Watch and read Gary Kirsten’s inspiring talk at Successness Fest 2017
This is a transcription of Gary Kirsten’s motivation talk at Successness Fest Cape Town 2017:
“You don’t have to keep going with that song because I’m certainly not going to be dancing on the stage. So great to be here, thanks Steve for organising that video, and then I’ve got to talk after that!! You can only be pumped by that hey, I’ve actually tried that as a coach and haven’t succeeded. It doesn’t work with the players that I’ve worked with, but we’ve watched that a lot of times and right at the beginning of my coaching stint, I thought: “that is going to just move people, like you won’t believe”.
But the thing that came to my mind when I was listening to that was the concept of TRUST. I think that’s a really interesting concept because when those guys would then go onto the field, and turn a performance around and what is it that’s turning it around.I think at the end of the day, I’ve always loved the concept of team. And what is it about the man next to me that I’m trusting. Am I trusting in who he is as a person and what his personality is about or what his value system is? Or am I trusting him for his skills? Am I in his team together with him because I know that he can do his job?
I was fortunate to open the batting for – for about 40 test matches – with a guy by the name of Herschelle Gibbs. Now we are very different people, Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten as crazy as it might sound, we never really socialized. In fact I don’t think I ever went out with him – in a social space at all, except maybe once or twice on tour. But when I walked onto a cricket field with him, and we might have had 20000 people in the stadium, and you could feel the pressure, he was the guy that I wanted by my side. Why? The answer is I’d say because I trusted his skills, and he complimented mine. I loved batting with him because it made me play the way that I wanted to play. I loved having him next to me because I knew how he was going to take the game on. I trusted everything that he could offer, and it really helped my game. So I’m kind of moving around within this – in this leadership / coaching space, in many ways because I’ve come up with I guess some preconceived ideas, or a blueprint to lead people in a way that’s going to move them forward. And I’m starting to change my view on that. I’m starting to think that other things are becoming relevant and one of them is that concept of TRUST.
Another concept that we have in sports, specifically, is this idea if you are just HONEST with me that’s all I want. I just want you to be honest with me. I’m starting to doubt that as well, and the reason being is because I find it difficult as a coach. If I have to talk to one of my players, and I really think that they’re battling under pressure, I think it will be a very difficult conversation to go up to him and say: “Dale, you know what, I don’t think I’m gonna pick you for the next game because I don’t think you can handle the pressure”. That’s an honest conversation. It’s my view, it’s an honest conversation. But I don’t know how fair it is for me to give him that feedback, because it’s my view first of all but I might have some empirical evidence with it, but it is my view, and I don’t think that’s going to take his life forward, that sort of honest conversation. So I’m starting to grapple with that as well.
It’s amazing. Steve that’s been the best introduction that I’ve ever had, so thank you very much because normally what people do when I come up on the stage is they’ll go, here’s Gary Kirsten, he played 101 tests for his country um, he got 21 test hundreds, he got 45 x 50s, and he averaged 45 in his career. And everyone goes what a great career! What a player! What a great career! What they don’t announce though, is that 77 times I didn’t get to 20 and 77 times out of those 170 innings, I did not score more than 20 runs. Only for 11% of my career did I get a hundred runs and only 20% of my career did I go past 50. So cricket is a great sport, I guess, and a great metaphor for life. Because you’re FAILING a lot more then you’re SUCCEEDING. So the best baseball batsman in 2017 got to first base 30% of the season, he had 138 hits out of 500 and something, in the entire season. He got his hit and he got to first base. For the other 67% he was managing himself when he went back into the dugout. Like me, I was managing myself when I went back into the change room. I’d say: “ok, what am I gonna do now after that failure, to give myself the best chance of success for the next innings.”
And I did that for 17 years, I mean it’s crazy to think that you would do that, but I did it for 17 years. And people still regard me, in the cricketing world, as having a successful career. Bizarre isn’t it? You probably wouldn’t have a job in the corporate space. You’d probably have been fired a long time ago. But we were able to carry on.
I suppose, maybe, out of the 77 failures, the question I’ve often asked myself as I try and counsel young players now is, even just going this morning to watch my sons play, and they both struggled today, is how do you manage yourself through that? And the one thing that, probably the first thing, that I learnt was there are two places you can go: one is you can hide, and it’s easy to hide. What you do is you get into the pack and you live that kind of comfortable life in the pack. I wanted that to happen to me sometimes when I was in my playing career. I wanted to be dropped from the Protea team. I wanted to be dropped from the team and I wanted to go back and play first class cricket for Western Province where no one was watching. That was where I could hide and I could just go and pan out a living. In my career I knew I would do well at provincial level, it was a beautiful place. But they never dropped me for Pete’s sake. I never got dropped. So I kept having to go back into the fire again. Even though I’d had a few failures, I had to go back out and say what can I do to make a performance – because my life was governed by that score, can I get past 50? Because if I get past 50, the media are going to be off my back. Can I get to 50? And my life became trying to understand how to manage that performance. I think that’s where the learning is for all of us.
