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All Blacks and the Mind Game

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All Blacks and the Mind Game Empty All Blacks and the Mind Game

Post by George Carlin on Wed 05 Nov 2014, 8:49 am

Was quite interested in this from the Torygraph:
How New Zealand assistant coach Gilbert Enoka turned All Blacks around with a strict no-d***heads policy

Mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka explains how he has helped the All Blacks to banish their 'chokers' tag and repeatedly win games at the death


By Daniel Schofield
10:00PM GMT 04 Nov 2014


When Colin Slade kicked a conversion with the last play of the game to give New Zealand a wholly undeserved 29-28 victory against Australia in Brisbane last month, it was described as a Houdini act. Yet even the Hungarian did not manage to extract himself from as many tight situations as the All Blacks have done in the past three years.

From Dan Carter’s dropped goal against Ireland in 2012 to Ryan Crotty’s try in Dublin against the same opposition a year later to Conrad Smith’s try in the first Test of England's tour this summer, the All Blacks have made a habit of winning at the death. In those games, New Zealand were far from their best, but as the clock ticked ever louder and with the pressure at its greatest, they found a way to win. That, in essence, is mental strength, a commodity rarely associated with the All Blacks down the years.

There have been only fleeting moments over the past 25 years in which New Zealand have not been recognised as the best team in the world. The trouble was that they could not justify that status at World Cups in which they crumbled under pressure, most notably against France in 1999 and 2007. Theirs was an unwanted but deserved reputation for choking until they ended 24 years of hurt and jibes by winning the World Cup on home soil in 2011.

That transformation occurred largely thanks to the influence of one man: Gilbert Enoka, a former international volleyball player turned PE teacher and now described by Steve Hansen, the New Zealand coach, as the “glue” who holds the All Blacks together.

Enoka had little background in rugby until Wayne Smith, the former All Black, started selling him PE equipment. They soon bonded, Enoka’s “obsession” with the mental side of sport piquing the interest of Smith, who invited Enoka into the New Zealand set-up in 2000.

Even though Smith departed and then returned as coach, Enoka became a close confidant to Graham Henry and then Hansen. Henry describes Enoka’s impact as “phenomenal”; Hansen as “magnificent”.

Enoka told The Telegraph that his role is “equipping our men with the tools to be able to perform under pressure — giving them the mental skills they need to be strong”. So how does he define pressure? “When everything is on the line and you have got to get a job done performing at the best you can at that particular moment,” Enoka said. “When the stakes are high, there’s high scrutiny, high expectations and the consequences are great. That’s pressure.”

The All Blacks’ ability to withstand such pressure is evident not only in the comebacks that they have mounted but in holding on to leads in closely fought games. Before their blowout victory against the US in Chicago on Saturday, nine of their previous 13 matches had been settled by eight points or fewer.

There was no greater test of their collective nerve than in the 2011 World Cup final against France. New Zealand played poorly but by far the most impressive aspect of their performance was their discipline in the final 10 minutes when the slightest transgression could have spelt four more years of choking accusations. Brad Thorn, the Leicester lock, says that the squad could not have coped with the pressure of a home World Cup without Enoka.

The antithesis of that performance had come four years earlier in a 20-18 quarter-final defeat by the same opponents in Cardiff. Quite simply they lost their heads. At that stage Enoka had already been working with the team for several years convincing sometimes sceptical players that they needed to exercise their mind just as much as any other muscle in their body. Nevertheless the French defeat showed Enoka how far they had to go.

So he sought outside help from Gazing Performance Systems, a British company that was initially set up to help sales companies. Gazing’s premise is that when you are thinking clearly and your attention is fully engaged you will make your best decisions, which it calls blue-head thinking. Conversely, when you are distracted and are experiencing intrusive thoughts, which might manifest itself in stress, frustration and anger, you are in a red-head mode.

“The brain is made up of three parts: instinct, emotion and thinking,” Enoka said. “What often happens under pressure is that the thinking shuts down so you are relying on emotion and instinct. That in turn means you can no longer pick up the cues and information to make good decisions.”

To pull yourself from red-head back to blue-head thinking you need to give yourself an anchor to refocus your attention. These anchors have to be immediately accessible but are different for each individual so Thorn would throw water over himself, Richie McCaw would stamp his feet, Kieran Read would stare at the farthest point in the stadium. All these strategies re-engage the player in the moment and back into blue-head mode.

It can be boiled down to thinking clearly under pressure, which is subtly but significantly different from Sir Clive Woodward’s mantra of thinking correctly under pressure (you need to think clearly before you can think correctly).

In Brisbane, Slade, the All Blacks’ fourth choice fly-half, had to eliminate the residual frustration he felt at having missed a penalty to the corner. He needed to focus on the match-winning conversion. “You use those techniques to separate yourself in moments like that and when you need to kick a winning goal then everything else is irrelevant — what’s happened before and what will happen in the future,” Slade said.

“At international level, it’s often not about skill or ability but having the head under pressure to be able to execute. Having a guy like Gilbert is probably why the All Blacks have been so successful in the last few years.”

