LOST IN TRAN­SI­TION

He’s played more than 50 tests for the All Blacks and 100 games for the Blues, but Jerome Kaino took a long time to come to terms with the de­mands of the pro­fes­sional game.

NZ Rugby World - First XV - - CON­TENTS -

It’s not easy mak­ing the tran­si­tion from First XV to the semi-pro­fes­sional ranks. Even the world class Jerome Kaino strug­gled at first.

Nat­u­ral tal­ent can be both a bless­ing and curse. Jerome Kaino knows that bet­ter than most. He made the mis­take in the early part of his ca­reer of be­liev­ing that his raw ath­leti­cism and in­nate skills would see him right.

He’d re­lied on noth­ing more than that through­out his school­days. And that had been enough to win him a schol­ar­ship at St Kentigern Col­lege and then a place in the New Zealand Un­der 21 side.

When he was IRB Un­der 21 Player of the Year in 2004 and also picked as an ap­pren­tice to tour Europe with the All Blacks, he ap­peared to have suc­cess­fully made the tran­si­tion to the pro­fes­sional game.

But he hadn’t. Not re­ally. He wasn’t on track to be­come the player he now is. He wasn’t on track be­cause he wasn’t do­ing enough to fos­ter and de­velop his nat­u­ral tal­ent. He hadn’t grasped that all around him were play­ers with nearly as much nat­u­ral abil­ity.

Maybe they weren’t as gifted, but be­cause they were putting ex­tra work in; be­cause they were ab­stain­ing on the week­end when it came to party time; be­cause they had a bet­ter grasp of what was re­quired to cut it in the pro­fes­sional game, they had more chance of com­ing to some­thing than Kaino.

“I was do­ing the bare min­i­mum at train­ing to be hon­est,” says Kaino.

“That was me – I’d do as lit­tle as I needed to do to get away with it. I didn’t work any harder than I needed to and look­ing back, yeah, I strug­gled for a while with that. I strug­gled to come to terms with what was re­quired to be a pro­fes­sional.”

Those first few years out of school can be a dif­fi­cult time for young men try­ing to make their ca­reer in rugby. For many, it will be the first time they have moved out of home – and free­dom of choice is of­ten the big­gest bat­tle.

Kaino, typ­i­cal of many young men with a Samoan her­itage, had been brought up by strict par­ents. Church and re­spect were big fac­tors in his up­bring­ing and once he was a lit­tle re­moved from that, temp­ta­tion be­came hard to re­sist.

“I strug­gled a bit too with get­ting the bal­ance right off the field,” he says. “I had been a stu­dent with very lit­tle money and then sud­denly you are be­ing paid, well paid, and you have the means to re­ally en­joy your­self.

“It was es­pe­cially tough hav­ing a lot of friends who were not in­volved in rugby or re­ally had any idea about it. They didn’t know the de­mands or what was ex­pected of me and they just wanted to have fun.

“And that was fine with me as I had this view, thought it was a nor­mal at­ti­tude, that you worked hard dur­ing the week and then had your re­ward on the week­end.”

It wasn’t nor­mal then and ab­so­lutely not nor­mal now. Sacri­fice is the el­e­ment that all young men must ac­cept if they want to win a Su­per Rugby con­tract.

Com­pe­ti­tion for places is fierce and the mar­gins be­tween play­ers are tiny. Coaches scour game sta­tis­tics and they can see, in­stantly from a spread­sheet, who fronts and who doesn’t.

There are no more il­lu­sions any more – the anal­y­sis is so so­phis­ti­cated that no coach would be tempted by some­one who de­liv­ers high qual­ity but low quan­tity. Th­ese days, coaches want both – they want play­ers with a big work rate and who make their pres­ence felt.

That’s why they pay at­ten­tion to life­style. The pic­ture drawn is holis­tic and if any young man car­ries a whiff of be­ing high main­te­nance or ill-dis­ci­plined, they won’t be picked.

Maybe Kaino was lucky that coaches weren’t able to drill as deep back in his day. They would have found a mixed pic­ture if they had. Kaino was hot and cold for Auck­land and the Blues be­tween 2006 and 2008.

It wasn’t, re­ally, un­til 2009 that he had a full grasp on what was re­quired to suc­ceed in the pro­fes­sional game.

He can’t say now what it was that turned him around. It was, best he re­mem­bers, a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors. Enough peo­ple – good peo­ple who knew what they were talk­ing about – had told him he needed to train harder.

Hear the same mes­sage enough times and the penny even­tu­ally drops. He could see, that un­less he ac­tu­ally made changes, he’d be in dan­ger of not ful­fill­ing his po­ten­tial.

He went out less, trained more and went be­yond the min­i­mum and it was a tougher, more fo­cused Kaino that played ev­ery minute of the 2011 World Cup.

It was through ad­ver­sity that Kaino learned most about him­self and that by meet­ing chal­lenges head on and com­mit­ting him­self to beat­ing them, that he es­tab­lished him­self as a world class tal­ent.

Asked now what ad­vice he would give young play­ers try­ing to tran­si­tion from age-grade or ITM Cup into the pro­fes­sional ranks, he says: “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to have an­other pas­sion out­side of rugby.

“It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what it is - whether it’s a hobby, or a busi­ness or what­ever...just some­thing that gives you a dis­trac­tion away from the game.

“If it all gets a bit much then hav­ing an­other pas­sion is a way of get­ting some re­lease. There’s also the fact that it could be set­ting you up for life af­ter rugby.

“That’s so im­por­tant. I know that when I was younger I used to hear the same things and I thought I’d never re­ally need to think about stuff like that, but eight years has gone by so quickly and you un­der­stand how im­por­tant that other in­ter­est is and be­ing pre­pared.”

