your sports. I now believe I won’t be too old in 2016 to hike down the Grand Canyon after all!

Comments? Your comments are always encouraging. Please add them to the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.

The Gray Nomad
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Book of Hebrews, chapter 12).

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If you know someone who would like to receive these two-weekly blogs, please send their email request to me at ian@higgs-palmer.com

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Neil Palmer
Neil Palmer
8 years ago

Oh Mary Ann – for me to hear that you have turned your back on the Dockers is like eating a cream puff filled with shaving cream. But if this is the price to pay to prevent your emotional turmoil, who am I to question it? And as you point out Ian, forgiveness is always possible. On another point Ian, if you can walk down the Grand Canyon, maybe you can also walk up the Mawson Plateau?

Mary Ann Pollock
Mary Ann Pollock
8 years ago

Ian I have read the blog for the second time. I find it to be inspiring and uplifting and that is what I need for this time in my life as I have had a rough couple of days. I loved reading about the Aussie football teams. Since the Dockers are not on the winning side I am switching over to the Hawthorn team because you know how I love to win. Please keep writing the inspiring blogs because they give people a chance to hope.

Bev Saegenschnitter
Bev Saegenschnitter
8 years ago

Nice one Ian – glad you still keep in touch with your Aussie roots. Football can teach profound but practical life lessons. However, Go The Crows in 2016.

Karen Larre
Karen Larre
8 years ago

What a wonderful, inspirational story! I appreciate reading it and will take it to heart! It comes to me at a very low time. Many blessings.

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