"When you retire from professional sport, everything changes - your purpose, your focus, your drive." Five minutes with Lewis Moody MBE

22 Aug 2018
Lewis Moody and Richard Cheetham

Former professional rugby union flanker and England international, Lewis Moody, visited the University of Winchester last week with a team of coaches from his rugby academy Mad Dog Sport. They spent a day working with Richard Cheetham , senior fellow in sports coaching, who has gained recognition nationally and internationally within coach education and teaches on the BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching and Performance degree programme.

Affectionately nicknamed 'Mad Dog' during his playing career because of the ferocious fashion in which he played the game, he now heads up the Lewis Moody Foundation and is Ambassador to the RFU's World War I Centenary commemoration programme.

He took time out from the session to speak to us about personal endurance challenges, how his family history inspired him through his playing career and finding a new focus in life post-rugby.

Tell us why you're at Winchester today with Mad Dog Sport, the rugby academy you founded

I set up Mad Dog Sport about three years ago. It's a rugby programme that aims to encourage personal development using rugby as a foundation for sixth-formers in state schools.

The academy has grown and we're evolving what we do, so helping our coaches learn and develop new techniques to impact and inspire the kids that they're engaged with at the state schools is important. I had the pleasure of meeting Richard Cheetham about six months ago at a Rugby Football Union conference and was keen to work with him, so he invited us to the University for a day learning new coaching techniques. It's a great opportunity for our coaches to hear what Rich does, how he does it and the coaching techniques and practices he uses. It's brilliant for all of us and thoroughly engaging.

You have a passion for history and a particular interest in the personal wartime experiences of soldiers: did this inspire you through your successful rugby career?

A hundred per cent. I wanted to join the army when I left school but I got a professional contract with Leicester Tigers the summer I left school.

My own family history is partly the reason for my passion. My great-grandfather and namesake, Lewis Walton Moody, was in the British expeditionary force in 1914 in the First World War. I've always had a fascination with both World Wars and military history in particular. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the adversity those guys went through and that my ancestor would have gone through.

I've got my great-grandfather's medals and towards the end of my playing career, I found it harder and harder to get the same emotional readiness that I did when I was younger. A psychologist gave me a technique which was to focus on a piece of music personal to me, an object personal to me and a memory from when I was performing at my best. The object that I chose was my namesake's First World War medal. I would sit in the changing room pre-game and just take two minutes, put my headphones on, visualising this moment when I felt I was performing at my best and holding this medal as inspiration of how to 'be worthy' which was the phrase I always used in my head. Meaning be worthy of him, his era and his friends who gave so much for us.

I'm now the RFU's Great War Commemoration Ambassador, remembering the English war dead that played for England. It's been an incredible experience: in 48 hours I travelled to every grave and memorial stone of the 22 English rugby internationals who are commemorated in France and Belgium (there are five others that aren't in France and Belgium).

So yes, it's something that always inspired me during my playing days and still does.

Can you single out the proudest moment of your rugby playing career?

It's really difficult because invariably the moments players remember aren't the big flash points like the World Cups and Heineken Cups! Having said that, without doubt playing in a World Cup-winning side in 2003 was the pinnacle of my playing career.

It would probably be playing in the 2007 World Cup final when we weren't really expected to get through the pools, although we still had half that World Cup-winning side from 2003.

Our ultimate success relied on the players coming together and speaking to the coaches to say: what we're doing isn't working. The coaching team empowered the players to take control of our own destiny and it had a huge impact: we ended up beating Australia in the quarter final which absolutely no-one believed we could do apart from us. We also beat France at the Stade de France in their own backyard and then made it to the final against a South African team which had beaten us 36-0 in the first game. I have as many fond memories of that - despite losing - as I do of winning the World Cup in 2003, because of the struggle we went through as a side and the way that we changed our fate.

How has your life changed since your retirement from the professional game in 2012?

Life has changed completely. I have no real involvement in the professional game anymore other than various roles for the RFU, on the educational committee and as Great War Ambassador.

When you retire from professional sport, everything changes - your purpose, your focus, your drive. I found a new purpose through setting up the Lewis Moody Foundation, although I only realised that in retrospect. I lost a young rugby player friend to a brain tumour about a year and a half after I retired. My wife and I were inspired to make a difference in that area, so we work with the Brain Tumour Charity to raise money for special family experiences and ultimately help defeat brain tumours. I love what we do with Mad Dog Sport and inspiring young individuals just to stay at school through sport and through rugby in particular. I also love the stuff I've done with the Great War commemoration and the challenges I get to do, but the real purpose that I've found in my life has been the Foundation and it's given me a huge amount of joy.

You take part in a number of extreme personal endurance challenges to raise money for the Lewis Moody Foundation: what drives you to do this and does it satisfy your competitive nature post-professional rugby?

It's probably a slightly selfish thing to do but it operates two-fold for me. It gives me a reason to raise money for the Foundation and also to engage other people with the Foundation. It fills a hole that rugby left and the void from challenging myself and putting myself out of my comfort zone. It's also about wanting to know that I can still operate at certain levels as I once did, although maybe not quite as high.

So far, we've gone to the North Pole; trekked 1,000 miles across Vietnam and Cambodia; been to Base Camp Everest; cycled round the Alps and travelled coast to coast across Costa Rica. Next year we're doing the South Pole - it's been incredible. I absolutely love testing myself because I think it's when I feel most at home in some ways, when I'm challenged and out of my comfort zone - you really feel like you're living life. It also gives me the best time for clarity. There are a number of aspects in my life now, rather than just the one focus when I played professional rugby. Those challenges really help to create clarity in my head around the next areas to focus on.

Follow Lewis Moody on Twitter at @LewisMoody7

Follow Richard Cheetham on Twitter at @twowheelprof

Find out more about the sports coaching degree programmes at Winchester


Photo: Lewis Moody (left) with Richard Cheetham.

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