Nat­u­ral tal­ent can be both a bless­ing and curse. Jerome Kaino knows that bet­ter than most. He made the mis­take in the early part of his ca­reer of be­liev­ing that his raw ath­leti­cism and in­nate skills would see him right.

He’d re­lied on noth­ing more than that through­out his school­days. And that had been enough to win him a schol­ar­ship at St Kentigern Col­lege and then a place in the New Zealand Un­der 21 side.

When he was IRB Un­der 21 Player of the Year in 2004 and also picked as an ap­pren­tice to tour Europe with the All Blacks, he ap­peared to have suc­cess­fully made the tran­si­tion to the pro­fes­sional game.

But he hadn’t. Not re­ally. He wasn’t on track to be­come the player he now is. He wasn’t on track be­cause he wasn’t do­ing enough to fos­ter and de­velop his nat­u­ral tal­ent. He hadn’t grasped that all around him were play­ers with nearly as much nat­u­ral abil­ity.

Maybe they weren’t as gifted, but be­cause they were putting ex­tra work in; be­cause they were ab­stain­ing on the week­end when it came to party time; be­cause they had a bet­ter grasp of what was re­quired to cut it in the pro­fes­sional game, they had more chance of com­ing to some­thing than Kaino.

“I was do­ing the bare min­i­mum at train­ing to be hon­est,” says Kaino.

“That was me – I’d do as lit­tle as I needed to do to get away with it. I didn’t work any harder than I needed to and look­ing back, yeah, I strug­gled for a while with that. I strug­gled to come to terms with what was re­quired to be a pro­fes­sional.”

Those first few years out of school can be a dif­fi­cult time for young men try­ing to make their ca­reer in rugby. For many, it will be the first time they have moved out of home – and free­dom of choice is of­ten the big­gest bat­tle.

Kaino, typ­i­cal of many young men with a Samoan her­itage, had been brought up by strict par­ents. Church and re­spect were big fac­tors in his up­bring­ing and once he was a lit­tle re­moved from that, temp­ta­tion be­came hard to re­sist.

“I strug­gled a bit too with get­ting the bal­ance right off the field,” he says. “I had been a stu­dent with very lit­tle money and then sud­denly you are be­ing paid, well paid, and you have the means to re­ally en­joy your­self.

“It was es­pe­cially tough hav­ing a lot of friends who were not in­volved in rugby or re­ally had any idea about it. They didn’t know the de­mands or what was ex­pected of me and they just wanted to have fun.

“And that was fine with me as I had this view, thought it was a nor­mal at­ti­tude, that you worked hard dur­ing the week and then had your re­ward on the week­end.”

It wasn’t nor­mal then and ab­so­lutely not nor­mal now. Sacri­fice is the el­e­ment that all young men must ac­cept if they want to win a Su­per Rugby con­tract.

Com­pe­ti­tion for places is fierce and the mar­gins be­tween play­ers are tiny. Coaches scour game sta­tis­tics and they can see, in­stantly from a spread­sheet, who fronts and who doesn’t.

There are no more il­lu­sions any more – the anal­y­sis is so so­phis­ti­cated that no coach would be tempted by some­one who de­liv­ers high qual­ity but low quan­tity. Th­ese days, coaches want both – they want play­ers with a big work rate and who make their pres­ence felt.

That’s why they pay at­ten­tion to life­style. The pic­ture drawn is holis­tic and if any young man car­ries a whiff of be­ing high main­te­nance or ill-dis­ci­plined, they won’t be picked.

Maybe Kaino was lucky that coaches weren’t able to drill as deep back in his day. They would have found a mixed pic­ture if they had. Kaino was hot and cold for Auck­land and the Blues be­tween 2006 and 2008.

It wasn’t, re­ally, un­til 2009 that he had a full grasp on what was re­quired to suc­ceed in the pro­fes­sional game.

He can’t say now what it was that turned him around. It was, best he re­mem­bers, a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors. Enough peo­ple – good peo­ple who knew what they were talk­ing about – had told him he needed to train harder.

Hear the same mes­sage enough times and the penny even­tu­ally drops. He could see, that un­less he ac­tu­ally made changes, he’d be in dan­ger of not ful­fill­ing his po­ten­tial.

He went out less, trained more and went be­yond the min­i­mum and it was a tougher, more fo­cused Kaino that played ev­ery minute of the 2011 World Cup.

It was through ad­ver­sity that Kaino learned most about him­self and that by meet­ing chal­lenges head on and com­mit­ting him­self to beat­ing them, that he es­tab­lished him­self as a world class tal­ent.

Asked now what ad­vice he would give young play­ers try­ing to tran­si­tion from age-grade or ITM Cup into the pro­fes­sional ranks, he says: “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to have an­other pas­sion out­side of rugby.

“It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what it is - whether it’s a hobby, or a busi­ness or what­ever...just some­thing that gives you a dis­trac­tion away from the game.

“If it all gets a bit much then hav­ing an­other pas­sion is a way of get­ting some re­lease. There’s also the fact that it could be set­ting you up for life af­ter rugby.

“That’s so im­por­tant. I know that when I was younger I used to hear the same things and I thought I’d never re­ally need to think about stuff like that, but eight years has gone by so quickly and you un­der­stand how im­por­tant that other in­ter­est is and be­ing pre­pared.”

It was es­pe­cially tough hav­ing a lot of friends who were not in­volved in rugby ... They didn’t know the de­mands or what was ex­pected of me and they just wanted to have fun.’ JEROME KAINO

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