The All Blacks Take the GreenLine – The Psychological Prowess of the All Blacks

“The ballplayer who loses his head, who can’t keep his cool, is worse than no ballplayer at all.” – Lou Gehrig

Imagine facing the best side in the world, a side which was on an 18-match winning streak and against whom you had never won in 111 years with 28 attempts. This is what the Ireland rugby team faced on their 2016 tour when they encountered the mighty All Blacks.

Apart from the attention to detail that coach Joe Schmidt brings to the table, he also brings an idea of culture, a culture of hard work, a culture of playing the moment in front of you and a culture of discipline.

This really stood out in that famous victory over the All Blacks. If a rugby team can keep their penalty count below 10 conceded, that is a pretty good record. The All Blacks pushed the boundaries of the rules, with the masterful Richie McCaw always living on the edge.

However, despite living on the edge, the All Blacks maintained a pretty low penalty count. Against Ireland in Chicago, they boasted some pretty impressive stats, with only 12 penalties conceded.

While, that is a great achievement, what is truly remarkable is the discipline shown by the Irish Team.

“Mind Control”

Discipline when you are hugely dominant is very different than discipline when you are 194 metres run versus 514 metres run, with an equal share of possession. Most important is that you have been under pressure for the entire second half and only had 35% of second half possession and made a staggering 119 out of 135 tackles versus your opponents 86 out of a possible 97 tackles.

This post is not about that Irish victory in Chicago, but more about the All Blacks, a team famous for remaining one step ahead of the competition. They do this by innovating with training techniques, regulations and of course focusing on a positive culture.

Nowadays, it is quite common for sportspeople to benefit from sports psychology. Sports psychology is often thought of as a way to get over nerves, to work on confidence or to rehearse sporting combinations or scenarios before they happen.

The All Blacks, however, true to pushing their limits, use sports psychology in a different way, in a similar way that we coach companies and individuals here in GreenLine HQ.


GreenLine solves the 2 fundamental elements of human performance: How we think and how we interact. We do this by enabling people to recognise when they might be headed down a “red path” and in a rugby context when they might just be “seeing red”. This of course can lead to talking back to a referee, giving away “mindless” penalties and squabbling among the team.

You can imagine our delight when we discovered that the All Blacks use similar methods to our own. For those of you who have taken GreenLine (in class or online) you will be familiar with the toolkit you can use to manage 5% moments. These are the moments that make us or break us, the moments in which we show up or we throw up. These are the moments in which games are won or lost. In business, these are make or break moments.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

The Emotional Gym

We know the All Blacks “show up” most of the time. They boast an impressive 79% win rate stretching back to 1903. This was achieved through great culture, intense training and tactical prowess. However, this team of extremely tough sportspeople work on soft skills to remain ahead of the rest.

Why would they invest in emotional skills many might ask? Why wouldn’t they focus instead on their strength, their speed, their handling skills?

Emotional resilience is a major skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of business. As my colleague Aidan McCullen covered in this blog, businesses are built on outdated structures, in a similar fashion the skills used today/yesterday are not the full suite of skills needed for today/tomorrow. (This is why both Flow Group and GreenLine are experiencing a purple patch.)

We have established the necessity for discipline, especially in 5% moments, when the stakes are high, when it matters most.

Apart from physical fatigue, many teams often overlook mental fatigue. This manifests in the form of sloppy defense, sloppy organizational alignment and is evident in penalties conceded. A team under pressure will concede more penalties, often conceding through pure desperation.

The All Blacks recognise that there are always uncontrollable factors in every game, you cannot control the ref, you cannot control the weather and you cannot control the opposition. What you can do is give yourself the best chance possible to succeed. You can do this by giving yourself the skills needed to evolve, just like we need in business.

A few years ago the All Blacks recognised a need to control their emotions on the pitch. Emotional outbursts to each other, to the ref and to the opposition was costing them points and damaging their culture. Ultimately, this would cost them games in the future.

Always quick to react, the team adopted a purpose-built two-part framework that describes the mental state they wanted to avoid. They called the framework Red Head/Blue Head, akin to RedLine and GreenLine that we coach our Global partners.

When All Black players find themselves in their undesired mental state on the pitch, they each employ a physical or mental trigger to get back into their default Blue (cool) Head state. Blue head is calm and Red Head is, well, not so calm.

Each player has their own trigger to get back to the cool head state. One player pictures himself on the top seat in the stadium, while another stomps his foot on the grass.

Imagine this was the operating system within your business? Imagine your people could have a common system where they could avoid unhelpful reactions. By teaching people in an accessible and easy-to-implement manner we see phenomenal changes for our clients in their business and personal lives.

Having the toolkit to deal with every interaction can make you the best team on the field. Having the toolkit to make your organisation flow can make you the best business in your field. Thank you for reading, if you like this please hit a thumbs up so others might see it.

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