Don’t Die With The Music in You by Wayne Bennett is the book you should be reading right now

We’re all born with the inherent desire to play. Whether it’s with a doll, a ball, cars, rattles or imaginary battles, we’re given the license to run with it. As life moves forward, however, our desire to play is either nurtured, or sadly often blunted or annihilated in favour of good grades or the search for a stable job.

But play isn’t just about fun and games. It’s also an opportunity for us to discover the role of ethics. Whether it’s playing a game of hide-and-seek or cards, games provide meaningful opportunities to understand the distinction between right and wrong. Will you honestly keep your eyes closed while counting to ten, while your friends hide? Will you hide a card away in a simple game of UNO when no one is watching? How we respond to these questions as young individuals often shapes our sense of morality and fairness. Sport, which imparts these values early and in many ways, can be looked upon as a training ground for a game called Life. In Life, our ethics, morals and duties are constantly tested without a chair umpire, linesman, cameras or whistles to keep us in line.

The book I’m diving into today – Don’t Die With The Music in You – was handed to me by a complete stranger in a bookstore in Adelaide Australia, where I was living at the time. I was browsing the sports section, when she said, “Buy this. My husband never really played sports, but this is a book he gifts someone every Christmas”. I obliged, and a decade on, I’m still glad I did.

The author, Wayne Bennett, is known to be one of the most incredible coaches and motivators in the world of rugby. But the book also unearthed a multi-layered individual with a deep passion for bringing out the best in those around him. Bennett hasn’t had it easy either, with two of his three children carrying disabilities and his daughter confined to a wheelchair. He uses his life experiences to inspire others in similar situations through his writing and words, always bringing a sharp sense of humour along the way too.

The title of the book is inspired by a quote by American writer and poet Oliver Holmes Sr., who said, “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is it so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”

“Don’t Die with the Music In You”

“That’s a life of potential never reached, the fellow who never practised as hard as he should have, who never made the sacrifices, who might have been…

It means don’t go through life, whether it be relationships, sport – life – sitting down at the end saying it could have been better. No one is going to finish with a clean slate, having realised every bit of potential. Still, there’s no reason why some slates should be so bloody dirty.”

Bennett admittedly loves a good quote, and they’re found generously through the book, each used meticulously in the right situation, and with a great anecdote to boot. “The thing about winning and losing is that you can win and give a mediocre effort and you can still lose after giving it everything you have. I know which effort I’d be more proud of…I suppose giving your best is about duty”. Bennett’s rules of judging yourself not based on others, but on whether or not you gave it everything, applies to his Australian rugby stars as much as to aspiring athletes or any individual going through life; our final scorecard really lies between us and our own selves, far more than any trophy-bearing outcome. The Olympic motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Latin for “faster, higher, stronger”) communicates just this; an athlete’s aspiration not to triumph but to reach the best version of his or her potential.

Wayne Bennett’s ability to marry lessons from sport and life makes this book a breezy read. Winning, according to Bennet, lies in the preparation and commitment itself. For rugby teams, this starts on the Monday of a weekend game, but for boxers with just one or two fights a year, or Olympic athletes, that “winning” starts much earlier. At the Olympics, “If swimmers stand on the blocks and know they cheated on a push-up or a lap three months beforehand, they’re prepared to lose.” His unwavering belief that discipline, persistence and integrity in the smallest of actions, inevitably impacts all future outcomes, holds true in every walk of life – as a leader, student, parent, spouse or friend.  Through positive messaging and extremely relatable analogies, Bennett also addresses the importance of loyalty, the value of self-confidence and battling through testing times while being true to ourselves, at a time in society when depression is rampant & self-esteem is constantly being tested.

In an increasingly polarised and divided world today in need of hope and change, sport can be a powerful tool to help us connect with one another beyond our existing boundaries, to focus on what unites us rather than what separates us, and rekindle the positivity and inspiration that many are yearning for. The incredible rise of e-Sports during this time has filled the void felt by many fans as the Coronavirus meant sports stadiums and arenas fell silent. But live “real” sport in my opinion is what forms an essential part of the social fabric of many nations. Its re-emergence at a time like this, with golf, football and soon cricket and F1 back on track, is being seen as a critical tool to promote co-existence and inspire people too.

Bennett mentions that as a coach, he’d rather spend 5-10 seconds and get the message across directly and succinctly, rather than spend five minutes and beat around the bush; and that’s often what his book achieves, with hilarious anecdotes, profound insights and a few words of timeless gold, no matter which page you land on!  

Suhail Chandhok is a former professional sportsman & currently a Sports Broadcaster & Business Consultant with a passion for writing, photography, human psychology and of course, sport.

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