Congratulations to the GB team who have just returned from Vejle in Denmark having been crowned European Champions for a third successive time. Throughout the tournament the team demonstrated by its performances why it is now ranked 4th in the world by winning the majority of its games by 20-30 tries. Perhaps unsurprisingly it was host nation Denmark in the final that presented the biggest challenge, but although having only led by just two tries at half time, GB took control to win the game by a clear margin of 10. This latest achievement comes on the back of the Lakeshore Four Nations success indicating that the team is now beginning to build consistency and a winning culture – critical if the team is to realise its potential and medal in Tokyo. Paul Shaw is now refining his lines and this is enabling his team to build a common understanding which stands them in good stead especially when they are put under pressure. At the weekend I was reading a piece by Sir Ian McGeechan, the outstanding coach of the British & Irish Lions and Scotland, writing about the advantages of selecting teams early saying, ‘If you leave selection open for too long then you can lose the tactical direction you are trying to build simply because players do not have time to work on the understanding and execution which is needed when they have to deliver under pressure’. It is clear from the recent GB performances that the decision to go to a 10 person squad and to have greater consistency over our lines is paying dividends, and as Sir Ian says ‘You can only embed an approach with your key players playing together… early selection builds in more time and removes any excuses or misunderstandings. It challenges the players to deliver.’ There is some time to go before selection for Tokyo 2020 but the current squad are building an identity and a trust in one another which bodes well for the future and is starting to deliver results.
As the week ended and I watched the players hold the European trophy high in the air and share their joy with one another, the staff and those who were there supporting them, I was conscious of the importance of celebration. Throughout my professional life I have always been fixated on improvement – analysing what has not worked and looking for ways to change things and to make them better. Perhaps recently, whilst still believing in the importance of this approach, I have come to better realise that it is as important to enjoy the moment. There is nothing like success to bond a team; to know that we are winners gives us a sense of self belief and a confidence that we can win again. There is of course a danger of complacency but I see none of this with the current GB team who make no excuses when things do not go quite to plan and who are constantly focused on self-improvement. Success also inspires others. It was a joy to see our sponsor Jane Emmerson from Get Kids Going! enjoying the team’s win on Sunday. Likewise, to share the win with Chris Ryan’s parents Mick and Pat, his partner Francesca, and with Zoe, Gavin Walker’s partner. And of course our stalwart supporters Nigel and Debbie Goddard who follow the GB team everywhere – great for their loyalty to be recognised with another win. For the coaches and staff it is an even more precious moment as everything they have been working on comes together in the end result. So for the moment we will not allow thoughts to fester on what did not go to plan, or start to plot the next game, instead let us as a wheelchair rugby community just celebrate the moment and simply feel good about what the team has achieved.
I am going to take my own advice and do just that with a glass or two of red as I start a family holiday in the Dordogne – I will be back with my next blog in September, and a renewed focus on the next set of challenges!