Ben Gollings – Former England International Rugby Player

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Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with former England International Rugby player Ben Gollings.

We discuss Ben’s personal stand-out moments from his career, his transition to life off the rugby pitch, his advice on staying consistently motivated towards whatever we want to achieve, and much more…

What are your personal stand-out moments from your career as a Rugby Union Player?

My personal standout moments start when I was first given the opportunity to become a professional rugby player. I had always wanted to be involved in sport and this was a dream come true for me. Next was representing England at a number of levels. This isn’t an opportunity that everyone gets and was very special for me.

Certain occasions that standout were, winning the Hong Kong Sevens in 2006 where I personally scored the winning try and conversion. Another would be setting the World Record for the most points scored in international Sevens Rugby. This was a personal achievement for myself.

A lot of standout moments are the moments shared with your team-mates after big wins.

How did your passion for Rugby begin and evolve to allowing you to represent your country?

It really was my passion for Sport. As a child I was a very heavy asthmatic. This meant from the age of 3 to about 10 I did little to no running around. By a miracle really my Asthma started to improve. This is thanks to the support of my parents and doctors. Slowly I was able to do more and more. I spent endless hours outside in the garden kicking a ball against a wall, as well as lots of other games and skills. Sport at school took off and I played everything I could.

Originally, it was football but then when football wasn’t available it moved to rugby. All I wanted to do was be out on a sports field running around and being competitive. This drive led me to getting selected for England U16s and from here my rugby career grew. I became a semi-professional in my last year at school and then as soon as school finished, I moved to London to play for Harlequins. It wasn’t long before my opportunity to represent England came and then I never looked back.

How have you continued your passion for Rugby after retiring as a player?

This is an interesting one. I have to say I have had my challenges post my playing days.

I still love sport and Rugby. After I finished playing, I started coaching as I wanted to stay in the game I loved. I have enjoyed coaching and have had a number of successes. It was great to see that having put a lot of time and effort, blood and sweat into the game it became an Olympic sport. Rugby has taken me to many places around the world and put me in front of so many amazing people. It is this side that keeps me passionate about the game and the difference the game can make to people. I visited Brazil and worked there in one of favelas coaching kids. Seeing the smiles and joy it brought to them was touching and showed the boundaries that sport can cross.

However, during this period I also struggled a lot from not playing. More so than I realised and mentally it got me. Some bad experiences along the way shadowed some of my love for Rugby and have tested me greatly. Being a player and involved in sport in that capacity is very different from being out of it. It becomes a major part of your life and then suddenly stops. I wasn’t prepared for this moment and it shook me. To think I would never run out on the field in an England Jersey again was tough to handle especially when you think your body can keep going and give more and you have unfinished business.

I am thankful however that, although it took me to a bad place, I am through that part of my life and my passion for Rugby and sport is still strong and I continue to enjoy working as a coach.

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What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?

I would surround yourself with good people who you can lean on for support and encouragement in the tough times. This could be by being involved in a team. People enjoy belonging to something and teams are a great social environment where you are with like-minded people.

Next is to start, not over think it. This is often the biggest hurdle to get over. There’s no need to start big either, slowly start moving and build on this daily weekly. Once you start, you’ll feel the difference and the energy that sport/fitness gives you.

Having targets and or something to train for can also be very helpful. Again, this does not need to be too great, it is personal but makes it purposeful.

I went through this personally very recently. For someone who prided themselves on their physical condition and /sport/fitness was a major part of my life and daily routine for a very long time, I just stopped. I didn’t want to go to the gym or exercise and lost all motivation. For quite some time I didn’t even see it. It was only when I discussed it with my wife, I realised how bad it had become for me. I didn’t realise how much this would mentally affect me. Motivation was at an all-time low. I was cranky about it and my body was constantly sore. I was really fighting it.

My steps to change this were – I went and joined the local rugby club to get back involved with a team. I then started running in the mornings and going to a gym. With the gym I didn’t go crazy, just got moving and started doing body weight exercises. I then followed a program to take the thinking out of it. I actually also told myself I would set a long-term target of running a marathon. This hasn’t been achieved yet as 15 years of playing has taken a bit of a toll on the body and there are a few niggles to get over. However, I have told myself I will do it. Slowly I started to see the effects of moving and taking action. I notice a huge difference between when I do something, and I do not. When I do, I feel alive, my mind feels clearer and it sets me up for the day.

Lastly make it a routine. Set aside the time (often start of the day is good) and hold yourself to it and remember it’s just about you against you, you know what is enough or not, or what will work or not, and then build on it.

Little saying I have “go, go, go”

Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really helped shape your mentality?

Absolutely. This is an area I am very passionate about and learning daily from.

