Although I hung up my rugby cleats long ago and am barely fit to play an Old Girls’ match, I still think fondly of the sport. Especially since I find many similarities between ruggers and meeting planners. So many, in fact, that there were too many to fit in one post (see Part I). Here are five more ways in which challenges faced on the pitch parallel those that planners deal with on a daily basis.
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Similarity No. 1: Team play
Whether you’re organizing an event or playing 15s, chances are you’ll spend a good portion of the night before the big day reviewing all plans and patterns in your head. And your thoughts are often of others — how to support them and help them achieve goals.
Everyone on the pitch has a specific talent that requires particular skills. Similarly, the members of an event team — banquet staff, A/V techs, security, shuttle drivers, speakers or front-line registration desk volunteers — are responsible for integral parts of the event that no one else can fulfill. If they fumble, the action can come to a screeching halt. But if everyone bands together in the face of adversity, you easily can push through the rough patches.
Knowing how to do so, when support is needed, requires careful choreography in either venture.
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Similarity No. 2: Misperceptions about the skill involved
The uninitiated think of rugby as a thuggish sport, but it requires a great deal of strategy, finesse and intelligence to play well. It’s also a sport that people play better as they mature.
According to the recently released Meeting and Business Event Competency Standards, there are no less than 33 essential skills that meeting planners must master to perform their job. And as they age, the relationships they form allow them to better leverage resources at their disposal.
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Similarity No. 3: You have to hit first
My dad was a sports omnivore. He played soccer, baseball, football, basketball, racquetball and rugby before I was out of elementary school. Eager for any knowledge he could share, I asked for his rugby advice.
“You have to hit first,” he told me. “If you hit them before they hit you, you’ll never get hurt.”
In other words, if you’re prepared to attack a problem before it happens, you have an advantage. Meeting planners who think of everything that could go wrong long before the day of the event are better prepared to respond quickly to crisis. And you have to be prepared because anything can happen.
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Similarity No. 4: Calamity is always sudden, unexpected, and sometimes devastating
My rugby career ended almost as suddenly as it began. As I was making a tackle during a pickup game, someone kicked my foot, snapping my anterior cruciate ligament, tearing my meniscus and shredding the cartilage in my knee. In a matter of seconds I went from a fierce threat on the pitch to someone who couldn’t stand or walk on her own. I had knee surgery and underwent intense physical therapy for a year, but it was two years before I could trust myself enough to jump and land solely on that leg.
The random accidents that occur during the execution of events can be just as devastating. A friend told me about one convention at which one of her executive attendees jumped into a pool and died. At an association event I attended, more than 100 people came down with food poisoning.
The truth is, no matter how prepared you are for the unexpected, something will happen that you can’t foresee. But what doesn’t destroy you, makes you stronger, smarter and more prepared for next time.
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Similarity No. 5: You must think on your feet and stay flexible
If you’re not holding the rugby ball during play, no one can tackle you. So if you end up with the rugby ball, you must be ready to pass or kick it quickly. If you don’t have the ball, you must be ready to catch it if a teammate needs to pass at the last minute. And you have to be prepared to do all this while running at full-speed towards a wall of other people. Even if you don’t play a position that typically requires you to run with the ball, you may still be called upon to pick it up out of a ruck and head for the goal, if that’s what the situation demands.
This is incredibly hard to do if you freeze up when things don’t go according to plan. Or if you expect things to go a certain way.
In rugby, as in meeting planning, the best-laid plans must give way to improvisation at some point. And if you stay flexible enough to take what comes, you might just find yourself an unexpected hero, scoring a goal no one saw coming.
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