The New Zealand All Blacks are renowned for their numerable successes on the international stage and considered to be one of the most successful sports teams in history. There are many impressive statistics that you can look up, and a quick glance of Wikipedia will tell you all you need to know of this incredible team and the mindset that underpins their continuous success.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Bill McClaren (voice of rugby) Long Lunch in Edinburgh with an impressive list of speakers including former New Zealand wing, Sir John Kirwan who was central to the All-Black’s successes in the 80’s and 90’s.
Since retiring from the game in 1999, he has become an advocate of mental health and it was refreshing to hear him not only talk of his success on the pitch, but to speak so openly of his personal challenges with anxiety and depression. The mood in the room became sombre as Sir John switched from talking about the battles on the park to the personal demons he has faced with his own mental health.
There was a strong feeling of empathy throughout the room of 520 mainly male participants – a cohort often reluctant to discuss mental health – so it was important that the message was heard. Sir John described a particularly low moment during an All-Blacks Tour when close to despair, a roommate rescued him with five simple words – ‘you have a good heart’.
The point being that even a small acknowledgement of someone else’s personal problems can go a long way in providing a remedy. Whilst I’m sure that this is not exclusive to the All-Blacks, it provides a glimpse into their ethics of teamwork and their support of each other that has led them to achieving a win rate of over 75% since their formation over 100 years ago.
The All-Blacks winning mentality originates from an ethos of doing things properly and a philosophy that ‘Better people make better All-Blacks’. Sir John’s talk reminded me of the All-Black’s ritual of ‘sweeping the sheds’ – the shed is a figurative name for the dressing room when all the players regardless of their status were expected to clean up after them, even following a resounding hard fought victory in front of 60,000 fans.
Although it may seem strange for a team of globally successful sportsmen to act in this way, humility is central to their culture, and they believe that greatness can only be achieved if your feet are planted firmly on the ground.
It was good to hear John speak so candidly on many fronts, and I am sure that the large audience would have been inspired by his words on many levels. The takeaway from the All-Blacks philosophy is that humility is a powerful tool and when applied in sport, business, and life in general, can lead to greater things.
Speaking of Rugby legends, they don’t come much bigger than former Scotland Rugby International Doddie Weir who at the age of 52, sadly died at the weekend, 6 years after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
A true ‘force of nature’ who will be hugely missed.