JOE Schmidt is the outstanding coach in world rugby but for him life is not about success - it is about values.
The man who has led Leinster and Ireland to Heineken Cup and Six Nations glory gave an inspirational talk to Glenstal Abbey School pupils last week. It gave an insight into what he must say in the dressing room. At the end the boys were left with the feeling they could tackle anything in life.
For 43 minutes Joe spoke eloquently and passionately about the sport he loves and how his philosophy on the pitch can be transferred off it.
The only time he paused was when one boy asked, “As Paul O’Connell nears retirement who are you looking for as a replacement?”.
In a positional sense he spoke of Donnacha Ryan’s welcome return to action for Munster, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy and younger guys starting to come through.
The couple of seconds gap came after he said “leadership wise...”
“I am not sure... He is a special character - his leadership has been massive for us. There is a number of guys who lead their provinces - Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip, Peter O’Mahony - those boys are natural leaders as well. I guess we will look at things post-World Cup if that is when the big fella decides to call it a day.
“I don’t think anyone can begrudge him after 15 years at the top of the tree. He is going to have to step away at some stage and he wants to step away at the top of the tree.
“I thought it was fantastic he got Six Nations player of the tournament this year, massively deserved. To step away after receiving that accolade is probably timely but disappointing for me. We can surely get another year or two out of him at the top of the tree,” said Joe to a round of applause.
He was speaking ahead of the Ireland v Barbarians game in Thomond Park so it was before news broke of Paul’s two-year deal with Toulon and confirmation of his international retirement after the World Cup.
“Paul O’Connell is a man amongst men. Paul O’Connell doesn’t say much but he leads himself so well that other people aspire to be like him, and in aspiring to be like him they also become high performers because he drives himself to be a high performer,” said Joe.
As the crow flies - Drombanna, where Paul grew up, isn’t too far away from Glenstal. The boys who listened to Joe Schmidt in the atrium may not have been born with Paul’s physique or mentality but the Ireland coach said everyone in the room has gifts of their own.
“There is a group of young men here who have designs on being successful but for me life is not about success, it is about values. I have to rely on people a lot smarter than me because I am not that clever.
“Albert Einstein said: ‘Try not to be a man of success but rather a man of values’. I think sometimes there is a lot of things written about goal setting and about being successful.
“I think it is about the base you build, not about where you are reaching to. If the base is strong you can always take a step and reach a bit higher. The base is about having really good values and those values are just basic things that help you and help other people.”
When Joe and his wife sit down for dinner at night they go around the table and ask their children what they have done to help somebody that day.
“I think that is part and parcel of putting values in them and by helping other people you become a little bit of a stronger individual. That is one of the challenges that my parents expressed in me. That is one of the ways that my parents lived - they tended to help a lot in the community and communities survive not on how much success is there but how much people help each other,” said Joe, who describes himself as “just a small town kid from New Zealand”.
“It is not that different to a team environment. The challenge in our team environment is that we help each other - that we make the job easier for each other. One of the things I really like about rugby is it is one of the most interdependent games you can play. If I don’t do my job as a ball carrier then someone else’s job is a bit harder.
“If somebody else doesn’t chase me in and do a good job then I am exposed to the opponents who are often big strong men who might walk all over me and that is an uncomfortable feeling. Therefore I am relying on other people to help me out. Some of those values are the things that I think make the Irish team competitive because we are not as big as some of our opponents.
“We don’t have guys the size of Bastareaud [giant French centre] and the like so we have to team up. We have to be better together than we are as individuals sometimes. That is one of the challenges for any community, just like it is for a team.”
Joe brought up Padraic Moyles - former Riverdance lead dancer. His family left Ireland for the Bronx in New York when he was nine.
“He kept up his Irish dancing and working incredibly hard at it. He described it as pretty hard when you are a kid in the Bronx - a tough area - and you are a kid who is dancing in a skirt every weekend.
“For him he didn’t need to become part of the conformity - the cool group. I think the challenge for any young person is to be themselves. I know you need role models and I know you need leaders but how well do you lead yourself? Inevitably you are all role models of sorts,” said Joe, who told a story about Brad Thorn, who is still playing top flight rugby at 40. He started at 17.
“One of the reasons he has survived that long is he has got incredibly good self leadership. He is always well prepared. He didn’t need to conform to some of the antics other players got up to.
“He didn’t get dragged away by them. He is a man of very strong faith, a quiet faith. He is a man of very strong principles but quiet principles. He just goes about doing his job and other people follow.”
When Brad Thorn came to Leinster at the end of training he went to a corner of the pitch and started doing sets of shuttles. Before long other players joined him.
“Brad Thorn didn’t say to anyone ‘follow me and do what I do’ but people respect him and therefore people do similar things, like Paul O’Connell. I think that is the challenge for every young man growing up because there is lots of the conformity, cool things that can be a distraction.
“Sometimes it is cool not to work as hard as you need to. Sometimes it is cool to be distracted by things that are probably not going to help you in the future. One of the things that shows a strength of character is your ability to be an individual and show that leadership because that leadership is a massive part of why people have classified Leinster and Ireland through the last five years as successes but it is not about successes - there is so many things in life that you can’t control.
“We have a situation in our family, our son has an illness [epilepsy] that affects him every day and life is not fair for him but it doesn’t stop him getting up and getting involved in whatever he possibly can.
“Teenagers often look at what other people have got and what other people can do and they forget what they are capable of and the gifts they have.
“If you put that base down on those values you want to develop then you can be that individual by making sure you lead yourself, you demonstrate those values and you keep the confidence that you know you have some gifts, you know that you are capable of doing some things.
“I go into hospital a lot, obviously, with my son and I see people a lot worse off than him. I think sometimes when you are teenagers you forget how other people are struggling and you want more but you forget how much you already got and then you don’t maximise what you have. Those are a few of the challenges that I think are really relevant to our rugby situation.”
Joe says they try to maximise the talent they have. He gives the example of Julian Savea - a New Zealand player who is incredibly athletic, fast, big and strong.
“We don’t have people built like that. We have players that have confidence that say ‘well, he might be able to do that but I can do this really well so let’s suit our gameplan to that and let’s make the most of our talents’.
“So get your gameplan right, make the most of your talents and there is an opportunity for you,” said Joe.
The man who has been at the helm of a glorious period for Leinster and Irish rugby said you can learn from all quarters.
When he first starting working in Clermont his daughter taught him something very important.
“We had been living in France for about six or eight months. One day a man came to the door, and said ‘Bonjour, monsieur’ and a whole load of other stuff - I had no idea what he said.
“I looked down at my eight-year-old daughter and she said, ‘Dad he is the plumber, he is coming to fix the toilet, he just needs to know where it is’.
“My daughter was a lot faster in learning the language than I was. You will learn faster now than at any time in your lives if you put your minds to it. You can learn from all sorts of quarters not just from above but sideways and even people younger than yourselves.”
At the end of the talk Joe summarised his main points by telling the teenagers to build their base nice and strong, keep their confidence in the gifts they have, lead themselves to make the most of those gifts and have a bit of fun at the same time.
“Enjoy your homework - you are probably going to go and really enthusiastically throw yourself into it now because you want to be learned men and you want to lead yourself well.”
Joe leads from the top.