“Sometimes you have to reinvent yourself, reinvent your motivation,” says Exeter winger Olly Woodburn as he reflects on his eighth season at Sandy Park.
The 31-year-old has been an ever-present with the Chiefs this season and is now one of the two-time Premiership champions’ longest-serving players.
He is second on Exeter’s all-time Premiership try-scorers list with 42 – only France-bound back row Sam Simmonds has scored more with 56.
The former Bath defender says the focus on himself and his own well-being has contributed to his longevity at Sandy Park in a side that has reached six Premiership finals and regularly ranks among the country’s elite.
“I’ve been naturally lucky with the attributes I’ve had – I’m strong and fast – but I think throughout your career you have to adapt and change your approach to the game to stay at a high level,” he says to the BBC. Sport.
“I’ve become much more disciplined with my diet, my routines, my attitude to doing things off the field and off the field, and my way of thinking.
“I’ve put a lot of emphasis on mindfulness and the mental side of it, so I think I just get a little more professional as I get older, and don’t just rely on athleticism.”
That focus on himself hasn’t gone unnoticed – he’s made Exeter’s number 11 shirt his own and has scored five tries in all competitions so far this season.
“The nice thing for me is he almost still seems to be getting better, which is what you really want to see from a coaching perspective,” Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Sport.
“He really blossomed by having a lot of playing time this season, but he deserved it and he deserved it, he worked really hard for it and he had a really, really good pre-season.
“He came in in probably the best pre-season shape he’s ever had, which says a lot for him as a man getting a little older.
“I think he really knows what it’s like to be a very good and professional rugby player, so I’m really happy for him. I think he’s doing fantastically well.”
“Comparison is the thief of joy”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Woodburn – he’s had his fair share of injuries and over the years the likes of Jack Nowell, Alex Cuthbert and Tom O’Flaherty pushed him to a spot on the wing – and at times relegated . Born in Bristol back to the bank or beyond.
He played in four of Exeter’s six Premiership final appearances – starting in the wins over Wasps in 2017 and 2020 – but missed out on knockout stages as the Chiefs won the European Champions Cup in 2020.
“The best way to do this is to focus on yourself and what you have to offer. When you start looking at other people, you lose focus at that point,” he says of being faces rivals for his shirt.
“There’s a quote ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ – so if you’re always comparing yourself to other players you’re just not in a good place.
“What I’ve done over the years is look back at what I’m good at and really try to focus on my strengths and bring that into play.
“There was a time when Tom O’Flaherty, Alex Cuthbert and Jack Nowell all played really well and it was so hard to get into the team if you missed a game.
“I used to look at them instead of me, so the best way to approach that situation is to focus on yourself and focus on your strengths.”
And while Woodburn’s career may have more years behind it than before, he still has goals he wants to achieve in the game despite winning so much already.
“I have a little boy who motivates me a lot,” he says.
“He’s just turning two so he doesn’t fully understand rugby yet. It will be great to be fit enough and play matches while he can watch and be involved, so that’s a big ambition for me.”
“Just building a legacy that I can look back on… I have some appearance goals and aim goals and championship titles I want to achieve before I hang up my boots so there is definitely a lot to gain in the next few years.”