In a recent post on All-Black culture, I discussed some of the value systems that have been put in place. The All-Black culture puts the needs of the team above that of all individuals. The challenge is for each individual to leave the jersey in a better place than they found it – to add value to it.
Upon their return from a bad beating by South Africa in 2004 at a time when they struggled to fulfill their potential, the team management along with performance psychologist Gilbert Enoka, captain Tana Umaga and vice-captain Richie McCaw went about changing the pervading culture over a 3 day conclave - the result being a transference of positive leadership from the coaches to the players.
Since then, the All Blacks are different to most other teams. Enoka suggests that the difference lies “in the transference of power from the coaches to the leadership group who set and enforce standards among the players. When aberrations occur, a player is answerable to his team-mates rather than the coaches. Ego has to be left at the door; there is a rigidly enforced “no d—head policy” in the squad."
According to Team Manager at the time Brian Lochore, their aim was to create an environment that would stimulate players and make them want to be part of something great that was bigger than themselves - a breakaway from the pervading ego-centered culture that existed around the team. He came up with 6 words that would epitomise that ethos. The phrase “Better people make better All Blacks” still rings true to this day.
We saw recently where Sonny Bill Williams epitomised that ethos with his generosity and humility in giving his world cup medal to a child after the game. That isn’t the only act of real decency by the All-Blacks this Autumn. A lesser known story is of the generosity of Beauden Barrett – the All-Black super-sub of the time and now established All-Black out half.
Earlier in the World Cup, Barrett went to get his hair cut at a hair salon in London. When there, he met proprietor Katrina Haberfield. To his surprise, there was an All Black jersey hanging on the wall and when asked, he was informed that she was a proud and passionate New Zealander. It was revealed to Barrett that Haberfield had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was also undergoing chemotherapy.
Being the gentleman that he is, Barrett, according the New Zealand Herald, asked if he could take the jersey back to the hotel to get the All-Black squad to sign it. Some days later, the jersey was returned signed by every squad member. Accompanying it however was one of Barrett’s signed caps from the tournament and two tickets for the final for herself and her husband.
Haberfield went in for another bout of chemotherapy on the Thursday before the final, but was just about able to attend the final at Twickenham accompanied by her Husband Steve.
No Kiwi was more proud and delighted than Katrina when Barrett chased down a kick in the dying minutes to score the last try. When Dan Carter fulfilled a lifelong ambition by kicking the conversion on his right foot to end the scoring in a 34-17 triumph, Katrina was in her element.
In 1995, we had Nelson Mandela. 20 years later in 2015, we had the New Zealand All Blacks. They left their jerseys in a better place.
"Better people make better All Blacks"
Keith Begley is an accredited performance psychologist with the Sport Ireland Institute.
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Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport