Former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio has opened up about his ‘almost psychopathic’ obsession with winning as he took part in a morale-boosting question and answer session in support of the armed forces.
The Rugby Union star, who won the World Cup with England in 2003, spoke of his pride for the armed forces as he gave a frank account of the toll his success had taken on his life – which he puts down to what he considers to be a ‘selfish career’.
He also spoke of what he feels is the 'unique relationship' between the military and rugby in a session hosted by BFBS in partnership with Tickets For Troops as part of an effort to keep the UK military and their families entertained and supported during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
The England rugby international spoke of the enormous sacrifices he had to make because he was at the top end of sport. The former captain won 85 caps for England as well as being part of the legendary team that won the 2003 World Cup. However, all that success took its toll on him. He said:
"I became so obsessed with winning and being part of successful teams that often everyone else and everything else in my life was collateral damage.
“It’s a very selfish career because it's all about you.
"I was quite relieved to finish that and to not make it all about me.”
In a frank and open discussion about that selfishness and what drives it, Lawrence revealed that professional sport can form good behaviours in players but on the flip side can also create bad behaviours that he considers to be similar to that of a psychopath, defined by the NHS as "someone with an antisocial personality disorder, which means they lack empathy”. He said:
“It makes you behave in a way that is not necessarily a great way of behaving because you become obsessed with success, winning and it’s such a results-driven business.
“Probably you have a mind quite similar to a psychopath really.
“It drives certain behaviours and I don’t think you can do that for long periods of time in your life.”
The England star does not think it is healthy to be professionally driven like that for too long. He did it for 20 years and was exhausted by the time it came to retire at the age of 35. He thinks that is one of the reasons he has not pursued a career in coaching, something which has been the next step for many other professional sports stars like former rugby union player turned England coach Brian Ashton. He said:
"That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve not gone into coaching because I felt I gave it everything when I played and if I did that again I’m not sure ... I think it’s just a selfish way to be really because I had to win at all costs.”
The armed forces also must make huge sacrifices to excel at their jobs. A big one is not seeing their loved ones for months on end and the toll that takes on the core relationships that can be a vital source of happiness.
Lawrence is a huge supporter of the armed forces which is why he was keen to play a role in lifting their spirits by taking part in the BFBS/Tickets For Troops Q&A, which was hosted in a live Zoom video call on March 2. He said:
“It’s a unique relationship between the armed forces and rugby.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m on the call tonight and why I’m very proud to be part of it.”
The rugby star spoke about how sportsmen and women, especially those considered to be celebrities, are often put on a pedestal as being heroes but compared to the armed forces that just simply is not the case. He said:
“When you play a game of rugby you put your reputation on the line and when you work for the armed forces, you put your life on the line.
“I think that’s a very different analogy and a very different comparison and therefore I think the real heroes of this country and this nation are the armed forces, I really mean that.”
One of the zoom call viewers, Nick Casswell, said: “The England rugby team needs a Regimental Sergeant Major to shake them up and focus.”
That prompted Cath to ask the England star about the time he was part of the 2003 World Cup winning team and when the players were sent to a Royal Marines training camp. The idea was the brainchild of former England coach (1997-2004) Clive Woodward, the son of an RAF pilot, in order to develop a team of elite athletes. He said:
“We weren’t an elite outfit in 1999, we were taking tentative steps towards being one and we went and spent some time with what I’d call a proper organisation, an elite outfit, the Royal Marines.
“And the SAS and the SBS and many other trips followed subsequently.”
Lawrence said the biggest message, “without sounding too dramatic” and what really hit home to him is that in the armed forces, if you do not do your job properly that is the difference between staying alive or dying. He said the same cannot be said for sport, a place where many find their heroes and people to look up to. He said:
“If you don’t do your job on the rugby field no one loses their life, but it feels like that and I think it's important to maintain all the standards you’ve set yourself.
“This whole thing about scenario planning really hit home for me and for the rest of the team that the reason why we have such a revered and well-run armed forces is because they plan for every scenario and they don’t leave anything to chance.
“Taking that ultimate analogy to heart was really important for us so we did change our mindset from 1999 onwards.”
Retiring To Civvy Street
Lawrence touched on some similarities between retiring from a successful career in sport and leaving the armed forces. He talked about the anxiety some sport stars feel about the future after spending decades in a career where each day is meticulously planned out and they are part of a world-class team.
He started playing rugby when he was eight years old and retired at 35 after giving his all mentally and physically. To him, he said it felt as though he had lived “three lifetimes in one”. He felt such relief after playing his last game but he was very uncertain about the future. He said:
“Obviously, there’s a little bit of anxiety ... suddenly your life is a blank sheet of paper and you’ve got to plan your own day and week and how do I do that and all these things.
“But I think rather than looking at the glass half empty I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of guy.”
This attitude can be a powerful driving force for those seeking a new career after leaving the armed forces and transitioning to civvy street. Shifting your focus from worrying about what you are going to do to seeing there is a world of opportunity out there can make a huge difference. He said:
“If you look at it in a positive way, you might have a go at two of three different things but eventually you find that thing that you want to do.
“Something that gives you real purpose and real focus again in your life.”
Lawrence reveals that being a professional rugby player was never part of his plan but that it has “turned out to be quite handy”, saying:
“I didn’t really mean to be a rugby player if I’m honest with you, it sort of happened along the way.
“I had quite a few jobs before I played rugby and, if I’m totally honest, rugby got in the way quite often.
“I couldn’t do some of the things I really wanted to do because I played rugby.”
Lawrence firmly believes that with success comes great responsibility and that life is about giving as well as taking. It is this way of thinking that encouraged him, in 2008, to set up charity RugbyWorks which focuses on engaging young people through the power of rugby and sport.
He was raised in a working-class environment and taught by his mother, Eileen, that “there’s two things you can guarantee in life – that you arrive with nothing and you leave with nothing”.
After his mother’s death from cancer in 2008, the year he retired from rugby, Lawrence was inspired by Eileen’s attitude to life to form the ‘Dallaglio Foundation’.
Nine years later, after redefining the Foundation’s aims, this developed into ‘Dalagglio RugbyWorks’, a three-year programme "designed to give young people either excluded, or on the verge of exclusion, from mainstream education a chance to succeed and progress onto further education, employment or training."
About his passion for helping young people to get on a positive path, he said:
“I don’t think you’re born bad.
“I think some people are just born into a worse situation than maybe you and I were born into so I think we all have a duty to try to help people really and it’s been a real driver for me and that’s why I set up the RugbyWorks charity.
“Right now, more than ever, I think young people need our help because of what’s just happened over the last twelve months.”