For the past year, I’ve been running a philosophy group at Saracens rugby club. Once a month, I go to Saracens’ training ground in St Albans and give a brief talk about an idea from ancient philosophy that can be applied to our lives today.
I went in to the rugby club with zero expectations, and still find it strange to sit in a circle with Jim Hamilton, Owen Farrell and others, discussing Aristotle’s idea of the Golden Mean. But it’s been good fun for all of us. It was “the most popular thing we did last season,” says defence coach Paul Gustard.It is easy to sneer, but here is the rationale:
When new management arrived, in 2009, they insisted that the character, values and wellbeing of the players were the top priority, and results would follow from that. They launched something called the Personal Development Programme, to support all the players in their lives and their careers after sport. They duly invited various people in to talk to the players, including mindfulness experts, a yoga teacher, even a philosopher (me).
The “Saracens revolution” has created a unique culture. Alex Goode, the 26-year-old Saracens and England fullback, says: “The old Saracens was not a particularly friendly place. There’d be quite brutal banter. Now, there’s much more of a feeling of togetherness.”
The esprit de corps has made the team stronger and better. Saracens won the Premiership in 2011, and broke the record last season for most tries scored and most league points won, reaching the European cup final and Premiership play-off final, both of which they sadly lost.
The Premiership final loss was to a dubious try in the last minute of extra time, after a disallowed try of their own. Defeats don’t come more cruel. But, as Brian Moore noted in his Telegraph column, the team handled it with impressive integrity and dignity.It is very reminiscent of the regime of Pete Carroll's Seahawks in the NFL (see Icons passim) who went on the win the Super Bowl last year then trounced the Packers earlier this week to begin their title defence and must be doing something right.
There being very little wisdom about, we need to take it anywhere we can find it.