A lesson from growing All Blacks…

I tend to steer clear of the hackneyed and often over-reaching use of sporting analogy in talking about leadership and the work we do in schools more generally. That’s not to say there aren’t some important parallels and some very useful lessons to draw from the world of sport, but I’m happy to let someone else do the job of writing another clich├ęd rehash of the importance of ‘marginal gains’ (impressive as Mr Brailsford is), or another trite treatise about the importance of the hours spent on the training field (much as I agree, generally, with the sentiment).

I felt a little weakening in my resolve during the Rugby World Cup in September of last year, when I read this BBC article on life inside the All Blacks. I even started a draft post…. but I resisted the urge (or the moment was lost… whatever). That said, it really is a worthwhile read about the importance of initiating people into a high-performing team, maintaining a culture of high expectations, striving for continual development (and if you want something more substantial but in a similar vein, look no further than the brilliant ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr).

And then, a couple of weeks ago, this video of Buck Anderson, New Zealand Rugby Union’s Youth Development Officer, appeared in my news feed…

If you enjoy it, you’ll stick at it

A colleague and good friend of mine, part of our sixth form team, takes every opportunity he can to share with staff, students and parents his mantra that if students enjoy school, they will succeed at school. If they look forward to coming in each day and throw themselves into the opportunities – and challenges – they are faced with, then they are more likely to get a return and are more likely to succeed in the long run.

Interesting then, to listen to Buck talking about the programme that provides one of the most successful sporting teams of all time with its young blood. The focus of the youth development programme seems not to be on encouraging within every young rugby player a burning aspiration to be an All Black. The focus is not even necessarily on winning. The focus, borne out of listening to what the young people themselves have said, is on engagement with the sport and enjoyment of the experience: get stuck in.

“They are not actually, when you talk to them, thinking they’re going to be All Blacks. You constantly hear this “it’s every kiwi kids dream of being an All Black”… but the dream of being an All Black is an adult’s view… The kids want to have fun.

“We try to create that environment and drill down further into what…they mean by ‘fun’, and what is ‘enjoyable’? So, meaningful competitions, really good skill development, coaches who are going to make them better. And above all not taking it all too seriously. If the kids have got that, they’re happy. If they’re happy, they’ll continue to play and enjoy it.”

Meaningful competition. Not just lots of easy victories, but meaningful challenge for all.

Really good skill development and coaches who are going to make them better. Expert input, expert modelling, expert feedback. A clear picture of what success will look like and the strategy and tools to get them there.

And don’t write off the lower attainers before they’ve had chance to bloom.

“give these kids good coaching, give them a fun environment, give them a good competition, and we’ll keep them in the game for longer”

How often do we try to get students to focus on the end goal (which may or may not even be a goal that they share with us)?

How often does “you need to work hard because you need the GCSE grade” actually work as a motivation? For some, yes. For all? No. The better starting place is surely to inspire a passion for learning and for the subject we are teaching, engaging them (not with gimmick but with our own passion) with challenging learning experiences and meaningful successes and through nurturing a love for learning. After all, the jury seems to be pretty much ‘in’ on the idea that motivation results primarily from achievement, it doesn’t precede it.

Some lessons worth bearing in mind…

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Photo Credit: KiwiMunted Flickr via Compfight cc
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