Saturday Interview: Vickerman remains motivated moving on

Rob Vickerman in his England Sevens days.
Rob Vickerman in his England Sevens days.
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THERE were never any worries that Rob Vickerman would be bored in retirement.

His playing days may have ended prematurely – the Yorkshire Carnegie centre was forced to pack in recently aged just 29 due to a neck injury – but he had always planned ahead.

Leeds Carnegie's Rob Vickerman on a run

Leeds Carnegie's Rob Vickerman on a run

A cursory glance at his Twitter brief starts with the aforementioned rugby CV stating “ex-England Sevens Captain, Falcon and Tyke” but is quickly affixed with “@Welcome2Yorks Yorkshire Ambassador. Mentor. Speaker, Coach and Consultant. Performance and Enhancement expert.”

You can also now throw in Sky Sports commentator after the garrulous Vickerman’s banter was heard during last weekend’s Glasgow 7s.

“That was a bit of a one-off,” he insisted to The Yorkshire Post.

“I got in touch down at Sky and one of the producers suggested to go have a play around, see how it went and I really enjoyed the day.

“I’ve got a bit of a niche with the sevens – there’s not many people with that experience – so it was good. I thought it’d be quite emotional seeing the England team run out and not being part of that but, actually, I was all right and I didn’t find it too bad.

“For me now, though, the main role is transferring an incredible amount of lessons and anecdotes from the world of sport into business.”

Vickerman does, indeed, have a vast catalogue of experiences to call upon as he embarks on that next phase of his life.

Born in Leeds but raised in Withernsea from the age of 18 months, he progressed through Tykes’ revered academy alongside current England stars Danny Care and Rob Webber – and under the watchful eye of present England head coach Stuart Lancaster – to make his debut against Llanelli in 2005-06.

An England Under-19s international, Vickerman faced the formidable Jonah Lomu, the All Black then playing for Cardiff, during that debut season as Tykes dared to venture into the Heineken Cup. He scored 11 tries in 53 appearances before moving on to Newcastle Falcons in 2009 with Leeds colleague Tom Biggs.

By that point, Vickerman was already long established as an England Sevens player of some repute, having been part of the side that memorably won the Wellington Sevens in 2009 and also the London event that year.

Eventually, Vickerman – who has played in Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, USA and Dubai in the shortened format of the game – opted to take up a full-time deal with England Sevens.

“It was a very tough decision,” he recalled, of the offer in 2011.

“I had a really in-depth conversation with Alan Tait, my coach at Newcastle who, actually, strangely didn’t like the concept of sevens even though he was really good at it.

“We discussed where I wanted to get to at 15s. I’d played really well in the last couple of years and wanted to extend this.

“Just the other day I was saying how, in 2008-09, we were technically dual-registered – playing England Sevens but also having club rugby – and that was just the best year of my life.

“But it was all about the experiences and memories created as an England Sevens player that stood out.

“Joining (coach) Ben Ryan, such a stand-out, charismatic leader, seemed like a no-brainer.

“I dropped 25 per cent of my salary to go play for England but it wasn’t a financial thing.

“Travelling the world, meeting people you’d never otherwise get the chance to and to do it with an England shirt on my back?

“It was amazing. I’m a little bit biased as my experiences of sevens have been pretty formidable. But the decision was made as I fully believed I could become one of the world’s best sevens players in my position and that is a hell of motivation to do that alongside some good mates, too. And it worked.”

Successes came thick and fast and Vicerkman – who now resides in Beverley – also led his nation to the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens final in Moscow before falling to New Zealand.

Family life, understandably, took over, however, and he rejoined Carnegie in December of that year bringing all his experience to bear with Jimmy Lowes’s burgeoning side.

He would play his final game just 13 months later but Vickerman insisted: “I’ve never been scared of not playing.

“I’d been pretty active for 18 months doing internships, speaking arrangements, going into schools and mentoring so, from that point of view, it was quite exciting. But there was that moment when I suddenly realised I’m not playing again.

“You are almost defined by your profession as a rugby player. You don’t realise that when you’re playing and it is quite strange when you do.

“You can always think you could do another year, I suppose, but the bulging disc and pins and needles in my hand meant I was not going to play again.

“In some ways that’s easier; the decision is made for you. You don’t have to waste energy thinking about it.”

What messages does he pass on to the world of business?

“As a player you are solely focused on playing – getting fit, staying fit – and, so, when a coach changes you feel like you didn’t ask for this change,” he offered.

“You moved to this club for a reason, often to be inspired by a coach. Yet in 12 years of professional rugby I had 12 head coaches which makes me look like a mercenary. But I only actually had three coaching environments.

“The lesson I implore to business with sport is to remember that that is a really difficult thing for a sportsman – seeing the coach, one of the reasons you have joined – moved on as you adhere to that person’s thought values.

“It’s tough when they don’t align for a reason out of your control. You might not be picked but it’s not politics; it’s the new coach sticking to his values as, ultimately, he is the one accountable for performance.

“But it is very hard and business can learn from that.”

His mentor Lancaster, meanwhile, is hoping to inspire World Cup success this autumn.

Vickerman, who has a first-class degree in leadership and management, said: “He’s accrued experience in the younger guys, building on the experience the older guys already have, and he has got to what he calls a ‘Band of Brothers’ probably slightly quicker than he thought.

“One step further from this is the ability to play for a bigger picture. Lanny often cites the All Blacks as a team that typifies that – almost like the Haka calling the spirits of the years gone past.

“But you don’t get a better platform to step up than having it (the World Cup) on home soil.

“Not just the fact you’re playing for your forward pack or backline or even 22-man squad, or for the 910,000 registered rugby union players here. You are playing for 56 million people. That is one hell of a motivator.”