The Performance Factor

As an athlete, reaching peak performance is the name of the game. When we think of sports performance it is hard to go past the phenomenal record of the All blacks. In 2010, James Kerr, journalist for the Telegraph newspaper, spent five weeks inside the All Black camp trying to catch a glimpse of what makes the All Blacks tick. Here are some of the things he discovered that give a bigger picture view of what performance might be. 

1. Sweep the Sheds

Before leaving the dressing room at the end of the game, some of the most famous names in world rugby – including Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Mils Muliana – stop and tidy up after themselves. They literally and figuratively ‘sweep the sheds’. Former All Black Andrew Mehrtens describes it as an example of personal humility, a cardinal All Blacks value. The All Blacks believe that it’s impossible to achieve stratospheric success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground.

2. Champions do extra

Former All Black Brad Thorn’s mantra, ‘Champions Do Extra’, helped him become one of the single most successful players in rugby history. The philosophy simply means finding incremental ways to do more – in the gym, on the field, or for the team. A focus on continual improvement, the creation of a continual learning environment, and a willingness to spill blood for the jersey was at the core of Graham Henry’s All Black culture.

3. Keep a Blue head

Following their arguably premature exit at the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks worked with forensic psychiatrist Ceri Evans to understand how the brain works under pressure. They wanted to overcome their habit of choking. ‘Red Head’ is an unresourceful state in which you are off task, panicked and ineffective. ‘Blue Head’, on the other hand, is an optimal state in which you are able to hit some of those important milestones in the future. For some it might be the traditional, car, house, and kids education, while for others it might be positioning oneself for a professional career in sport. Nevertheless, without sounding like a parent, it’s worth thinking about.

4. Leave the jersey in a better place

The All Blacks have long had a saying: ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. Their task is to represent all those who have come before them and all those who follow. An All Black is, by definition, a role model to schoolchildren across New Zealand. Understanding this responsibility creates a compelling sense of higher purpose. It’s a good lesson for us all: if we play a bigger game, we play a more effective game. Better people make better All Blacks – but they also make better doctors and lawyers, bankers and businessmen, fathers, brothers, and friends.

The All Blacks highlight four things for us: need to approach personal performances with an undergirding humility, a focus on incremental improvements, a clear strategy for our mental game, and the discovery of a higher purpose for our success. Not all of us will play at the level that All Blacks do, but we can learn a lot from this champion team. We can apply some of these lessons in our own lives – in and out of competition.

Making it personal

  • Which of the four performances factors do you most identify with? Why?
  • What tends to hold you back from achieving what you would like to in your sport, or in life? have you experienced an “Red Head” moments?
  • It has been said that “sport dow not build character, it reveals it”. However it probably does both. Are you allowing the things you learn in and through your (tough times, losses, wins, etc.) to grow you as a person?

Athletes in Action has a focus on growing the whole person, spiritually, mentally and physically. To do this, we look to the person of Jesus. Have you thought about , or investigated, the spiritual aspect of life and how this may help you deal with the triumphs and challenges of sport and life?

We’re always keen to chat about the physical, mental and spiritual sides of life to help you become a total athlete!

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