“Leaders create leaders by passing on responsibility, creating ownership, accountability, and trust.”
—James Kerr, Legacy

No More Team Talks

Rugby coach Graham Henry had been coaching for 30 years, and every game, he gave a team talk. Then, one day in 2005—early on in tenure as Head Coach of the New Zealand All-Blacks Rugby Team—Tama Umaga, the team captain, asked him to coffee.
Tama didn’t beat around the bush and directly asked his head coach, “Why do you give those team talks?”

Henry became uncomfortable by the question, but he explained how they provided inspiration and direction for the team.
Tama’s response was, “Are they for you or for us?”

The point was made, but it was a difficult one for a head coach of 30 years to swallow. Henry accepted this feedback and started to approach pre-game talks with a player-centric approach. He started to consider it their time, and it was important they could prepare mentally the way they needed to. Never again did he give a pre-game team talk.

The New Zealand All-Blacks Continue Their Domination

Only last weekend, I watched in amazement as the New Zealand All-Blacks dominated Ireland in the quarterfinal game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Approaching the upcoming semifinal game, the All-Blacks team looks ready to continue their dominance of international rugby by winning a third-straight Rugby World Cup.

One cannot help but look on with admiration at arguably the greatest sporting organization of all time. When you look inside their success, it’s quickly apparent that the most important quality of the All-Black’s culture is being a player-led team. However, the concept of being a player-led team is foreign to most people, as few have experienced or seen this in action.

What’s a Player-Led Team Look Like?

While there are many aspects to the All-Blacks’ player-led culture, here are two of my favorite examples that will shock most coaches:

1. There are no team talks on gameday. This tradition has continued even after Henry retired as Head Coach of the All-Blacks.
2. Players run a practice every week before a match. As the week before the match progresses, the balance of communication and leadership shifts from coaches to players. It is common for their “leadership council” to run a practice or training session before the weekend match.

Now if you are considering implementing these strategies to become a player-led team, slow down! These strategies work because they are supported by systems that empower the players to take personal responsibility, support each other, and hold their teammates to a high standard. One of the most important systems that the All-Blacks use is their leadership council.

The Leadership Council

The leadership council (or “captain’s council, as we sometimes call it) is a system that has effectively helped coaches in our mentorship program at the collegiate, high school, and youth levels. Its purposes are to:

1. Develop Leadership Skills
2. Decentralize Command
3. Create a Positive Experience
4. Provide Support and Accountability
5. Become a Player-Led Team

The leaders are selected by the players, but this is done so intentionally by having them create a job description. When they are selected, they are each assigned their own group or unit to lead, support, and mentor over the course of the season.

This system can transform your team culture when it is implemented with supporting systems both on and off the field, thereby creating a space where players are encouraged to communicate with and support each other.

Leadership is not obsolete or unimportant. In fact it is very important, but we need to develop in in real time—not in classroom lessons or curriculum.

Send us an email if you are interested in discussing how mentorship can help you implement a Captain’s Council and other systems.

Works Referenced
• https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/oct/30/rugby-world-cup-final-australia-new-zealand
• Legacy by James Kerr