The New Zealand All Blacks are considered the best rugby team on the planet. The best for rugby skills, the best for developing kids rugby and the best for creating a winning brand of international rugby. How do they build such a reputation and winning formula for rugby?
I was once at a personal appearance of the great all back captain Sean Fitzpatrick, I never forget what he said about one of their secrets of success was the all black shirt. He said “the power is in the shirt that is passed down from generation to generation of all black. Each player takes the baton of honour embodied in the shirt they wear. They take that baton from previous greats and the senior players make sure the younger all blacks know who wore that shirt and teach them to respect and follow the traditions. Each player is the custodian of the shirt and they try to pass it on with greater heritage than when they received it.
“Our forefathers are with us when we put that shirt on and when anyone puts on that all black shirt they become a superman with the strength of a thousand ancestors.”
It is a phenomenon. Since Graham Henry took charge of the national team in 2004, New Zealand’s win percentage has climbed to a staggering 85%.
History plays a big part is all blacks success. Tradition and history of the country and its early beginnings. New Zealand was a small young nation and playing England, a country that dominated world politics was a way that the kiwi’s could build credibility and confidence in their own nation.
Professor Toni Bruce, from the University of Auckland, is New Zealand’s leading sport sociologist. “we had early success at rugby at a time when ‘nation building’ was a very important thing,” she explains.
“The 1905 tour of Great Britain created a mythological status, because it happened when Britain was the dominant force in world politics. The All Blacks beating British teams at rugby was used by New Zealand politicians to promote the virtues of the healthy, virile kiwi lifestyle.
“Rugby was incredibly successful from then on. The seed took root and grew. Early New Zealand culture was very masculine – there was a high proportion of males to females – so it’s not surprising that so male a sport became so central in society. The rugby club became the essence of most small communities. Whether you were interested in the sport or not, everyone went to the club. It became a de facto community centre.”
New Zealand is a combination of Maori traditions and western values and influence.
“Traditionally, there has been a fundamental insecurity in New Zealand national identity,” says Professor Bruce. “We are constantly searching for who we are and where we are in the world. Sport is one of very few places where New Zealand has excelled on the world stage and so our internationally successful athletes always get a high level of publicity.”
Victor, part of the old boys’ club for over 50 years, agrees. “Rugby has a huge niche in a small nation here,” he says. “It dominates all other sports. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows an all black. The best thing you can be is a rugby success. If you’re a good player, careers open up in other fields.”
Club in every village. More social to involve the whole community even if you are not into rugby. It is the social centre, a place where everyone gathers and their joint topic is the all blacks, mums, aunties, nephews and cousins all have something in common.
With the heritage in the Maori culture and the pacific islanders tribal fighting spirit there was an indigenous strength and power running through the DNA of the New Zealand gene pool. Genetic size that marries, power, strength and speed is indelible in the style and modern performance standards of the all blacks.
Success breeds success
Building upon traditions and the energy of forefathers is motivational, however the success over the years puts both pressure and sets standards but also build confidence and belief into the all black players.
focus on their losses
Complacency has never been a problem with successful All Black teams. They have a constant pressure from their homeland to perform. They get dropped right back down to earth every time they go into their own local clubs and communities. Every New Zealander has an opinion and will voice that to an all black.
One thing the international teams have done is remember the losses more than their wins. They talk about it endlessly and remember the pain for those memorable losses.
Start them young
Under pressure the All Blacks fall back on their skills. These are skills that they have learned from a very young age. These skills have been honed over a number of years as to become second nature.
They start them young. Everyone plays in the community. Boys, girls, non-sporty types, everyone! Once bitten by the bug, kids are fed through a carefully designed series of programmes, starting at the age of five with the ingeniously named small blacks. “We try to line up the skills required with the ability of the kids to perform those skills,” says Anderson.
Between the ages of five and seven, there are no set pieces, no tackling and no kicking.
We cannot re-create the history, culture and community of New Zealand but we can learn from how they build their skills from the young ones. We can make our kids rugby better by copying the great things and being creative and innovative to take kids rugby to another level.
If New Zealand rugby is world class then how do we move beyond those standards, to start children younger with tots rugby. We can provide better learning environments, better coaching and better skills exercises from toddler rugby through to older kids rugby. That is what S4K Rugby is all about.
To start our own young with a more advanced Sport4Kids Rugby program has been designed with one aim in mind, to better the all blacks and small blacks programme.
It is designed on the All Blacks principles, with extra oomph from the Australian Rugby League handling skills techniques, wrapped in a Montessori methods approach that breaks each skill down to its minute detail and then wrap with fun stories and entertainment tailored to child nurturing and development.
The All Blacks have dominated international rugby now for decades. They have down it through building on their history, culture and communities a passion for rugby. They have built it into their national psyche and pride of their nation. They have drawn from professional motivation and sports psychology. They have used their natural advantages of Maori size, power and speed. But most of all they have built up from children’s rugby a depth of skills and innate revert to passing, running and evading that they have learnt since childhood. To celebrate the success of all black rugby is to celebrate all that is great about kids rugby and helping children develop skills and passion from a young age.
Hail the all blacks and hail their children’s rugby programme!