For a long time, my mental compass has been off leading me to make poor decisions and not get the best out of myself and I have been on a bit of journey changing this.

The change has come through a culmination of a number of different things. Not one particular book but many. Reading in itself has helped hugely and this has supported gaining knowledge and learning and expanding my thinking. Books like ‘Atomic Habits’ (by James Clear), ‘The Score Takes Care Of Itself’ (by Bill Walsh) and many more. Each read give little pointers and take-aways.

Seeing a relationship counsellor was a big support and really supported our marriage. This was extremely valuable and opened my eyes to so much.

Speaking to a friend who is a pastor gave another great perspective and further knowledge and learning.

Family, having my wife’s support and my parents and brothers support was huge.

Working through a course with The Optimisation Hub gave so many light bulb moments and this added so much clarity to everything I had been learning and taking in.

Listening to a lot of podcasts on all areas “mental” again helped support messages and a way of thinking and a mind shift in myself.

I had a mantra going on inside me that “I was not good enough” and this had been eating away at me for a long time taking away my confidence and robbing me of getting the most out of myself. This had come through past experiences and the little voice inside was nailing me.

Using everything above I have been able to change this, and this statement in itself is so important, this being “change this”. It is possible to make change and a lot quicker than some people may think.

Through education and learning and gaining knowledge I have been able to create mental agility in myself that allows me so to see and think clearer and be prepared for what life throws up, and as we know it throws up a lot.

It is amazing how powerful the brain is but how much we can neglect it. As an athlete I use to spend hours working on my physical self. This was completely disproportionate to my mental self. The more you focus the mind and understand how it works the more mental clarity and mental agility you get.

A lot of what I have mentioned above makes us become conscious and get out of autopilot. Once conscious, it makes us more aware and it’s at this stage we are able to start focusing our minds on areas we may need to change.

Can you tell us about your work at ‘The Optimisation Hub’? 

Sure, ‘The Optimisation Hub’ is a company created to support the prevention of mental health through education. It’s a fast paced, modular program that equips the individual with tools to become a good decision maker, think clearly and be mentally agile.

I have been through the courses myself and now I deliver them to athletes, coaches, corporates and schools.

Seeing the change that the program creates and the energy the individual gets, for me is extremely rewarding. I enjoy supporting others and seeing them get the best out of themselves.

The key is to provide these tools to everyone we come into contact with to give them the opportunity to be prepared for what life brings up.

In the sports space in-particular there is a lot of awareness around mental health and the support for this is providing a cure through counselling or psychology. The point of difference with ‘The Optimisation Hub’ is Prevention allowing a healthier sport community throughout, whether this is transitioning in, through or out. This is the same with working life and personal life.

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 What do you think are the most important characteristics to develop in order to pursue your ambitions?

There are a few characteristics that support being able to pursue your ambitions.

Discipline and dedication, they support being focused and not swaying from your path. Being patient to allow you the time to develop as things do not just happen over-night. Hard work is a big and something I used a lot as an athlete. Hard work pays off. Being real/honest and resilient. You have to be honest with yourself and others and you have to be able to take knocks along the way. Lastly a good open mind/attitude. This allows you to learn and grow and see all angles on things and be open to other’s ideas, feedback and support.

Are there any specific principles that you try and live by and why?

When I was an athlete, I always had a saying to myself about “being the best”. This held me in good stead while I was playing.

Now I have adapted this to being, the best version of myself every day and to make a difference every day. This helps me gain good perspective on life each day and it keeps me on track.

I believe it’s important to have good perspective on life and your position in life. With this if you have a bad day in perspective its one day in the week.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion for health and fitness, or anything else, and turn it into a successful business/ career?

Being passionate about something allows you to have a greater connection to what it is you do and makes it more purposeful. So just by being passionate you’re off to a good start.

Make a plan that you can be adaptable around as things do change but when related back to the plan it gives you a clear focus and direction. This starts 1 year then 5 year. With this set clear goals that support your plan. With the goals build a process to achieving them. It is the process that will give you the most reward and motivation. The goal becomes a part of it.

Build good relationships with people that can support you in your quest and respect their honest feedback and advice.

Be a good leader of yourself and others. You need to be disciplined and drive a good standard that reflects who you are and where you want to go. Create habits that work for you and remove habits that do not.

Never say never and go for it!

What are you goals and plans for the future?

I have set myself goals in different areas of my life

Fitness – to run a marathon and build off that.

Family – to get good balance between work and family so that i give my wife and kids the right time and attention as family is very important to me.

Personally – to keep working on myself daily

Work/business – to be financially stable and enjoying what I do.

Adventure – I love travel and adventure, so a goal is to build more of this into my life.

In general, to be a positive human in every area of life.

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