You see, for me, at Successness Fest, success for me is not a destination, it’s a journey. Because I’ve had a lot of failure on this journey and people regard me as successful, bizarrely. So it cannot be a destination.
I’m into a hobby now of riding bikes on mountains and I’ve done the Cape Epic for a couple of years. It’s an amazing event and there is quite a lot of hype around this event. I’m doing another one next year because I’m right at the end of my mid-life crisis, and once I go past there I’ll stop and I’ll just get on with my life. But it’s amazing the process just to get to the start line. What happens is suddenly I become FOCUSED, I become disciplined. Every day I wake up at 5 o’clock and I’m up on that mountain riding. But you know what, it’s actually quite easy to do that and I don’t find it difficult in any way. You know what’s the most difficult part? When I’ve reached the end goal! The most difficult part is when I’ve finished the race. What am I gonna do tomorrow? I’ve got no direction. I’ve got no purpose. Now what? You know what happens? I stop riding, I stop waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go for rides. For two reasons: one is because I get lazy, because I’ve got no direction, and the other reason is because my wife says to me, if you wake up at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning I’m gonna divorce you. Because I’ve done it for 5 months.
I think the other thing that the 77 failures have taught me, is that when you have success, or when you’ve achieved something, or when you’ve reached the end goal then MOVE ON TO THE NEXT CHALLENGE. Don’t sit there and harp on it, move on quickly to the next challenge. I had an incredible experience of being involved in a World Cup with India where we won the event. At the end of the event on that day I had two Indian players lift me on their shoulders and walk me round Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, with people shouting out: “Gary, Gary, Gary”. There it was – it was like Al Pacino there in that video. It was that emotional. It was very embarrassing for me, because that was not my definition of success. The next day I woke up and I said well, what now? And you know what was next. I got home two days later, I was throwing a cricket ball to my 4 year old in the garden. He was holding the cricket bat like the guys with the long putters hold it, like this, and he was hitting it well but I knew that he’s not going to make a career holding a cricket bat like that. So I told him to turn the bat around and then bat like this. I went back to pick the ball up, I turned around and he was holding it like this again. I threw the ball and he blitzed it through the covers at home for four and as he did so he shouted out to me: “Hey Dad you don’t know what you’re talking about”. How beautiful is that! Won a World Cup, two days later my 4 year old says to me that I can’t coach. The problem was, he was right. He was right.
I’ve been a coach for 14 years now and my greatest year of coaching was the year I got fired. Why? Well there were two reasons: one I got fired in the same week that Jose Mourinho got fired for Chelsea. It was a great week for coaches. The only problem is Jose Mourinho got a 45 million pound pay out, which I didn’t get!! Ok!!But why was it such a great year? It was a great year because I found that in reflection of that year, the year that I got fired, where the team I was coaching didn’t do well, I started to understand people a bit better, and how they were going to RESPOND TO FAILURE. I also started to understand myself, and realise this fancy blueprint that I had, that brought us a world cup winning team in India, I might as well throw it in the waste paper bin. It doesn’t work for everyone. I have to come up with a new way. I have to look at it slightly differently. I have to look at myself, as another human being in a different space. And it’s been the greatest experience of learning. I’m now going to go take my new blueprint, which is a blank sheet of paper, into a new team at the end of the year, after having been fired in my last job. And it’s going to be an interesting journey for me, in looking at this new blueprint, which is a blank sheet of paper, and say, what can I write on here that I can get to the end of the season and then just throw in the waste paper basket. What can I write on here?
Anyway I want to just tell you this story very, very quickly of how I got the Indian job. I was here in Cape Town and I got an email from a guy by the name of Sunil Gavaskar. The email went: “Dear Gary, I hope you’re doing well. I just wondered whether you would consider coaching the Indian cricket team? Sunil Gavaskar.” I kind of looked at this. I’d never applied for the job and I had done zero hours of team coaching, zero. “Would you coach this team? The most supported sporting brand in the world” I said to myself that this must be a local DJ, this must be someone here pulling a fast one on me. So I didn’t respond to that email. Two days later I get a follow-up: “ Hey Gary its Sunil again. Wondered whether you would come for an interview to coach the Indian team”. This time he attached a business class ticket to the email which perked me up a little bit because I do enjoy the Sauvignon Blanc on business class. So I went and showed that email to my wife that evening and I said: “ You’re not going to believe this babe, but look at this email”. She looks at it and you know how wives do it so well, there was a kind of deathly silence and then she said: “Well they must have the wrong person”.
