Holbeck: A letter to my 16-year-old self

by James Holbeck

Dear Jimmy. How are you mate? Actually, I already know. You see, you don’t know me but I am a much older version of ‘you’ living in 27 years' time. 

I am torn in writing this because if you apply what is written I may not turn out to be the same person. I am assuming, knowing how you think, that you will nod along nicely and then just do what you want anyway.

Now I remember that you have just had the family doctor out to school to speak to you. I hope the back injury is not too painful. Whether you ever can play sport again and possibly do it pain free is now, to some extent, up to you. Listen to his advice in that there may be a time you cannot play sport again and you will need to find something else that you enjoy.

In the meantime, do every exercise the physiotherapist tells you to do and build what is now known as your core strength. This is what you control. Remember that. It takes effort and discipline. Understand this is not the end of the world so don’t castastrophise it!

Don’t worry too much about what tomorrow holds but understand that the good habits you form today will change the quality of our tomorrow.

If you need motivation, imagine coming off injured in every professional game for six straight years. Imagine being judged by people for the rest of your life according to your poor performances of playing through those injuries. If that happens, that’s life. Regardless, you will survive.

I do remember that you don’t think you have to train hard or do weights because people keep telling you that you are a natural and hard work is for people with no talent.

Guess what? You will play against a giant called Jonah Lomu and as you lie crumpled on your back smelling the grass and wondering what just happened, you will realise that you are not as naturally talented as they told you.
Work hard and acknowledge any improvements of skill. If you keep minimising your achievements and calling them luck, in what you consider an act of humility, when you fail you won’t have created a platform of previous success to fall back on. It will be like you are back at the start.

So yes, you will fall! It is part of life. Get good at it! It does not make you a failure. Enjoy responding to the challenge. Have that driven competitive side but realise that no one is perfect.

When you do fall short, train your inner voice to be a compassionate and encouraging one. Allow yourself to be on your own side!

The childhood stories of your Grandfather’s Olympic gold medal exploits in hockey are probably not completely true. You never hear of his mistakes so you want to emulate this perceived perfection. You never push yourself to your boundaries of skill for fear of tipping over.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. It is the only way to grow!

At some stage you might become the first player sinbinned in an international match. A magazine will crown you with Goose of The Year. Own your mistakes. It was an act of stupidity but it doesn’t make you stupid. To survive this you will need to make sure that your sense of worth isn’t based on how others see you.
Rather than let sport define you, characterise yourself by the virtues you were raised on. Of true humility, respect, resilience, patience and kindness. Hold onto these values with everything you have. They are what you lean on when life asks if you have what it takes. When it calls you a goose!

This is integrity. Treat life like the challenge of rugby. The opposition is trying to rip apart the integrity of your defensive structure.

Let the virtues you hold provide a substance of who you are and rugby merely an outworking. How can I be kind in a game of rugby you ask? It is better to give than receive…

Learn to be strong in what you stand for but also flexible enough to listen to other’s perspectives in order to adapt how you understand these concepts.

People will say ‘just harden up’ and it should mean to stand strong in your convictions in the face of adversity. But it can become an encouragement to escape from dealing with emotions that need to be faced and expressed. That is not strength. That is a fear of vulnerability. I want you to live wholeheartedly! Learn to express your emotion appropriately!

The strength I ask you to consider is about putting your own fear and neediness aside and doing what is right! Find people who want what is best for you. Not those who want for you to fulfil some need in their own lives.

Finally, I encourage you to rip into life. Live out of an attitude of gratefulness for any opportunities you are provided and use the skills that life draws out to find an opportunity to help others less fortunate.

All the best!

James Snr