Rugby and the myth of success | Peter Manser | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Rugby and the myth of success | Peter Manser

Rugby and the myth of success | Peter Manser

Inside imageSouth Africa’s Saturday loss against Japan in our first Rugby World Cup match was disappointing to say the least. In today’s piece Dr. Peter Manser, proud principal at our Circle of Excellence member school, Alexander Road High School, in Port Elizabeth, explores why prioritising significance over success is so critical in our schools in light of the dominance of the sporting culture within them.


It seems peculiar that the power, strength, size and speed of rugby players sometimes tend to symbolise the core of success at many South African schools. For some there is a bizarre belief that victory on the sports field means that our children are being educated successfully.

There appears to be a mythical assumption that the success of a school is directly proportionate to the success of its 1st XV rugby team. As a result the purchase of children from primary schools or the poaching of any learner from a neighbouring school who demonstrates a semblance of rugby talent appears to have reached educationally inexplicable proportions. Other sporting codes such as hockey, netball or squash tend to be sidelined and of course soccer, arguably the most popular sport in the world, doesn’t feature at all!

The “godliness” of rugby at school level is surely an insult to girls and a slight to all well-balanced, academically astute not-so-rugby inclined young people; not to mention those who practice their music or dance for hours in order to achieve a level of excellence required by the arts. Dropping a note is simply not as important as dropping a ball!

Why Celebrate Success

It is not the fact that schools celebrate their successes per se that I question. Rather it is how, for what and for whom we measure success at schools that becomes a contentious issue. In order to secure a reserved seat on the Ferris wheel of success, some schools for example turn rugby into a compulsory event. Either you must play or you must watch and cheer!  In short, the achievement of success for the greater good becomes superfluous when one assumes that success is measured by a somewhat egotistical, insular act of self-righteousness.

It seems that it is customary and an indelible part of our South African schools’ educational psyche to celebrate all that is considered popular for the wrong reasons. Those school leaders who publically strut their victories are those who shine their trophies, swell their egos and rate their achievements by celebrating their measure of success through their defeat of others. These are the select who celebrate because it makes them look good rather than because their success is morally, ethically and educationally justifiable.

Other, more holistically balanced school leaders, celebrate with learners, families and educators and give thanks to the fruits of what hard work and dedication harvest across a wide spectrum of activities. They celebrate excellence in diversity and all that it encompasses as they choose to celebrate achievements in the broadest terms possible. An effective school leader should instill a belief that the role of a school is to extend the horizons of children rather than curtail them.

Success and Significance

I have become increasingly aware that success at schools needs to be expanded to embrace significance – and there is a fundamental difference between the two. Success-based motives ask what children can do to enhance the image of the school. It is centered on self and is contained within the borders of the school. The effect of this success has limited influence as it encourages convergent behaviour and a heliocentric belief that the educational universe revolves around the school. Instead of the school being an integral part of society’s educational needs, it is seen as a self-ingratiated entity around which all else becomes relatively insignificant. Here success is selfishly guarded and is perceived as a ‘win at all costs’ target often governed by rigid expectations and narrowly defined behavioural rigidity.

Significance, however, requires us to ask what the school can do to help children become more universally relevant. In Blake’s words, it ‘turns and turns in a widening gyre’ and the school could in all likelihood become an immeasurable place of infinite impact. Significance has unlimited influence as it is about others. Significance is about educating children to be future leaders as it encourages them to embrace the needs of the country not simply the needs of the school. Significance teaches the art of social entrepreneurship and affords young people many opportunities to determine for themselves where they believe their interests and talents lie and how these can be used for the greater good.

Significance and Citizenry

Success determines how we add value to our insular world. Significance determines how we add value to the greater world outside. Extrinsic reward, like a short term moment of satisfaction, becomes the result of our success in victory; significant reward is the ongoing celebration of others’ successes and their multifarious efforts. There is a fundamental shift in values away from the self -gratification of success based thinking. While we need to strive for excellence in all that we do, we need to turn excellence into significance beyond the realms of our school walls. The cheerleaders who are brainwashed to idolise the muscle and brawn of a few should be educated to cheer and celebrate all that is good.


Above all they should be educated to appreciate that our human capital needs to be evenly distributed across the entire realm of our schools’ activities so that all children can benefit in areas that may not bring immediate satisfaction.

If schools do not move from being selfishly success-based to unselfishly significant then I fear that education in our country will not prosper. We need to focus on the real needs of our country and educate with a focus on significance.  We need to guide our children to become well-versed in the art of citizenry and educate them to believe that their success can only be measured by their significant contribution to the world at large. It is about time that all schools create a climate of understanding that there are multiple ways of measuring success and multiple means of celebrating significance.

The Measure of a School’s Significant Success

I believe that rather than measure the success of a school by celebrating the uniformity of our sponsored rugby jerseys, we need to measure our significance in society by shifting our traditional thinking and customary beliefs. We need to take brave decisions and not be fearful of change.

I believe that the significance of a school’s success is not necessarily measured in tangible ways, but often significant success is evident in a more spiritual sense. It is found in attitude, it is heard in laughter, it is felt in love and caring, it shines in eyes and it moves in silent empathy. It is the core of support and the centre of hope. Success is personified in goodness and sincerity, it thrives on friendship and it is nurtured in the love one has for one’s fellow man. It is the product of understanding the melodic notes of the musical intonations of peace.

Success is not about scarcity mentalities that thrive on the belief that in order to be significant one needs to be selfishly powerful. Rather success is the soul mate of abundance mentalities where all of us are as important as one of us, where our energy and sense of achievement are rewarded by watching others thrive and grow.

So as we celebrate success together, let us begin to match our success with our potential to achieve significance. In this way our well-guarded shrines can be for the benefit of all future South Africans.

Three cheers!

About the Author

Leave a Reply

× How can we help you?