all blacks' values: them & us

The other day I did something I don't often do. I purchased a rugby magazine. The cover had themes you might expect for a NZ rugby magazine: 'world domination ... secrets of the All Blacks' success ... why are the All Blacks so good?' But it was an article tucked inside the back cover that caught my eye (and warranted the purchase of the $9.90 magazine - GULP?!): It is titled 'A First XV of All Blacks Values: the qualities and skills that make the All Blacks the team they are'. Here they are:

Mental Resilience
Core Role
Continual Improvement

It is an impressive list of 'qualities and skills'. Who could possibly quibble with any of them?! But it got me thinking. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks team, how many of these cross over into Christian teams?

Let's have some fun...

Sacrifice. This is about going without alcohol or friends in order to spend time in the gym getting fitter and faster. It is about sacrificing one part of life in order to make another part (the rugby part) better. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the sacrifice to make is not some part of me - but all of me - and it is not for the improvement of myself but for the service of others and of Jesus. 

Respect. This is about the legacy in which an All Black participates as they wear the jersey with the object being 'to hand it back with the legacy in better shape'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the pastoral epistles) the key legacy that is received is the gospel, with the focus being on stewarding it carefully and passing it on faithfully, in the same shape, rather than in better shape. 

Gratitude. This is about never stopping 'being grateful for the privilege' of spending time in the team - something for which they've worked hard and which they deserve. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams this gratitude is placed within a grace-framework and so to be on the team is 'a grace given' and something we do not deserve. That leads to a far deeper gratitude.

Acceptance. This is about being content with a role on the bench as a reserve and the disappointment that comes with not making the starting 'fifteen'. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A willingness to serve in relative obscurity in supportive roles, away from the public performance, is a big part of contributing to effective teamwork.

Speed. This is about having speed across the ground, but also speed in getting off the ground, speed in seizing the gap (offensively), speed in closing the gap (defensively) - as well as speed 'in the mind, referring to attitude'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the parable of the soils) there is a recognition of the value of a slow patience and that the best fruit takes time to mature.

Trust. This is about the confidence placed in the game plan and in each other. 'Many times in the last five years it is trust in what they do that has enabled the ABs to win test matches late in the piece'. There is this self-belief. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the primary trust is neither in one's self or one's teammates - but in God. There is this confidence that He is in control and that He provides.

Mental Resilience. This is about the resolve that is needed to counter adversity when the team comes under pressure and the scrutiny is intense. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams, this is not merely something that is whipped up from within, it is something that grows as we reflect on what is beyond and what is certain and assured in our future.

Awareness. This is about how there is no 'off switch when behavioural expectations are lowered'. It is a 24/7 lifestyle filled with expectations. Failure can be fatal. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the pressure is there to live a consistent life, in private and in public 24/7, but to do so with the power supplied by the Spirit. Failure to do so has consequences, but it need not be fatal.

Open-mindedness. This is about the willingness to be flexible and to change. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there is a time to be close-minded as well. There are convictions that hold us, that never let us go - and that we never ever change. As GK Chesterton expressed it, 'The object of opening the mind, like opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.'

Dedication. This is about 'a devotion to the mastery of basic skills'. There is always a need for more practice of the small skills. Success often comes through an attention to detail. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. The close attention to simple skills - like saying thank-you, or saying sorry, or listening to understand rather than to respond - is at the heart of it all.

Accountability. This is about 'the continual search for improvement' and so 'there is no hiding or glossing over mistakes'. They are corrected. And the leaders and best players feel the pressure - and are corrected - the most. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. There is a pursuit of excellence and it is the leader who sets the example, humbly acknowledging mistakes quickly when they are made.

Leadership. This is about how everyone in the All Blacks is a leader (as is explained so well in the biography of former All Black coach, Graham Henry). Each person takes responsibility for their own lives, leading it well. True. In Christian teams there is cross over here, as the leadership possibilities of each person in the team, not just some special elite, are drawn out and enhanced.

Honesty. This is about truthfulness in all aspects of training and performance. Things don't get brushed over or swept under the carpet (hmmmm, are these writers struggling to find 15 distinct values because haven't we been here before?!). True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. 'Integrity' might be the word used, with a reminder of the psalmist longing for 'truth in the inward parts'.

Core Role. This is about doing your job (which is kept minimal and simple) and trusting the players around you to do theirs. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A team that functions like this evokes biblical images of a body, or a building, where everyone is indispensable and there is an interdependence, rather than an independence or dependence, in the way people work together.

Continual Improvement. This is about being better than your last performance and when that hunger is no longer there, it is time to quit. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there will be a discomfort in talking like this adrift from the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives. The hunger never goes away. We never quit. The Spirit keeps identifying things to work on - and keeps giving the power to help us build holy habits in those very areas so that we can become increasingly Christ-like.

While all fifteen 'qualities and skills' sounded so good with that first reading, on reflection there is a need for a nuanced critique. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks, there are some 'qualities and skills' that are true enough in Christian teams: (acceptance, dedication, accountability, leadership, honesty, and core role) ...

... while there are other 'qualities and skills' that are not true enough for Christian  teams and they need to be refocused, reframed and reoriented (sacrifice, respect, gratitude, speed, trust, mental resilience, awareness, open-mindedness, and continual improvement).

nice chatting



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