The Winning Culture of the All Blacks
Updated: Jan 28
The New Zealand rugby union team, nicknamed the All Blacks, are the most successful sports franchise on the planet. Forget the New York Yankees and Manchester United – the All Blacks top them, and it’s not just me that says so.
The All Blacks’ success can be largely attributed to their team-first winning culture, with their emphasis on values, personality and not raw talent. Why am I even writing about this?? Well, things like strength training and speed do matter for rugby players (click the links to see what we wrote about that!), but I know we have a lot of athletes on board that want to win – whatever sport they are in, amateur level or professional – and, more importantly, that CAN win if they adopt and internalise this winning culture.
A winning culture = a set of positive attitudes, values, beliefs and high expectations of individuals giving their all to win, that lead to successful performance.
Seems simple, right?
Perhaps creating a winning culture as an individual, yes, that might be easier. But try creating that culture with 15 on-field men, a bunch of benched men, and a whole team of coaches, managers, physios, psychologists behind those men. It starts to seem a little trickier in the reality that is rugby union. But not impossible, and here’s how:
For the Maori people, ‘whanau’ translates to ‘our family, our friends, our team’. The All Blacks embody this value of being a whole organisation, which impacts their goals, their strategies, their work-ethic and their behaviours. The emphasis here is put on the fact that no one player’s excellence will lead to success, great success comes from a team working as one unit. This cultural alignment has roots in the All Blacks’ spiritual teachings and traditions of their ancestors. They are living, modern proof that a team united in a common goal and deeply connected to the shared culture, will win.
Translated on the pitch: Every tackle, every run, every try, every pass, every call is done for the good of the team.
2. Spearhead formation
Much like the point before, the All Blacks have a unified culture. A spearhead formation in birds is when one bird leads, another follows, and another, with the leader rotating. This has been shown to be 70% more effective than ‘flying solo’, because everyone plays a supporting role for the player in front. This is understood and internalised by every single All Blacks player. Should one distance from the group, they are likely to less successful. Should one fall behind, the other stay back and then they move forward again together. This links back nicely to the whanau point – no individual is bigger than the team, therefore nobody deviates from what bonds the team together. This helps explain the extreme team cohesion seen on and off the pitch by the All Blacks side.
Translated on the pitch: Every noticed the shape of the All Blacks when they perform the haka? Surprise surprise, it’s a spearhead, depicting how the All Blacks will puncture their enemy lines with each player supported by two other – unstoppable.
All Black players are picked for their nations side using more criteria than just their rugby skills? Their character plays a huge part in their acceptance into the team. Each individual must maintain or at least acquire certain personality traits that help them to fit into the teams winning culture. The All Blacks’ mantra equating to this is ‘sweep the sheds’; each player is never too big or too small to do what is necessary. This ultimately wipes any egos away, and if the player can’t put the team ahead of their ego, they don’t play for New Zealand’s rugby team.
Translated to the pitch: Whether the All Blacks play a World Cup Game, an international series game or a friendly, at the end you’ll see two of the All Blacks’ most senior players pick up a brush and sweep the changing rooms.
The whole team on the pitch and off the pitch have the ability to be adaptable. They have created an evolving mindset where there is less definition between coaches and players, and it becomes a group of people trying to achieve something together. The team vision is created and shared by the whole team. The All Blacks’ believe that organisational change requires 4 things
- A case for change
- A vision of a successful future
- A sustained capability to change
- A credible plan to implement
Translated to the pitch: When the All Blacks are on top of their game, they change their game. They are diverse and adaptable enough to go into a match with multiple plans, and swap and change between them depending on the situation. If they are winning, they don’t settle – they stretch the scoreboard.
5. Responsibility as leaders
The All Blacks may have a captain, but they believe that leaders make leaders. The more senior players are empowered by giving them distinct responsibilities on and off the field. They are responsible for teaching the new players and acting as their mentors; this way the team’s values and expectations are passed on and enforced. Reasoning behind this is that the All Blacks believe the teachings are more powerful if they come from their peers.
On a larger scale, the All Blacks know they are role models for a wider society, for the children growing up watching them play. Therefore, they have another mantra – ‘leave the jersey in a better place’ – highlighting the higher purpose that comes with the team’s responsibility. Ownership of such huge responsibilities leads to ownership of the challenge.
Translated to the pitch: The captain unites the team under All Blacks’ responsibilities during the haka – with the individuals performing in unison, towards a common goal. The senior players then act as mentors for the younger player, guiding them through the expectations of the teams, helping them to become a better individual for the team.
6. Put on your blue head
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that the All Blacks’ regularly speak to psychiatrists to help enhance their physical game. One key thing they took away and implemented was the action of ‘keeping a blue head’. ‘Red head’ is the stake in which you are off task, panicking, over stimulated, ineffective and inaccurate. ‘Blue head’ is quite the opposite, even when presented with a pressurised situation. The players learnt to put themselves into this optimal state where they can remain calm yet effectively stimulated and perform their best.
Translated to the pitch: The players used triggers to switch from ‘red head’ to ‘blue head’. Richie McCaw stamps his feet to literally ground himself. Kieran Read stares at the farthest point of the stadium looking for the bigger picture. These triggers help the players mentally position themselves in a better way. Next time you’re feeling frustrated on the pitch, work out what your trigger is to switch you from red to blue.
7. Expectation of excellence
Not to get too science-y here, but the All Blacks put a psychological theory into place during their games, called the Pygmalion Effect. This is the phenomenon where having high expectations of someone (or a team of players) causes higher achievement, due to the individual(s) experiencing boosted morale, motivation, resilience and effort.
Translated to the pitch: Being multiple world champions and often being the favourites to win, aids in the All Blacks’ belief of their own excellence. They embrace these titles by telling each other their personal motivations, whilst simultaneously appreciating the team’s history and the importance of creating a bright future.
8. Better people lead to better All Blacks
The joint, shared and complementing responsibilities that individuals have in the team, lead to autonomy, mastery and emotionally intelligent athletes. This point links in all the above. The ‘simple’ goal of the All Blacks is to make the players better people, because better people make a better team. Not only are better people made, but better behaviours are formed. I can’t express the importance and the power of a habit so check it out here and here.
Translated to the pitch: Each player is expected to find ways in which they can improve themselves whether that be more time in the gym, kicking conversions, eating better etc. This focus on continuous improvement is facilitated via the winning culture that has been created, as well as an environment of constant learning. Paired with the willingness to go above and beyond to hold the All Blacks’ name up in pride, this combination is lethal.
And there you have it – the largest proportion behind every All Blacks’ win is their winning culture. Did you see anything that could help your team improve their performance? Drop it in the comments or on our social media. If you think your ‘extra’ is in the gym check out this article about how to structure your gym sessions, or this article about the need for strength training in rugby. If you need to be a faster rugby player, this article is the one for you.
Why should I try and be more like the All Blacks?
Whether you’re an amateur athlete or a professional athlete, there is something to learn. Both should prioritise athletic performance. If you’re not sure how to implement some of these points, check out our blog here for some hand tips.