The All Blacks have finished their tour of Aotearoa and they have parted ways for the summer, allowing players to chill out in the sun and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Everyone involved in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup success will get get time to kick back before they set their sights on new goals, new records and the new challenges that will come their way over the next four years. These lads have made us incredibly proud and in doing so, they have gift-wrapped a few lessons that we can put into action in our own lives.
I found it refreshing when Shag outlined how after the 2011 Rugby World Cup he got to work in preparing for the next challenge. All great sports teams face this challenge at some stage and you've probably experienced it in your own sporting experiences if you've ever been in an excessively dominant team - what's next?
How do you get excited for the next challenge? Well you've got to clearly define the next challenge for starters and come up with new goals to chase. Shag and the All Blacks set their sights on being the first team to win back to back World Cups, which many people would have deemed to be mission impossible given the ages of their best players.
Setting a goal or something that you want to achieve is one thing, yet to solely focus on this goal and know the difference between battles and wars is another. To get the best out of older players, Shag had to come up with a plan to ensure that these players were A) healty and B) the best in their position. Shag came up with that plan and executed it to perfection.
The idea of a mental skills coach or sports psychologist seems foreign to you or I, not for the All Blacks though and we've heard a lot about the impact of people like Gilbert Enoka have had on the All Blacks. Jerome Kaino didn't need to come back to the All Blacks while Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kevin Mealamu etc could have easily have left for European rugby before the 2015 World Cup, yet they didn't. It's fairly safe to assume that the determination to be the first team to go back to back, a goal set in stone since the last World Cup, kept these guys motivated and ready for action in the black jersey.
Point Of Difference
When the World Cup squad was named, Shag said that he wanted the All Blacks to win the World Cup playing rugby the 'right' way. While the majority of the teams at the World Cup went about their usual business, relying on penalties and field position to win rugby games, the All Blacks insisted on letting the ball do the talking as they quickly hit wide channels and displayed a revolutionary off-loading ability.
This lesson follows on from the first one and the desire to play rugby a certain way acted like another challenge for the players. Shag gave them something to work towards and to aim for while making the task of winning a World Cup that much more difficult by trying to do so in a way that no other team was capable of emulating, or stopping.
Before the World Cup and during the World Cup, I kept hearing that World Cups are won with disciplined play in tight contests. We only need to look back to the 2011 World Cup final for an example of that and I doubted the ability of the All Blacks to go to England, play attacking rugby and win a World Cup. I don't think those doubts are overly crazy, we just hadn't seen it done before and the All Blacks showed that if you're willing to step outside the box and dedicate yourself to being great at your point of difference, then you'll go alright.
Foresight also plays a role in all of this as Shag and his coaching staff had to figure out what their point of difference would be. Shag addressed the strengths of the All Blacks and his perceived weaknesses of the All Blacks' competition, which would have been done some time before the World Cup began. A staple of the All Blacks over the past four years has been their up-tempo style and I'm not sure if this was a ploy from Shag with the World Cup in mind or if it was just how he wanted his All Blacks team to play, either way the All Blacks mastered a tempo and skill level that simply wasn't seen in any other team at the World Cup.
This is an easy one and it is a large chunk of why we love the All Blacks. Many will view Sonny Bill William's actions after the final as the best example of this, but as is mostly the case it starts at the top. Shag told The Guardian how he worked in a freezing works before becoming a fulltime coach which gave him a crash course in how the everyday joker goes about their life and how to deal with different people.
Part of dealing with people from different walks of life is viewing yourself as an equal to anyone and everyone else. I believe that this forms the foundations of the way the All Blacks act towards fans and anyone else as they know their position as All Blacks and the good that they can do in that position, without thinking that they are better than the next man or woman. There's stories of Kevin Mealamu telling younger players to clean this or that or the entire squad tidying up the mess they made in the changing room, which oozes humility and while it has obvious benefits to the All Blacks' brand, it also forms the pillars of a successful sports team.
Team sport is a beautiful thing thanks to the fact that the veterans don't win without the contributions of newbies and vice versa. I could write a few paragraphs about what we can learn about the team ethos of the All Blacks and while teamwork is hugely important in any team purusit, it starts with humility. To be able to work with the player beside you, who might be 10 years younger than you and hasn't done what you've done on a rugby field, you must view that player as being equally important as you to the team's greater cause.