Anyway I hopped on a plane and off I go to India. I arrive at Delhi International Airport 3 days later. I go through the air bridge and I see all the other passengers heading off to the right and I see my name on a placard and I see that they start taking me in the opposite direction. I’m thinking: “Oh my word. The last time I was in India in 1996 and there was that whole match-fixing thing that’s come up and caught up with me now, and I’m going to jail, I can see it”. Only joking, only joking, I’m not going down that road. Anyway, I get into this car and I get whisked off. 20 minutes later, I arrive at the Taj Palace Hotel, and instead of taking me through the main entrance they take me through a service lift to my room. This is the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had in my life. I’m about to go interview for a job that I never applied for. A while later they call me and they say Mr Kirsten would you come back down through the service lift. By the way, the reason why they wouldn’t allow me through the main entrance of the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi, is just in case amongst 1.2 billion people I might be recognised as a cricketer in their country, which is a rather large sport.
I am taken in a car and arrive at this club. The first person I bump into is Anil Kumble who’s then the current Indian test captain and he kind of sees me coming in the distance. He said: “Is that Gary Kirsten?” I said:” Yes Anil, how are you?” He says:” What are you doing here?” So I said: “Well I’ve come for an interview to coach you”. So we both laugh because it was a funny thing.
I then go into this interview process, and the first question in a very intimidating space that gets asked to me is: “Gary, will you map out your vision for Indian cricket”. To which I replied: “I don’t have one!”
So I thought that was going to be the end of the interview. Anyway, they asked me one other question: “Well what do you guys as the South African team do to beat the Indians?”
I replied: “When we play against India in South Africa we use pace on the wickets, because we know they don’t like pace. We try and fragment the senior players, we put them under as much pressure as possible.”
They were obviously very impressed with the answer because the CEO of the board then slips a piece of paper across, and he says: “Mr Kirsten will you sign?” So I look at the piece of paper and I’m looking for my name because I realise it is the contract to coach the Indian national cricket team. I don’t see my name, rather I see Greg Chappell’s name. That was the previous coach. So I slide the contract back, and I say: “Sir you’ve given me the wrong contract”. He looks at it, takes out a pen, crosses out Gregg Chappell’s name and he writes my name on it and he says: “Mr Kirsten will you sign?”
So I don’t know what to do. So I say: “Well would you mind giving me some time to make the decision?” He says: “How long do you want?” “Well I need to go and ask my wife, cause she runs the show!” I replied. He then said: “Ok, you’ve got 5 days”.
We finish the interview which lasts all of about 7 minutes. I go back to my hotel, I wake up the next morning, and as I am waiting for my flight I turn on the television set, and I think it was the first news channel I turned on, and I see my picture all over the TV screen. I flick to the next channel – there is my picture all over the TV screen. I flick to the next channel and I go through 10 news channels, and my face is on every picture. The headline: “We’ve found our new Indian coach”. But I hadn’t even signed yet.
But an even more beautiful part about that story was, after we finished the interview and we go for a buffet dinner, and Ravi Shastri, who’s a commentator, and who was also in the interview was asked by one of the board officials who came up to Ravi, and said: “Hey Ravi, so what did you think of Kepler Wessels in that interview?”.
So that’s how I landed my first job, and people have said to me, what did you do, and I said I started with a blank sheet of paper. Because I tried to present that vision, to the Indian team, of how we were going to play cricket going forward. and they looked at me with blank eyes, and I remember saying to myself: “Close your mouth, open your ears, and start to listen to these people. If you’re gonna win them over, start to listen to them.”
I spent my first 6 months of that job doing as much listening as I could. I’ll never forget, I asked Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest cricketer that I’ve ever worked with, and one of the most humble sportsmen you’ll ever come across, and I said to him: “Sachin I’m about to start this job with you, I want to ask you what you want from me as your leader or coach?”. And he said: “Gary, it’s simple, I just want you to be my friend.” And it was a very powerful statement that I didn’t understand initially but grasped later on. The true definition of what a friend really is. He wanted me to challenge him, he wanted me to be there for him when the going was tough and he wanted to make sure that I would challenge him on growing in his career
The India story was a remarkable journey, but most importantly, I think, it was a privileged one for me. To be able to have had that experience, to take the learning out of it and move forward into the next phases of my own personal journey.
Thank you very much for having me.