Israel Dagg pens emotional open letter to young rugby players
Former All Blacks winger Israel Dagg has penned an open letter to all young rugby players offering advice to them on how to handle their careers.
Dagg played 66 times for the All Blacks between 2010 and 2017 and also won two Super Rugby titles with the Canterbury Crusaders before having to retire in April with a troublesome knee injury.
The 31-year-old writes about his exclusion from Steve Hansen's 2015 Rugby World Cup winning squad, business advice as well as how to get the most out of your personal development as a rugby player.
He wrote his piece in a post on the New Zealand Rugby Players Association Facebook page and it reads:
"In 2015, I missed out on selection for the Rugby World Cup, it was my darkest time. I sat in my son’s room, ate a whole packet of chocolate brownies and played PlayStation for two whole days, but now I look back on it and laugh. Now that I have kids, I have better perspective and know there are heaps of people worse off than me. I have had things happen in my career and you think I am done, but the sun still comes up and you are still breathing.
"In terms of advice for other players, the first thing is to put yourself out there as much as you can. Don’t be shy, especially in training. The second is to make sure you prepare for your playing days to finish because the sooner you start to prepare, the easier it is manage when it does. I was lucky mine didn’t happen until I was 30, but you don’t know when it will happen.
"As cliché as it sounds, put your money away, be smart, buy a house, explore investments with knowledgeable experts and surround yourself with good people.
“You have these times of stress and uncertainty, but just ride it out trust your planning for life after rugby and it will work out in the end.
"I hurt my knee in the 2017 pre-season against the Hurricanes in Waverley when I stood in a pothole on the field and hyperextended my knee. It was a downward spiral from there. Three weeks later against the Reds I did my PCL and had a meniscus tear.
"I rehabilitated to get back on the field and played the 2017 year and what was to be my last test match. That was against Argentina in Taranaki, which is where I had played my first test against Ireland in 2010. I then had five months off rehabilitating. I tried all different treatment, but as it was bone on bone with no cartilage, I didn’t get the improvements to the level I really wanted.
"I played two games for the Crusaders, and in my second game I was on the end of a head-high tackle and landed on my knee awkwardly. That put me out for a few more weeks. I knew I wasn’t going to make the All Blacks again, so I thought about going overseas.
"I knew my knee was sore but thought it would be okay and I really wanted the experience of playing overseas, so I headed to Canon in Japan. I played a few games and in my final game it was so sore I couldn’t even kick the ball. My knee was unbearable. I was in a deep black hole after that game.
"I had a meeting with my club to keep them in the loop, then I flew back to New Zealand to seek medical advice. In the back of my mind, I was thinking ‘I can’t keep doing this’. Knowing what I had been able to do in previous years and knowing that I couldn’t get back to that made me come to the conclusion that it was time to start thinking about retiring.
"There was nothing they could do to get me back on the field pain-free, so that made my decision for me. It was time to retire from the game I loved and that had been such a big part of my life. I flew back to Japan and talked to my club, who were really good and offered me a role helping, but I really needed to be home and around my family as I wasn’t in a good headspace.
"I really struggled over summer because I didn’t know what was going to happen, it was the uncertainty that I found unsettling. My wife, Daisy was a rock. I was a big, lazy, sad sack, and as we know when you are mentally struggling, you need to be exercising and connecting, but it was a battle. But we have come through it and I think she is back to liking me again!
"As I was contracted to the Crusaders until the end of this season, they gave me a role helping with players so that I am busy, have a purpose and am working, which has made my headspace much better.
"The Crusaders is a big part of my life, so it is great that I get to see my mates, and I am really enjoying being in the environment and being able to give back and help the boys. I think when you know your time in that environment it is coming to an end, you really appreciate it even more.
"Rugby is cut-throat and when you are done, someone else comes along and takes your place. So, I am grateful that I have had great support from New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders allowing me to finish my journey with them and ease my way out.
"It is daunting when you retire, that’s your income about to be affected and it is a scary feeling, but during this career I have been able to set myself up. The transition will never be easy, but knowing you have things behind you like your house and your investments makes the transition easier.
"Staying busy, having a purpose and having the family to come home to and play with has been great.
This rugby career has given me a great opportunity to meet people and share my story, have a few businesses, endorsements and speaking gigs, which is quite cool. It also involves some international travel which I enjoy.
"If there was one thing I could change, it would be to make the most of Personal Development right from when I entered into the environment. My attitude towards Personal Development when I first started was, “I don’t need that, what a waste of time, there are way better things I can do with my time like have lunch and shop.”
"Even though I started playing in 2006, it wasn’t until 2012 that I got serious about Personal Development. I had a good support network with a good agent, lawyer and accountant, but I met a businessman who became my mentor and inspired me to expand myself more. I thought by just having a house – which I bought in 2010 – I was made, but he steered me in the right direction and gave me some tools to set me up. We have since become good friends. It is great to have mentors and advisors outside of the rugby circle.
"This is why I try and tell the lads to make the most of it because when it is over it is over. You have a great opportunity to gain tools and meets some great people so make the most of it.
"Like Personal Development, my attitude to promos changed over time. I had to learn to network and meet people, and to make the most of those encounters. Put yourself out there because you don’t know where it could lead, like being offered endorsement opportunities or anything.
"Being able to make the most of networking and promos comes with confidence. Don’t doubt yourself – go and talk to people. At promos, if you show genuine interest in people, they usually want to help you. Never be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. What is the worst that can happen? They say no. Don’t be afraid to get business cards and follow them up with an email or a call. Andy Ellis would be the best networker I know!
"In terms of career highlights, I’ve had so many. I love Provincial Rugby but pulling on the black jersey for the first time in New Plymouth against Ireland – where I played against Ronan O’Gara who would later become my coach – was a life-long dream.
"Winning my first Super Rugby title in 2017 in Johannesburg was right up there, and of course the Rugby World Cup home final in 2011. It doesn’t get any better than winning in your own country. I was fortunate enough to be in teams than won more than we lost and I appreciate that.
"When it comes to what I’ll take away from rugby, it is the friendships, everyone working hard together, the memories of being in the locker room with the music is pumping and having a laugh that I’ll remember. It is the friends and the fun that I enjoyed the most."