Pursuit of Happiness

Collision Sport

For Adidas' Dave Thomas, rugby has delivered its share of life lessons

Someone once said 'rugby is like war: easy to start, difficult to stop and impossible to forget.' For Dave Thomas, the managing director of Adidas India, his time on the field has helped him brave a different kind of war — the boardroom kind.

The long-standing association started from the age of eight back in Australia. “My uncle had played rugby for Australia. My father was also a big fan though not a player. Thus, I had lots of opportunities to play,” he says. After playing at the school level, he moved on playing for various clubs. However, the idea to pursue the sport as a career never cropped up, says Thomas. “When I was around 20 years old, rugby was played by professionals like doctors, bankers for recreation. There wasn’t much money to be made then. Had I grown up a generation later, the opportunity might have presented itself,” he adds. 

Nevertheless, the hobby stuck on and he has now played in Germany, Japan, China and India. Was the language barrier restrictive? Not really says the Aussie. “While it is hard to follow a game plan, you learn the basic words pretty quickly. Often it is about what an outsider can bring to a team and at the same, learn something himself too. That makes it exciting.  Also, people have always been very welcoming,” he says.

While the people who play it might be warm the sport is infamous for its brutality. Thomas shrugs off injuries saying they are a part of the game. “By rugby standards, I would say I haven’t had many injuries. A couple of broken shoulders, broken noses and numerous stitches on my face though you can’t tell from how nice I look,” he says jokingly. 

But the determination and courage those injuries infused in him are immense, divulges Thomas. Once when he injured his shoulder; the doctor advised eight weeks rest, but he ended up playing just four weeks later with a heavily strapped shoulder. “We won that game,” reminisces Thomas fondly. “You don’t win every time when you’re playing and you don’t win every time in business too. It has helped me to handle setbacks, disappointments and losses,” he adds. 

The lessons that Thomas learnt from his rugby encounters are many, among which is the importance of diversity. “Players come in all sizes with different strengths. There is a position and role for each person. In business, it’s no different. I try to create a diverse team with different skills who are sometimes better than me in a few things,” he says.

Thomas’ journey with the sport also taught him to stay level-headed and never lose focus. “In 1990, one of the biggest papers in Sydney had carried a very favourable article about the team I was playing with then. We were all feeling pretty good about ourselves and then we lost the next game pretty badly. It taught us to focus on what’s important. We trained really hard for the next weeks and beat the same team in the Grand final,” he narrates.

While Thomas has not played much in India, he is looking forward to playing more by joining a local club. The only difficulty, he says, is to find a ground. “It’s easier for more popular sports like cricket and soccer than rugby which is still in the shadows here,” he shrugs.