Enoka’s influence extends far beyond his job title as mental skills coach. Wyatt Crockett, the loosehead prop, says the squad view Enoka, whom they call Bert, as the custodian of their culture, and Enoka argues mental strength is impossible without a strong culture. “To deal with pressure you need to make sure that landscape that everyone lives in and on is solid and sound and has got a blood flow through it that nourishes everyone powerfully. If you neglect nourishing who you are, where you come from and what you are about then you just become a team that operates skin deep; we have to be a team that operates bone deep.”

The All Blacks are unique compared to other teams, Enoka says, is in the transference of power from the coaches to the leadership group who set and enforce standards among the players. When aberrations occur, such as Aaron Cruden’s missed flight, a player is answerable to his team-mates rather than the coaches.

Ego has to be left at the door; there is a rigidly enforced “no d---head policy” in the squad and every player takes turns in sweeping the changing room clean after each game. “The jersey can hunt out flaws as quickly as you can look at it. The d***heads and the posers who are not genuine about adding to this wonderful legacy just don’t survive,” Enoka said. “They become one-Test ponies and get chewed up and spat out relatively quickly.

“As an All Black, you understand the team powers above the individual and you are part of a wider legacy, which has been passed down to you from the ages. In this particular period, it is your time and it is your moment. We want people to cherish and understand that and nourish it for the next generation, leaving it in a better place than what it was.”
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Post by fa0019 on Wed 05 Nov 2014, 9:42 am

I think its a little extreme to say since 1989 their have been only fleeting moments since NZ have been the best team in the world.

In the 16 years from 1989-2004 I think NZ only really could claim to be best in 4 years from 89-90 and 96-97. Since 2005 however they've been the top of the tree both ranking wise and genuinely for probably 8 out of the last 10 seasons.

12 in 25 is certainly the best but you could hardly say they have been near totally dominant. its less than half the time. Perhaps 8 in last 10 would have been a better statement (still one of the most dominant of all time). Simply poor journalism.

The chokers term though is a little harsh. In reality... its because more often than not they have been unrealistically tagged as the team to beat.... even in 2003 they were joint favourites with England even though England had a 10-0 win vs. 3N sides leading up to the tournament over the last 3 years, had beaten NZ twice in the last 12 months (1 home, 1 away) and were 6N champs.

87 - Won
91 - AUS were simply better... was proven before and after the RWC too.
95- Perhaps illness had an impact, but SA at home was always going to be a tough nut to crack and losing in extra time by 1 drop goal isn't choking. When a team beats AUS, FRA and NZ in a tournament you can never say they were undeserving. Game plan Lomu also showed laziness in strategy. they had 1 game plan in that tournament. SA snuffed it out and NZ were hopeless to counter. Take Lomu out of the side and they were similar to the same side which lost a home series to France a year earlier.
99 - skill of Cullen, Lomu covered genuine cracks in the team. Brooke and Fitzpatrick were never replaced adequately.
03 - ENG were way above, Umaga out the side was crucial and they realised that playing a 10 who couldn't kick was always going to enforce a weakened side (i.e. MacDonald in the centres).
07 -ok genuine choke. Who cares if Carter got injured. 4 years later they won with Stephen Donald!
11 - Won

So only once could you probably say they choked but you could say that about many sides.

Not sure I agree also about the discipline in the last 10 minutes. They were all over the place but Joubert was too chicken to make the calls which whilst would have been unpopular in NZ, they would have been the right calls to make.

I do like the idea that you never "own" the shirt however... that quite simply you have been given temporary custody of the jersey and that the weight of those who have worn the jersey before adds a responsibility to perform to their standards.

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Post by Bathman_in_London on Wed 05 Nov 2014, 12:27 pm

A lot of this is covered in the book 'Legacy', which is more of a management type of book, although I enjoyed reading it all the same. I enjoyed the nugget that when NZ go over the Severn bridge, they all stand up on the bus and shout 'We don't lose to Wales!'- arguably not in keeping with their humble image!

The concepts of 'better people make better All Blacks' and kaizen are two which appeal to me and looking at England, that is clearly the sort of attitude which Lancaster has tried to install in the squad.


Of course, being calm under pressure and instilling a humble winning culture is a lot easier when you have a constant conveyor belt of talent coming through!

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Post by Notch on Thu 06 Nov 2014, 12:46 am

fa0019 wrote:I think its a little extreme to say since 1989 their have been only fleeting moments since NZ have been the best team in the world.

I hate to agree, weren't England at the top for around six months after 2204 2003? And of course Ireland knocked them off their perch in the Six Nations right after, but they were the best!

fa0019 wrote:I do like the idea that you never "own" the shirt however... that quite simply you have been given temporary custody of the jersey and that the weight of those who have worn the jersey before adds a responsibility to perform to their standards.

I think that is why Munster and the All Blacks have such healthy respect for each other.

By the way, Sean Fitzpatrick was in West Belfast teaching rugby to school kids the other day. We have a healthy respect for him too!

