Perfecting your Practice; Lessons from Jonny Wilkinson

November 22, 2003, final seconds of the World Cup final, Australia vs England;

Australian goalkicker Elton Flatley had just levelled the scores deep in extra time with a penalty goal with less than a minute to go before both teams would be forced into sudden death extra time. England had one last chance to seal a victory.

To the untrained observer, it was simply a case of fling the ball to sharp shooter Jonny Wilkinson who could then attempt an unlikely field goal.

consistent practice breeds perfection

consistent practice breeds perfection

But it was so much more..

This vastly experienced England team had rehearsed the ensuing line-out time and time again and the manoeuvring that was to follow. The Australian defence was frenzied with bodies flying everywhere, but despite managing to disrupt their positioning, the English team didn’t panic and with 26 seconds left on the clock a pass was snapped out to Wilkinson. Despite being forced to drop kick the ball from 25 meters out on his non-preferred right foot, Wilkinson kicked over the three-pointer for England’s first World Cup triumph.

As a Wallabies tragic, recounting those final moments of the 2003 World Cup final brings back some painful memories but when I was thinking about how I could come up with an example of how to build expertise I could scarcely think of a better example than Jonny Wilkinson.

The Power of Practice and Measuring Progress

Wilkinson who recently retired from professional rugby, was renowned almost as much for his feats in practice as his achievements on the field in competition. There are countless stories of Wilkinson spending hours on his own perfecting minute details of technique in every element of his game.

“People see training in different ways – some positive, some negative. For me, it’s never been a problem. If anything I’ve been criticised for doing too much. Again, it’s the obsessive nature. I’ve got an intrinsic dedication to learn and continually improve, so I see the training ground as an opportunity. When margins of defeat and victory are so tight, you can’t afford to leave anything to chance. Training won’t always ensure victory, but it should at least give you peace of mind that you’ve done all that you can.”

What I think Wilkinson’s dedication to excellence demonstrates most vividly is that despite already being blessed with incredible natural born talent, his daily commitment to becoming even just 1% better every day led him to be able to consistently make the right decision at critical times. In that 2003 World Cup Final moment, all of the practice he had dedicated himself to, allowed him to choose the right option to execute. A lesser prepared player would not have attempted to kick the drop goal with his non-preferred foot but Wilkinson was able to block out the other options and pay attention to what was truly important in that moment.

Through all of his years of practice, continually measuring his progress relative to his performance goals, he was able to figure out what was working and what wasn’t.  Once he knew what was working, he put the time into practicing to perfect it.  The rest as they say is history.

In the end, the take out is that the very best in their fields spend more time focusing on what really works – the only way to find what that is, is to put in the time.

Imagine for a moment if you were able to commit to becoming 1% better everyday at what you most want to do in life? What in time would that commitment amount to?

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Aaron Travers is the author of The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” / intermittent fasting diet programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe. 

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Here is a link to a you-tube clip of the winning drop goal by Jonny Wilkinson at the 2003 Rugby World Cup –

Jonny Wilkinson website –

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