Looking back over my career I feel very lucky and very humbled, to have been able to play professionally for as long as I have. I mean at the age of 18 when I had my first child, I never expected to be able to earn money doing what I loved – playing rugby, travelling the world, hanging out with friends and forming new friendships.
Back in the early days, it was early morning training’s, a full day’s work and back to training in the evenings from Monday to Thursday. Play Saturday, recover Sunday and then it would be the same the next week onwards for 6 months leading into the season.
It became a routine that would become the backbone in my career. Taught me that if I worked hard for something, I could achieve it. At the time of course, I knew no different, it was just what you had to do if you wanted to make it the top team in my area. I can look back now though on that time with real pride.
By no means am I trying to say that I got it harder than anyone else coming through the ranks, but there are some massive differences compared to the current era – player welfare was not something we knew a lot about back then!
I remember as a young fella in the first team I was quiet, kept my head down, respected and listened to the older guys. That’s just the way it was. Senior players at the back of the bus and new players at the front. I didn’t mind it, I knew I had to do the work to get to the back of that bus. As the years went by and when I found myself on the back seat, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that I made it there.
I have come across a lot of young athletes in my time from International to the grass roots who expect more than they give. I’m not saying all, but some. They want the rewards without the work. They complain a lot that they’ve got this or that problem. They get angry because they weren’t selected in the playing squad for the weekend. Some don’t seem to understand that there is a process. Some are really lucky to get given opportunities. Some aren’t! But should that stop them from trying their best to make the opportunities happen?
My advice for the young ones would be that good things take time. Don’t rush the process because you will miss the little learnings along the way. It’s like putting a model together without the manual and then realising once you have finished that there’s still pieces left over. Without the manual to show and guide you, you end up cutting corners to what you think is right.
An example of a grafter is Will Addison, from a young age he studied, trained during the week to earn a full time contract and on his days off he would drive two hours home to help his family out with a good day’s work on their farm. Then he would head back to Manchester to train with the Sharks again. A few years of hard work eventually set him up with a full time contract, captaincy of Sale Sharks, he graduated and now an International player for Ireland. His strong work ethic has helped him become the player and person he is today.
I am now in the last years of my career where the transitions into the real world began. 90 percent rugby focused and the rest on the transitions. Some people may look at age as a negative or set back when it comes to professional sports. I’m not one of them!! I am now 35. Beside a niggly achilles, I still believe in myself and know I am able to do my job in a team. My skills and strength are as good as they have ever been, my knowledge of the game and mindset are miles better than when I first started professionally, and my purpose to make a better life for me and my family is stronger than ever. I’d say I have lost a yard in speed but I know enough to cover that department. The graft remains the same but I need to be a little smarter in the way I train so I don’t break.
My self-awareness has been just as important for me as any training. I have tried a lot of things and failed but what I learned from those situations made me more aware of what works for me and what doesn’t. If I can manage my body right I will be able to play another season. I’m just riding the rugby wave and giving my all until my day comes to hang the boots up.
Success is not going to happen overnight but if you stick to the process and continue to better yourself every day, you are winning. Stay in your own lane and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
Look at all the positive things in your life and be grateful for them, because you have earned them.
“Everything comes to you at the right time. Be patient and trust the process.”
You are the man Johnny an amazing athlete if you play one more year that’s 18 solid years as a sports professional thanks so much for sharing bro much love to you Larz and the Whanau bro enjoy this time Johnny Leota you deserve it and may you continue to be blessed.
I here what your saying old wise one. I feel that too much pressure and focus is being given to 1st XV rugby these days, which is fuelling the younger generations over belief in themselves. A lot of kids aren’t making 1st XV’s because they haven’t had a growth spurt or matured as fast as other kids, so to easily give up the game. Using that set back as fire in the belly is the best way to mentally toughen these players. On the other hand, kids who have some size and skill, seem to sail through school and leave expecting to walk straight into a lucrative contract. These kids are the ones who aren’t prepared to put in the hard yards and tend to wind up with the taste of bitter disappointment, all due to somebody elses fault and not their own of course!
A wise old academy manager once told me, hand up before hand out!
Keep up the quality yarns my friend, and I’m sure if you wanted to do another Saturday morning Higgins gravel pit work out, Bruiser would love to take it!