Better People Make Better All Blacks – Lessons From the World’s Most Successful Team

Boasting a 77% winning record, the two most recent World Cups, and a record 18 consecutive victories – New Zealand’s national rugby side, known as the ‘All Blacks’, is the most dominant side in world sport.

Their phenomenal record is unmatched by any team, across any code. Their success has largely been credited to the rituals and culture built by Graham Henry and continued by current coach Steve Hanson. By adopting the key principles applied by the world’s most successful team, you too can build sustained success and a lasting legacy within your club.

Humility

All Black players thoroughly clean the dressing rooms after every game because ‘No one looks after the All Blacks, the All Blacks look after themselves’. The ritual symbolises that the players put their hands up, not out. All players are all equal, there is no hierarchy of privilege based on your playing ability. The ritual known as ‘Sweeping the Sheds’ demonstrates the pride, respect, and honour the players hold in representing the national side.

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“Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done.”

  • As a coach, what do you do to ensure your players understand the history and traditions of your club?
  • How do you promote humility within the group to ensure players see themselves as equals?

These characteristics are achieved by celebrating and recognising the efforts of those that put in beyond match-day performances. Demonstrate that you value and reward people who are willing to give back, highlighting the intrinsic satisfaction that comes with taking responsibility for what needs to be done. Your team will be stronger and less reliant on individuals when all members are active participants in the process of improvement, rather than mere recipients.

Whanau

The Maori word ‘whanau’ means ‘extended family’, something that has become synonymous with the unity within the All Blacks playing group. Previous coach Graham Henry adopted the approach popularised as the ‘no dickheads policy’ of the Sydney Swans in the AFL. This approach applies a selection policy of valuing a players character over pure talent.  You can read more about recruiting strategies to attract players that align to your club culture in our previous post: RECRUITING STRATEGIES FOR LOCAL SPORTING CLUBS

The Chicago Cubs Built a Team that Excelled at Soft-Skills

The Chicago Cubs have broken 108-year drought to win the World Series of American baseball. Team president Theo Epstein specifically scouted players based on their ability to handle failure, “even the best hitters fail seven out of 10 times, and the most successful teams may lose 60 games a year” said Epstein.

A further example of building a team based on character over talent comes from Gregg Popovich in the NBA, read more here: HOW TO MAKE YOUR TEAM CONSISTENT – GREGG POPOVICH

Purpose and Understanding

With regard to knowing how to respond in different match scenarios, the All Black players are the most educated side in world sport. Everything they do off the field, translates onto it. The side does the basics of defence, set-pieces and offloads better than the competition through the understanding and responsibility given to the players.

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Ensure your players understand the purpose of training and how it translates to performing on game day. Players should be encouraged to provide input and allowed to provide feedback on how beneficial sessions are and how they can be improved.

Leave the Jersey in a Better Place

The All Blacks have a strong connection to those that have come before them, and setting a standard for those that will follow. The players live by the phrase ‘plant trees you will never see’. This higher purpose again contributes to the unity and honour within the team.

Play for the name on the front of the shirt, not the back.

  • How do you connect your past with your present, and future?

Place an emphasis on ensuring the current playing group understands the origins of your club, its past success, and recognises the people that have helped shape and built it. Encourage past players to be an active part of the club by inviting them to address the group at selection nights, speaking of past rivalries and setting expectations for new players.

The Haka

Māori believe that the haka draws up ‘tīpuna’ – ancestors, from the earth into the soul. It summons them to aid them here on earth with the sound of ‘ngunguru’ – the low rumble of an earthquake. Opposing teams face the haka in different ways. Some try to ignore it, others advance on it, most stand shoulder to shoulder to face it. Whatever the outward response, inwardly the opposition know that they are standing before more than a collection of fifteen individual players. They are facing a culture, an identity, an ethos, a belief system – and a collective passion and purpose beyond anything they have faced before.

The Haka is arguably the most notable ritual of the All Blacks, yet few teams have tried to replicate it in a way that celebrates their culture. Liverpool’s ‘Never Walk Alone’ and Port Adelaide’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ create atmosphere for fans, but the Haka strikes fear into the opposition. The New Zealand players are said to know if their opponents are beaten by the expression on their faces during the haka.

Create a Ritual for Your Team

You may be reluctant to introduce a war cry in the face of the opposition, but you can introduce a song, game or statement in the change rooms for the final moments before your side commences battle. A ritual that signals it’s ‘go time’ and we are all in this together and up for the challenge.

Read more on the All Blacks culture through James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy’. The book details 15 steps that can be applied to leadership and coaching from observing the workings of the All Blacks, fundamental lessons for any sporting coach.

BE THE VOICE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Karl

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