Career Advice

Why the Haka is a Key to Success for New Zealand’s All Blacks

John Smith

Can sport provide lessons for life?

Depends who you’re asking. The world of sport has participators and followers, together making up a massive proportion of the community.

Participation can have many benefits. By engaging in regular physical activity, you can expect to enjoy improved physical and mental health.

Being a follower, or a fan, can also be good for you. Connecting and sharing an enthusiasm with others promotes a healthy, active mind and builds self-esteem.

Both groups can look up to and be inspired by prominent performers as role models.

These star players are often so revered that the following that they generate can see them command astronomical earnings. NFL players in the USA can make anything from USD$1 million to more than $50 million a year. And soccer? In 2022, Cristiano Ronaldo had an annual salary of over USD$200 million.

But, aside from marvelling at their level of proficiency, what can we actually learn from these celebrated individuals?

Enter the All Blacks

It cannot be overstated how significant New Zealand’s men’s national rugby team is to its citizens.

Of course, there is the enormous pride in their unequalled sporting achievements. Literally the best ever to play, the team won the last two Rugby World Cups, holds the record for the most consecutive wins and is the only international team to have more wins than losses against every opponent. In test matches against 19 nations, 12 have never won a game against the All Blacks.

But the legend that surrounds the team has elevated to far more than inspiration from masters of the game. The principles on which the All Blacks operate have become a philosophy for life.

Valuable lessons which could fill a book

Which in fact, they have. Here’s how it happened.

Even the mighty All Blacks can have a bad patch. After suffering a devastating defeat by France in the quarterfinals of the 2004 World Cup, the team sat down for a hard look at itself to define and set down its principles. Consequently, they took their former glory to the next level, bringing them to two World Cups and an 85 percent winning record. Those principles and how the team executes them daily were laid out in the book, Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.

Any team, company or even individual looking to perform at the highest level can apply these rules. We won’t list all 15, but here’s a few standout takeaways.

1. Character

Never be too big or too small to do the things that need to be done. A small (now famous) example is that after a game against Wales, the entire team swept the changing sheds. Character triumphs over talent.

2. Adapt

Organisational decline is inevitable unless leaders prepare for change. A culture that is constantly adapting has a continuous competitive advantage. Or, even when you’re on top of your game, change your game.

3. Pressure

Bad decisions are made because of an inability to handle pressure at a pivotal moment. To embrace and manage pressure, control your attention. Switch from ‘Red Head’ – anxious, aggressive, desperate; to ‘Blue Head’ — loose, calm, clear, accurate.

4. Whanau

In Māori culture this translates to ‘our family, our friends, our tribe, our team’. It embodies the essence and benefits of birds flying in v-formation rather than solo – “be of one mind, follow the spearhead.”

5. Purpose

Know your ‘why’. Understand the outcome for which you are playing and connect personal meaning to a higher purpose to cement belief and a sense of direction.

Hey, wasn’t this blog about the Haka?

Yes! But we thought you should know a little background first for a reference point.

What is the haka? The haka is a traditional war dance performed by the Māori people of New Zealand to display a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Commonly used to fire up warriors on the battlefield, it’s also a customary way to celebrate, entertain, welcome, and challenge visiting tribes and dignitaries.

Now performed before every match, The All Blacks’ signature challenge has been a fearsome part of their armoury for around 130 years.

The tradition began with a tour of Australia and the United Kingdom by the national team in 1888-89. Originally only performed when they played overseas, in 1986 the haka was included in home matches.

Does the Haka give the All Blacks an advantage?

There has been much speculation over whether the All Blacks gain a physical or emotional edge from the powerful ritual.

An Irish rugby commentator, Ewan MacKenna commented that the haka shouldn’t be allowed because of the advantage he claimed it gave the All Blacks.

“It provides a psychological edge through self-inspiration and via an attempt at opponent intimidation,” he said. “It also provides a small physical edge as others are forced to stand still and go briefly cold.”

Associate professor Vince Kelly of the Queensland University of Technology put heart rate monitors on players as they executed the haka to observe physiological changes.

“Players would have an advantage over their opposition as their heart rate is elevated in preparation for the match.” he said.

Other teams try different responses in an attempt to counter the menacing display, from the Welsh team singing their national anthem to Tonga enacting their own battle dance.

But they ignore it at their peril. The 1996 Wallabies captain, John Eales, regretted that decision prior to a 43-6 trouncing in Wellington. He believed the power of the performance came less from the effect on the opposition, and more from connecting the All Blacks with each other.

Whatever the strategy, it would appear the effects pay off.

Skills for success? Look no further…

We pride ourselves on providing trainees in the FDM Graduate Program with a complete suite of skills to embark on a successful tech career journey. Our Consultants routinely tell us that, while the focused technical component of the training fully equipped them to tackle specific roles, it was the professional, ‘soft’ skills modules that best prepared them for the transition to corporate life.