Several years ago, I helped found a women’s rugby football club in New York City. For those first few years, as we struggled to build a strong team, we often felt like the Bad News Bears. Now, the Village Lions RFC Women’s Side features players who represent the United States in international play and is a serious contender in national championships.
It’s been a long time since I’ve donned a black rubber mouthguard, sturdy shorts and metal cleats, but I still think about the game. And, in writing about this industry, I’m often reminded of how similar the life of a rugger is to that of a meeting planner.
Similarity No. 1: On-the-job training
When I started playing rugby, I knew absolutely nothing about the game except that some people thought I’d be good at it. They convinced me to give it a try and found a position for me that complemented my unusual skills.*
Many meeting planners experience something similar. They end up planning meetings because they are more goal-oriented or organized than their peers. They stay in it because they enjoy the creativity. I stayed in rugby because of the exhilaration.
In the sports world, rugby is unlike anything else. It’s not “civilized.” You don’t wait patiently for your turn. And you frequently have to make things up as you go along, because the situation is always changing.
Similarly, meeting planning is unlike anything else in corporate America. There is a kind of freedom, and a lot of drudgery, but it’s always a challenge.
*In rugby parlance, my special skills were being strong, fast and mean — perfect for being a flanker (open-side, thankyouverymuch).
Similarity No. 2: Practice and planning is essential
Ignorance is no excuse. Meeting planners — like ruggers — must learn quickly how to be efficient, ethical and safe or they will jeopardize themselves and their teammates (or attendees) with careless mistakes.
If you do anything halfway in rugby, you will get hurt. If you fail to consider all the details and think things through while organizing events, the quality of the attendee experience and the meeting’s bottom line will suffer. You have to go over every eventuality and plan for the worst — so if it does happen, you’re prepared.
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Similarity No. 3: It doesn’t pay to play dirty
Before each match, we had to kneel on the field and present our cleats and nails for inspection to the referees. If we had filed either one, we would be ejected from the game. There were women who pulled your hair in a ruck or tried to spike you during a scrum, but that never affected the outcome of a game. The most dedicated, talented team always won.
There are some planners out there who feel like they need to play hardball during contract negotiations. But what they don’t realize is that they can get further ahead by playing fair. Suppliers aren’t your adversaries, they’re your partners, and by working with them, sharing your goals, budget restrictions and needs, everyone wins.
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Similarity No. 4: It’s a game of endurance
Even the biggest, slowest member of a 15-person rugby side will run four to five miles during the course of a match. Unlike football, there are no time-outs, unless someone is injured, and the same group of people play both offense and defense for the full hour and a half. Having someone to substitute for you is rare.
Once on-site, meeting planners start running and don’t stop until the last set-up is struck. They don’t sleep when attendees sleep or eat when they eat. There’s no time for them to network or have a drink, sightsee or catch up with work. They arrive first, leave last and don’t rest until the event is done.
And when it’s all done, the celebration is epic. (Until it’s time to analyze performance, of course.)
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