Two people who had survived intense pressure and tasted success last year were Graham Henry and Richie McCaw. As respective coach and captain of the All Blacks they were tasked with bringing home the Rugby World Cup silverware and a nation of five million supporters weren’t going to accept anything less. Success in sport can often hinge on how much a team wants to win and in high stakes situations mental toughness can play a crucial role.

Henry believes that his eight years coaching the All Blacks proved mentally tougher for his family than for him. “They go through more difficult times than you, because they have no control over it, and you have. You’re at the coalface, doing the job, and it dissipates the pressure; you are so involved in the process you don’t worry too much about the result.”

Henry is now passing on his knowledge to other sporting teams as a “mentor”. He’s involved with Super 15 rugby team the Blues, Argentina’s national rugby team the Pumas, and Sport New Zealand’s emerging coaches from disciplines such as yachting and cycling.

In an interview with the magazine MiNDFOOD, Richie McCaw opened up about the sort of pressure he is under as All Blacks captain. “There is always pressure going into any match, I have accepted that. Everyone expects the All Blacks to win every time they go on the field. If you try and say there is no pressure you are kidding yourself. I try to put it aside and just be excited by the opportunity.”

He goes on to say that being the best player he can be is key to supporting his team. Walking the talk and leading by example are traits of role model Todd Blackadder (former All Black), which Richie hopes to emulate.

Psyching yourself up is a particularly effective mental toughness tool and we all do it before a big occasion because it helps to give us courage or the “edge”. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the world’s most successful rugby team, the All Blacks, also have the most elaborate mental warm up – the Haka.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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