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Rugby & business: Why you should demand acceptance and respect on your team

Steve Darley has been playing rugby since he was eight, and has coached the sport for over 15 years. He’s also the president and partner of Toronto Homecare Assistance, a franchise he bought into just over three years ago. While rugby and homecare services might seem to be at opposite ends of the pitch, Darley says there has been a lot of crossover between playing, coaching and being an entrepreneur.

To start, rugby has shown him what it means to have an inclusive culture, and the importance of it.

“I’ve played rugby in a lot of different countries and the rugby club was always a place where you could go and easily make friends. Rugby has been built on a notion that you have a real battle for 80 minutes and then you go and shake hands and have a beer. That stuff, to me, is hugely important.”

In business, he wants his employees to feel that same acceptance. He wants people to come to work and put their best efforts forward, and he knows you have to make it a place that people want to be in order for that to happen.

Steve Darley coaches a team of male rugby players.

Rugby is very different than other contact sports like hockey and football. There’s no equipment other than your mouth guard and your cleats. There is no armour to shield you, there are no line changes. You’re either all in, or all out. Rugby is raw, it’s intimate and those that play have a certain respect for each other — whether they are teammates or not — which builds a very unique dynamic on and off the pitch.

“We make sure the culture we create is an open and transparent one, and one our team feels comfortable in. Regardless of their backgrounds or experience, if they have an idea or concern, we want to hear about it. We are very humble and open to new ideas.”

Darley says another key factor in managing a business — and coaching rugby — is understanding what motivates people. You’ll never get the best from people if you don’t understand how to get them over the goal line.

“People have different motivations for why they work or why they play,” he explains. “I always want to make sure people have got out of it more than they expected, contributed more than they thought they might, and learn more than they thought they would.”

On the personal side, Darley says his career in rugby and being an entrepreneur have two very big things in common: the risk of winning and losing and the reality that input directly impacts output.

“I like the idea that it’s all out there, both in business and on the field,” he says. “I like the fear of failure because I think it drives you a bit. But I also like the potential. You really get out of it what you put in.”