Bathman_in_London wrote:I enjoyed the nugget that when NZ go over the Severn bridge, they all stand up on the bus and shout 'We don't lose to Wales!'- arguably not in keeping with their humble image!

I love that. I don't think there's any contradiction there between being humble and wanting to destroy your opponent. Ego comes out on the field but it doesn't need to everywhere else. It has its role alright but it's not really needed in every aspect of life. Super competitive, abrasive 'winners' need humility more than anyone!
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Post by Hound of Harrow on Thu 06 Nov 2014, 11:32 am

This type of focus/refocus stuff has been part of normal working life training for years. Every now and again someone comes up with a slightly different slant or technique on it.

Basically a clear head will enable you to focus and once too much information clogs up the brain, step away, clear the mental slate and go back and prioritise your tasks (the refocus bit).

In any sport fitness helps massively in coping with the stresses in that you know you have the physical capabilities to carry out the tasks required to get the desired result.

In normal work this equates to sound organisation. Email is the bane of any office workers life so you have to be ruthless in prioritising incoming mail. Put stuff in category folders immediately and use coloured flags for prioritising.

With increasingly less paper correspondence, only pick mail up once. Either deal with it there and then or pass it on straight away if someone else needs to deal with it.

I was also never shy of saying 'no' to my boss if I had something important on. But I would always explain why and when I could deal with whatever it was they wanted. Various bosses learned not to pester me with frivolous requests.
Wink

Anyway you take what you need as an individual from this sort of training and weave it into how you operate to make yourself more efficient. Especially when up against tight deadlines.

NZ are doing the same thing here.

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Post by Taylorman on Thu 06 Nov 2014, 10:45 pm

Hound of Harrow wrote:This type of focus/refocus stuff has been part of normal working life training for years. Every now and again someone comes up with a slightly different slant or technique on it.

Basically a clear head will enable you to focus and once too much information clogs up the brain, step away, clear the mental slate and go back and prioritise your tasks (the refocus bit).

In any sport fitness helps massively in coping with the stresses in that you know you have the physical capabilities to carry out the tasks required to get the desired result.

In normal work this equates to sound organisation. Email is the bane of any office workers life so you have to be ruthless in prioritising incoming mail. Put stuff in category folders immediately and use coloured flags for prioritising.

With increasingly less paper correspondence, only pick mail up once. Either deal with it there and then or pass it on straight away if someone else needs to deal with it.

I was also never shy of saying 'no' to my boss if I had something important on. But I would always explain why and when I could deal with whatever it was they wanted. Various bosses learned not to pester me with frivolous requests.
Wink

Anyway you take what you need as an individual from this sort of training and weave it into how you operate to make yourself more efficient. Especially when up against tight deadlines.

NZ are doing the same thing here.

Yes its another spin on the same tried and true stuff we all know as other things, being in the zone one of them. The real difference is in the application of it. Its one thing knowing it and its another applying it successfully.

Enoka's a very smart individual in the application side of the process and I've heard him on the subject a few times.

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Post by DeludedOptimistorjustDave on Thu 06 Nov 2014, 11:33 pm

What a boring OP i must have zoned out around five times reading that drivel.

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Post by Biltong on Fri 07 Nov 2014, 4:23 am

DeludedOptimistorjustDave wrote:What a boring OP i must have zoned out around five times reading that drivel.
Well then, perhaps you should go to bed earlier and focus more when you do read, get some brain food, that will help as well.
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Post by Hound of Harrow on Fri 07 Nov 2014, 8:13 am

Taylorman wrote:
Hound of Harrow wrote:This type of focus/refocus stuff has been part of normal working life training for years. Every now and again someone comes up with a slightly different slant or technique on it.

Basically a clear head will enable you to focus and once too much information clogs up the brain, step away, clear the mental slate and go back and prioritise your tasks (the refocus bit).

In any sport fitness helps massively in coping with the stresses in that you know you have the physical capabilities to carry out the tasks required to get the desired result.

In normal work this equates to sound organisation. Email is the bane of any office workers life so you have to be ruthless in prioritising incoming mail. Put stuff in category folders immediately and use coloured flags for prioritising.

With increasingly less paper correspondence, only pick mail up once. Either deal with it there and then or pass it on straight away if someone else needs to deal with it.

I was also never shy of saying 'no' to my boss if I had something important on. But I would always explain why and when I could deal with whatever it was they wanted. Various bosses learned not to pester me with frivolous requests.
Wink

Anyway you take what you need as an individual from this sort of training and weave it into how you operate to make yourself more efficient. Especially when up against tight deadlines.

NZ are doing the same thing here.

Yes its another spin on the same tried and true stuff we all know as other things, being in the zone one of them. The real difference is in the application of it. Its one thing knowing it and its another applying it successfully.

Enoka's a very smart individual in the application side of the process and I've heard him on the subject a few times.

Agreed. Any coach needs feedback on what they coach. The physical and technical side of coaching is easily monitored, recorded and assessed.

This type of 'mind coaching' needs verbal feedback from the players and for the coach to ask open questions to assess the impact of it.

An interesting subject.

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