Weekend Warriors: A look at the All Blacks' commitment to success
Countless thousands of grassroots rugby players all over the world strive to emulate their heroes every weekend. Often dubbed the Weekend Warriors, they're forever picking themselves up, dusting themselves down and getting back into the muddy fray. The benchmark by which they all judge themselves is New Zealand's legendary national team.
The All Blacks have such incredible motivational powers that they offer encouragement and lessons in good practice to players at all levels - including those humble Weekend Warriors who grace pitches across the rugby globe.
The sight of the All Blacks jersey may strike fear into many opponents, but that's dwarfed by the shirt's ability to inspire greatness from those fortunate enough to wear it. "The first day I put on this jersey I just didn't want to let it down," said Richie McCaw earlier this year as he broke the record for Test caps with his 142nd appearance in the world-famous shirt. "I wanted to add to the legacy of what was 100 odd years before."
Legacy has long been a major motivational factor for the All Blacks which was originally founded in 1893. The desire to honour those who have worn the shirt with distinction in the past is the key to their dominance of the international stage.
"Many aspire to become All Blacks but very few become All Blacks," explained Don Tricker, High Performance Manager for New Zealand Rugby and a key cog in the All Blacks' enviable consistency. "It's about cherishing your time in the team and leaving a footprint that will help others who follow you."
That expectation generates an enviable work ethic within the All Blacks' squad that fuels their quest for excellence. Here are some of their strategies:
Get the basics right
The All Blacks are the world's best because they do the basics better than anyone else. This is due to their unswerving commitment to physical preparation.
Warm-ups, stretches, handling drills and a post-game cool down are pivotal parts of their training programme. This is supported by advanced technology which provides players with in-depth analyses of their performance levels.
Each player's training programme is tailored to the requirements of his position and individual physiology. This becomes increasingly important as players get older, and the combination of age and wear and tear brings a higher risk of injury.
The All Blacks refuse to rest on their laurels, with training continually being freshened up - whether it's the structure of the week, the drills or the roles taken by coaches. It's all done to keep the players engaged and motivated.
"You can't out-perform your preparation. That is a fact," explained Tricker. "What happens on the weekend is directly attributed to what you did during the week."
Empower your team
The responsibility that comes with being an All Black extends beyond how they train and play, to the sharing of important decisions about the running of the team.
Their 'dual-management' set-up encourages leadership duties to be shared between coaches and senior players, with both offering input into the decision-making process, on and off the field.
As former assistant coach Wayne Smith put it: "It's like if you're in business, and your employees feel like they own the company, then they're gonna put a hell of a lot of work in."
Make the right choices
Rugby players have traditionally been praised for their ability to take a knock or two but the All Blacks know that ignoring injury can harm the team's chances and jeopardise individual careers.
An equally influential aspect of the All Blacks' winning philosophy is their strong belief that, 'Better people make better All Blacks' valuing good behaviour off the field. They feel that people who make good decisions in life, are more likely to make sound judgements on the field in the heat of battle.
"What we are looking for are quality men, who make smart decisions when under pressure," explained Tricker.
Those good decisions can include how you fuel your body. The All Blacks believe that a player's diet can have a significant impact on performance, especially as he gets older, and muscle mass starts to decrease and fat deposits begin to build up. They want their players to eat well in order to train and play well.
Hydration goes hand in hand with nutrition and players must drink plenty of water to help maintain performance during exercise. Isotonic sports drink can help keep energy levels up. Alcohol is not off the menu however, even the All Blacks have been known to toast their success - but it's all about moderation.
Enjoy your game
As clinical as the All Blacks' approach may appear, there has traditionally been a conscious effort to ensure players have fun along the way. Efforts include the creation of a 'rugby club' within the team which encourages players to wear their club colours at social occasions, helping to s strengthen team spirit.
"The players need to enjoy each other's company, so there's quite a lot of social activity," revealed former coach Sir Graham Henry back in 2005. "It brings them closer together and the camaraderie is important." That's as good a lesson as any other for a Weekend Warrior.