According to Irish team coach Joe Schmidt, part of creating a positive culture is about players having the ability to stay humble in the face of super stardom and financial success that sporting success brings. As such, one of the main themes of his teams is that they are humble in both victory and defeat. His captain Paul O Connell epitomises this as he is an extremely down to earth type of guy who has a positive word for everybody including the fans that he meets on a daily basis.
There are different types of people in sport and in life. What we know is that winning teams have positive leaders from both a coaching and playing perspective that are able to get the best out of those around them. It was recently said of Irish rugby stalwart Paul O Connell that he is an excellent leader. Recent newspaper articles suggest that he makes every second row he plays with a better player because he is so demanding of them – but he doesn’t ask them to do anything he isn’t willing to do himself. He inspires those around him to raise their game because of his non acceptance of mediocrity but more importantly his humble willingness to push his own physical boundaries to excel himself.
In a recent BBC documentary on ex Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, “Secrets of Success”, he proclaimed that one of his primary objectives was that his players would be respectful to the club they played for. Part of that revolved around being appropriately dressed when travelling away from home while representing the club – suit and tie. A bigger part revolved around being humble to those they met in the football environment when away from home and around the environment at their Carrington training ground by greeting the cleaning and restaurant staff by their first name. In fact Alex Ferguson once said that he knew he had a player if he had the same manner and personality at 21 as he had at 16 when he left his mother. There would be no room for ego and this proved very wise as he became the greatest manager in the history of the British game.
Another that elicited the importance of being humble was successful GAA manager Jim Gavin with All-Ireland champions Dublin. In their preparations and progression to 3 Leinster titles and 2 All-Irelands in the last three years, he constantly epitomized what it is to be humble through his absolute reluctance to take the plaudits for his successful team while complementing and lauding the praise on his players always.
The most successful sports team in the professional era are the New Zealand All Blacks in rugby, who have an astonishing 86% winning percentage and numerous championships to their name. In an outstanding book about the All Blacks called Legacy, author James Kerr discusses one of their core values that epitomizes the selfless attitude.
The goal of every All Blacks player is to leave the national team shirt in a better place than when he got it. His goal is to contribute to the legacy by doing his part to grow the game and keep the team progressing every single day.
In order to do so, the players realize that you must remain humble, and that no one is too big or too famous to do the little things required each and every day to get better. You must eat right. You must sleep well. You must take care of yourself on and off the field. You must train hard. You must sacrifice your own goals for the greater good and a higher purpose.
You must sweep the shed.
After each match, after the camera crews have left, and the coaches are done speaking, when the eyes of the world have turned elsewhere, there is still a locker room to be cleaned and believe it or not, it is done by none other than the players!
After each and every game the All Blacks leading players take turns sweeping the locker room of every last piece of grass, tape, and mud. In the words of Kerr: “Sweeping the sheds is all about doing it properly so no one else has to.
“Because no one looks after the All Blacks. The All Blacks look after themselves.”
They leave the locker room in a better place than they got it. They leave the shirt in a better place than they got it. They are not there to get. They are there to give.
If you are a coach, recognize that by intentionally creating a culture where players are humble and seek to give instead of get, you will have a team that not only develops excellence on and off the field but is a team that is much more enjoyable to coach.
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