A Challenge...

I'm throwing down a challenge.

It's the same challenge I've given our students in my first week back assemblies, at the start of new term which, for many, will include the toughest academic test they've experienced in their young lives so far...

It's a challenge about achieving excellence. It's a challenge about maximising potential; about performance.

It's a challenge about learning from the most successful team in history, inspired by this book...

James Kerr Legacy

I hope you - and the students - will get Legacy's relevance! In it journalist James Kerr shares his learning from spending time with the New Zealand All Blacks, assimilating a success culture driven by a focus on character and relentless quest for continuous improvement. A culture which over a ten-year period has moved what was already the statistically most successful sports team ever to the unprecedented triumph of back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015 and an incredible 92% win-rate every time they take the field.

All Blacks World Cup

He identifies a number of powerful, practical and, above all, highly adaptable lessons in high performance. Five for me stand out in relation to the examination challenges facing our students over the coming weeks...

1. Sweep the sheds

The 'sheds' is how New Zealanders refer to changing rooms.

Before leaving those changing rooms at the end of the game, some of the most famous names in world rugby – including Legendary Captain Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, World Player of year – will stay behind and tidy up after themselves. They literally and figuratively 'sweep the sheds'.

Sweeping the Shed meme 

It's an an example of personal humility, of character; no one individual is bigger than the team or too important to do the basics; to continue to learn.

They even have an equation for it:

Performance = capability + character

Though it might seem strange for such globally dominant team, humility is core to All Black culture. They genuinely and fundamentally believe that it's impossible to achieve stratospheric success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground. And taking personal responsibility for your own actions - and therefore performance.

The first message I wanted to get across in my assemblies...?

2. Follow the spearhead

The traditional Maori spearhead has three tips. But to have greatest impact all of its force must move in one direction.


The team must push in one direction. The All Blacks select on character as well as talent, which means some of New Zealand's most promising players never pull on the coveted jersey if it is felt that their attitude is wrong and that their inclusion might detrimental to team spirit and ethos.

Because no one can be allowed to disrupt the drive for the collective achievement of the team.

The second message I wanted to get across in my assemblies...?

3. Champions do extra

This is about identifying incremental ways to do more – better; in the gym, on the field, or for the team. It's a bit like the philosophy of 'marginal gains' used by Sir David Brailsford, Head Coach of Team GB and Team Sky Cycling.  The idea that if you improve all the small things that you do by 1% – and  also look for new areas that others haven't yet thought of to improve on - then the overall impact on performance can be huge...

Bradley Wiggins



A focus on continual improvement, the creation of a continual learning environment. Finding little things to do even better, or differently, in your preparation for high performance.

My third message to students...?

4. Keep a Blue Head

Red Head versus Blue Head

Having been knocked out of the 2003 World Cup at an uncharacteristically early stage, the All Blacks worked with Ceri Evans, a forensic psychiatrist, to better understand how the brain works under pressure. They wanted to prevent another incidence of 'choking' on the big occasion...

So, the 'Red Head' is defined as an unhelpful mental state in which you are off task, panicked and ineffective. The 'Blue Head', on the other hand, is an optimal state in which you are fully focused and performing to your best ability in a high stakes setting.

The All Blacks even use physical triggers to ensure that they wearing a 'Blue Head' throughout the game. Captain Richie McCaw, for example, stamps his feet to literally ground himself in the moment...

Using these triggers, the players aim to achieve clarity and accuracy, so they can perform to the very best of their ability under pressure.

Such an approach resonates with two others from the field of high performance sport...

Inner Champ Management

Dr Steve Peters' theory of 'Chimp Management'; that performers need to learn to control their 'inner chimp'; his name for the bit of the brain which runs on emotions and gut instincts, resulting in snap decisions. It contrasts with the more rational, evidence-based part of the brain which leads to more reasoned decision-making...

Tea Cup T Cup

And Sir Clive Woodward's TCUP mantra...

Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.

Applying what you have learned and executing effectively it under the most challenging of circumstances...

My penultimate - and arguably most practically relevant - message for pre-exam students...?

5. Leave the jersey in a better place

The All Black saying 'leave the jersey in a better place’ is a reflection of their pride and sense of responsibility in representing their country at a sport that embodies wider national values, spirit and culture. In the quality of their performance they seek to enrich it further and leave their own legacy for the next generation of players.

Understanding this responsibility creates in all members of the team a compelling sense of higher purpose beyond success in sport. Being inspired to play bigger game, they also play a better game.

My final message message to the students...?


A challenge to our young people to learn from the very best... And leave the jersey  - their year group and their school - in a better place.

I know they'll rise to it.

All Blacks Rugby Team