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Learning from the NZ All Blacks

A Challenge…
It’s a challenge; at every level…

For our young people in Year 11, it’s a term which will see them take on the toughest academic challenge of their young lives so far…
For teachers, it’s a challenge about how to collectively motivate and inspire; a challenge about maximising potential; about performance.
So for a Headteacher, why not also take up the challenge of developing a pre-exam assembly based on learning from the most successful team in history? A challenge inspired by this book…

In it journalist James Kerr shares his own learning from spending time with the New Zealand All Blacks, assimilating a success culture driven by a focus on character and relentless quest for continuous improvement. A culture which over a ten-year period has moved what was already the statistically most successful sports team ever to the unprecedented triumph of back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015 and an incredible 92% win-rate every time they take the field.
He identifies a number of powerful and, above all, highly adaptable lessons in high performance. Three for me stand out in relation to supporting our young people with the examination challenges they face over the coming weeks…

  1. Sweep the sheds

Before leaving the ‘sheds’ – or changing rooms –   at the end of the game, some of the most famous names in world rugby, including Legendary Captain Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, World Player of year, will stay behind and tidy up after themselves. They literally and figuratively ‘sweep the sheds’.

It’s an example of personal humility, of character; of no one individual being bigger than the team or too important to do the basics; to continue to learn.

They even have an equation for it:

Performance = capability + character

Though it might seem strange for such globally dominant team, humility is core to All Black culture. They genuinely  believe that it’s impossible to achieve stratospheric success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground. And taking personal responsibility for your own actions – and therefore performance.

The first message to get across in an assembly…?

  1. Keep a blue head

Having been knocked out of the 2003 World Cup at an uncharacteristically early stage, the All Blacks worked with Ceri Evans, a forensic psychiatrist to better understand how the brain works under pressure. They wanted to prevent another incidence of ‘choking’ on the big occasion…

So, the ‘Red Head’ is defined as an unhelpful mental state in which you are off task, panicked and ineffective. The ‘Blue Head’, on the other hand, is an optimal state in which you are fully focused and performing to your best ability in a high stakes setting.

The All Blacks even use physical triggers to ensure they wearing a ‘Blue Head’. Captain Richie McCaw, for example, stamps his feet to literally ground himself in the moment…

Using these triggers, the players aim to achieve clarity and accuracy, so they can perform to the very best of their ability under pressure.
Such an approach resonates with two others from the field of high performance sport…

Dr Steve Peter’s theory of ‘Chimp Management’; that performers need to learn to control their ‘inner chimp’; his name for the part  of the brain which runs on emotions and gut instincts, resulting in snap decisions. It contrasts with the more rational, evidence-based part of the brain which leads to more reasoned decision- making…

And Sir Clive Woodward’s TCUP mantra…

Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.

Applying what you have learned and executing effectively it under the most challenging of circumstances…
A second  – and arguably most practically relevant – message for pre-exam students…?

  1. Leave the jersey in a better place

Finally, the All Black saying: ‘leave the jersey in a better place’ is a reflection of their pride and sense of responsibility in representing their country at a sport that embodies wider national values, spirit and culture. In the quality of their performance they seek to enrich it further and leave their own legacy for the next generation of players.

Understanding this responsibility creates in all members of the team a compelling sense of higher purpose beyond success in sport. Being inspired to play bigger game, they also play a better game.

A final message message to the students…?

Legacy. A challenge to our young people, indeed  to us all, to learn from the very best… And leave the jersey  – their year group and their school – in a better place.

One Reply to “Learning from the NZ All Blacks”

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The author

Derek has been the Headteacher of Park House School since 2003, during which time he has played a leading role in regional, national and international education initiatives. He supported the design of the Values-themed London 2012 Get Set Education programme and was subsequently appointed as the first Chair of the Youth Sport Trust‘s National Headteacher Strategy Group. In 2013 he received the inaugural Sir John Madejski Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Sport and contributed to the House of Commons Education Committee’s Report, School Sport following London 2012: No more political football. Ofsted recently stated that, at Park House, a "values driven ambition for students inspired by the Headteacher drives the school’s effective improvement." The school has also just been identified in the top 100 state schools in the country for continuous improvement in GCSE results. Derek was shortlisted for the 2016 TES National Headteacher of the Year Award.

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