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Dan Carter: what it takes to be a world champion

November 2, 2015

Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

And so the best team won. The All Blacks are Rugby Union World Champions. One side of the Tasmanian Sea this morning will be bleary-eyed folks going to work, on the other, there will probably be a grumpy silence. Let’s go to the beach.

When it comes to sport, New Zealand is not particularly good at many things. In the last four summer and winter Olympics, New Zealand, with a population of just 4.5 million, won just 32 medals. Australia won 199, Great Britain 178. When Rob Waddell won New Zealand’s only gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australians remarked that the only sport New Zealand was any good at was a sport that involved sitting down going backwards.

But they are awesome at rugby, and for the third time, the All Blacks are the Rugby Union World Champions, with their 34-17 victory over Australia. This was a clash between the two best teams in the tournament, and despite the fierce rivalry, the final was played in tremendous spirit amid great mutual respect.

New Zealand held off a fierce Australian comeback to win a thrilling game and become the first team to retain their title. Wonderful tries from Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ma’a Nonu gave the All Blacks a 21-3 lead early in the second half before David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani struck back. But when Beauden Barrett sprinted away on to Ben Smith’s clearing kick in the final minutes history was secured.

It was a great game, marked by the insistent quality of New Zealand’s attack and a rousing Australian comeback during the second half that ought to merit some kind of asterisk in the history books. Australia’s obduracy did them great credit, they kept their pride but the overall task, as so often against these peerless opponents, was beyond them.

Dan Carter was outstanding from the outset, under a ferocious Wallaby assault, landing 19 points from his immaculate kicking, as they were tested to the limit. His first curling over a testing penalty from out wide for 3-0 set the scene for a man-of-the-match performance.

Australia targeted Carter, Scott Sio lucky to escape a yellow card for smashing him back with a late hit to his ribs, and Sekope Kepu giving away a penalty for a high tackle to his jaw, that Carter popped over to retake the lead.

Ma’a Nonu’s fine try looked to have put the All Blacks out of sight, but the Wallabies came back, but after missing the 2011 World Cup final through injury, this was the perfect ending for world rugby’s most perfect 10. Carter could not dream of a better finale to his 12-year, 112-cap All Black career.

Carter, who is of Māori descent, has played since the age of five in the fly-half role, starting with Southbridge Rugby Club in the South Island of New Zealand. His great uncle was Canterbury and New Zealand half back Bill Dalley, a member of the 1924–25 Invincibles. On 16 November 2013, Carter became the fifth All Black to gain 100 caps.

He has a World Cup winner’s medal from 2011, but it was a consolation, his injury in the pool stages turned him into water-boy in the knock-out stages. This time he would not be denied. His peerless place kicking helped establish a 21-3 lead, which seemed to have secured the world title once again. When the Wallabies turned that around in eleven second-half minutes with Ben Smith off for a yellow card, Carter took over.

Forty metres out, a drop goal struck with a precision from his left foot, as if he were back in the field at his parents’ house in Southbridge, taking aim at the homemade posts his father stuck up to save any more windows in the house from being smashed.

Then, five minutes later, a penalty from further out still. That he converted Beauden Barrett’s breakaway try at the death with his less favoured right foot was remarkable less for the skill of it and more for the fact that it may have been the first self-indulgent act of his twelve years in an All Blacks jersey.

Carter is surely the finest fly-half the world has seen, and not just for his scoring prowess, he also made more tackles than any other player from either side in the final too.

With 15 minutes to go there were just four points in it, but his nerveless long-distance drop-goal and penalty snatched back control. This was his game, in a team of champions. Close up shots as he prepared to take his kicks, under pressure like we can’t imagine, showed a calmness in his face and a determination in his brown eyes, an inner belief and resolution. You just knew that he was going to knock those kicks over.

There was the control when all around was chaos: the right options with hands and voice in his own half. Carter was a calm presence, the rock around which their waves of runners broke, some splitting inside, others out to his right. He sent pop passes one way and fast, long, flat ones the other. After his drop-goal, he didn’t celebrate, he simply shouted to Nonu and Smith: next job, next job.

Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is an option. Believe you can and you’re halfway there, as the saying goes. The worst enemy to Carter on the field would have been his own self-doubt, but I recall an interview once where he said, I do not believe in taking the right decision on my kicking, I take a decision and make the kick right. There’s something about his temperament that is just perfect for test rugby.

More than that, his last game was a thing of artistry and guile. His all-round game was superb, his game management top notch. He made sure the All Blacks played in all the right places and, even when things were getting tense when the Wallabies were on fire in the middle of the second half, it was Carter who showed nerves of steel. But it was in those final ten minutes when he was Dan Carter as everyone will want to remember him.

He took his time with the penalty, went through his routine like always and then struck the ball perfectly. It was always going over. It had the legs, just. It had the distance and it was then, with the All Blacks ten points ahead and with seven minutes left, that a nation could believe they were going to win.

We applaud champions, knowing that we would never have been able to do what they’ve achieved. There is something deeply captivating about exceptional individual performance in sport. The fascination for extraordinary as we think of the champions who stand proud on the podium, with their medals and their nation’s anthem ringing in their ears, is about human dignity as well as human achievement. For me it’s about saluting the person.

Dan Carter is a world champion for sure. How can we summon up the true character of the champion ourselves, and take this into our business? Here are some of those characteristics. How many of these statements also describe you and your business life?

Success comes to those with passion to strive Striving is more than simply being competitive, it is an attitude that illustrates that the individual is as much competing with himself as with the challenge, or others in the same race. What sets Carter apart from the rest is his relentless passion and uncompromising pursuit of extraordinary endeavour. Carter masters his mental game, which became his competitive edge, he persists in spite of fatigue, tenacious in discovering his own style of beating the elements.

Authentic and inquisitive Champions are aware of their strengths and limitations, there are no pretentions. Such authenticity bolsters the courage in taking on lofty goals, but also in dealing with their true selves. They always seek the new frontier, pushing the boundaries, refusing to accept the status-quo. They begin every day hoping to learn something new, always searching for new insights, for original thinking, for something that makes them better.

Application, hard-work and discipline That is more than just the hours you put in, it is the discipline to set aside other things and concentrate hard on your own development. It is about focus and single mindedness. It is not just about deciding to work an extra hour, it’s about deep thinking, about getting down to the core of what you are trying to achieve. It is about knowing in your heart, when something is not good enough and can and should be better. Notice that this is self-discipline. Past a certain point, you and only you can provide that intensity of will.

Courage. No champion is without courage. It may be of mind or body. When things are in the balance, when you cannot be sure, when others are uncertain or hesitate, when the very point is that the outcome is in doubt that is when a champions’ mental toughness lets them step forward. The courage lies not in acting without fear, but in acting despite fear.

Optimism Carter expresses an ability to reframe adversity – missing the 2007 and 2011 finals – as an opportunity for achievement. Champions consider adversity as indicative of the merit of the pursuit and thus welcome it. They reveal that beyond physical skill and training, there exists a champion mind set. They all have distinct cognitive and emotional make-up that allows them to relentlessly push themselves on their quest.

Train like a champion No matter how talented an athlete, they train to improve their skills and push peak levels of performance. Continuing to dream is part of this, they never stop striving for that next big result. Planning to compete at the highest level, and putting in a shift, high-performance athletes plan out their training schedules in advance to make sure they reach specific performance goals.

Don’t settle for ‘Good enough’, use pressure to improve your focus Most business folk lack the same level of mental discipline that Carter has in abundance. One of the risks for businesses is being tolerant of sub-optimal performance. In business, average performance is often tolerated. The choice is yours – average work, yields average results. Chose your attitude and get the right mind set.

Most businesses aren’t physically demanding by nature, usually it’s about our mental and emotional state of mind. Success comes from finding a way to tap into your inner strength, your core values, your passion and your attitude. It’s what you’ll need to put one foot in front of another, and to keep going. Remember, every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.

Carter’s success is down to his perseverance – it’s the hard work he does after he gets tired of doing the hard work he already did. I’m sure the words of Dick Fosbury will resonate with him: When my body got tired, my mind said this where winners are made; when my mind got tired, my heart said this is where champions are made.

Life has a unique perspective. Along the way, various landing pages, trials and tribulations will offer themselves up. It’s self-belief that determines your direction and ultimately success. On the rugby pitch and in life, it’s not how often you’re knocked down but how many times you get up that makes the difference.

The victory was the more sweeter for New Zealand given that a number of their squad were playing in their final All Blacks match, Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will all move to France, thus ending their international careers, McCaw will probably retire, while prop Tony Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu will retire completely from the game.

There should be sadness. Instead, there could be only celebration – of a champion team full of champion individuals like Dan Carter. This is how it ends, then, for the finest fly-half in the game. Man of the match in the World Cup final, an All Black’s victory, and a contribution of 19 points.

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