Patrick Gower interviews All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
Patrick Gower interviews All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
Patrick Gower: Steve Hansen,
thank you for joining us.
Steve Hansen: A pleasure.
The All Blacks – a great team, a great history, a great heritage. I want to ask you first what, in your opinion, makes the All Blacks the All Blacks?
Well, a lot of what you’ve just said. I think the history and what’s gone before. You know, we’re a little nation, and we started playing a game that was invented in England and looked down their noses at us over that, and it was something we were good at, and it suited the farmers of the day and the physical workers of the day. And as time’s gone on, we’ve built a legacy, a story that now has a massive expectation that goes with it, and it’s something we can all be proud of as New Zealanders.
Yeah, we’ll get into a lot of that, but I guess to pick up on the legacy, obviously every All Black team is different. What defines Steve Hansen’s All Blacks, in your mind?
It’s not Steve Hansen’s team, because I think the key thing is it’s about a collective group of men and women who – management, players – are trying to do something to enhance what’s happened beforehand. And to do that, we’ve been the number-one side in the world for a number of years now, and so we have to set ourselves some lofty goals, and some people may say that’s arrogant, but I think if you want to achieve something in life, you’ve got to set big goals. And whether you reach them or not is irrelevant; it’s the fact that you’re trying to reach them, and that’s all we’re doing at the moment. We’ve set ourselves a goal of trying to be one of the most dominant sides in the history of the game, and it’s not for us to judge whether we’ve done that. It’s about that’s what we want to achieve. And to do that, we also want to be, you know, humble, grateful men and women for being part of it. It’s a special place to be in the All Blacks, and whilst it comes with a lot of responsibility, you know, it’s something that we all love and enjoy.
Sure. I want to pick up on that collective phrase that you used there, rather than being ‘your’ team, it’s ‘the’ team, I guess.
Is that one of the defining factors – the fact that is a collective?
I think it could be. I think it’s something that we’ve learned over time that for this team to really play well, we need to be as one and the team has to be greater than the individual. And in doing that, we need to make sure a few things happen. One is make sure we’re on the job with our game, so we’re looking to improve the style of game we’re playing all the time and better it. But we have to have a massive amount of alignment from, you know, the guy who’s seen to be at the top, which is me, to the guy who’s just having his first week in the team. And that comes through obviously the coaches being aligned on how we want to play, the management being aligned on how we want to live as a team, and then taking that alignment to the leaders – we have our leadership group – that has the opportunity to say, ‘Well, yeah, I agree with that,’ or, ‘Nah, I don’t agree with that,’ and we have some robust debates and discussions. And then everyone has to disagree and commit or agree and commit. And then it’s up to the players to actually drive it, because it’s their team and it’s their moment in the jersey, and that’s their opportunity to leave something behind for the next group.
Yeah, because you’ve talked about humility and you’ve talked about, you know, devolving leadership in some senses. I mean, that means you as the coach, the figurehead in many senses, what you have to give up – some authority. You have to give up some control. Is that right?
Well, it might seem like you have to give up some control, but, really, it’s not about control. It’s about everybody going in the same direction, trying to achieve the same thing, and so you’re not having to control anyone to do that. They want to be alongside you. And in some cases, you want them to be in front of you because they’re the people that are out there playing, and they’ve got to make the big decisions in the moment in the contest. And all we are is here to facilitate an environment and training and on and off the field an environment that is conducive to them being able to play on Saturday.
Yeah, and that means giving the players control in some senses.
Yeah, it is, but once you get in there and you start doing that, it’s not— looking at your face, you seem to think that that’s quite frightening, but it’s not. You know, it’s actually no different than a family. We see ourselves as a big family, and, you know, there comes a time when the young children in the family have to start taking some responsibility. And as they get a little wiser and a little older, you give them more and more responsibility to the point where, you know, they’re capable of running it themselves and Mum and Dad can sit back and actually enjoy it.
So you actually see this team as like a family, like a real family?
I do, and I think most of the people in it at the moment feel like that. You know, it’s a group of people trying to achieve a common goal, which is, put simply, to win every game we play, to make people proud of us. And to do that, we have to be all on, as I said, the same page. But there’s certain dynamics that happen within a family that happen within a team, and those dynamics sometimes can be positives or they can be negatives, and there’s always consequences either way. You know, you’re getting a pat on the back if you’re doing something positive or maybe a kick in the bum if you’re not doing what’s right. But you love the people that you work with, but sometimes you don’t like their behaviours, and that’s no different than your family too. You love your children and your partner and your wives and et cetera, but sometimes you don’t like their behaviour, and it’s a matter of saying, ‘Righto, well, that standard doesn’t live in this house,’ and it’s no different here. We’ve got standards and expectations. Don’t have a lot of rules, but those standards and expectations are driven every day and driven by the people from the top down and the bottom up, and no one has any right not to be living them, including myself, so…
I mean, how do you fit into that, you know, into this family concept? I mean, obviously you can’t be everybody’s mate; you’re the coach.
Look, again, I think when we first started out, as a leader you’ve got to decide, ‘Right, how am I going to live as a leader? What are the things that I’m going to negotiate on, and what are the things I’m not going to negotiate on?’ And when I presented those to the team, the number-one thing, the expectation I had, was the team would always come first. So every decision we make about and around the team is about what’s right for the team. So whilst you can be great mates, there’s always going to be a time when you have to make a decision, and then what’s stronger – your loyalty to that person or the team? And as much as I love everybody in the group, I love the team too. And my job is to make sure that the team is left better than what we found it. So, yeah, there are some tough decisions you have to make, but when you go back to, ‘Well, is this right for the team? Yes,’ then it’s an easy decision and even though there can be some tough moments within that decision.
You’re using the term ‘love’ there. You’re talking about loving these guys. I mean, you know, using that word to old-school All Blacks or old-school New Zealanders might seem a little namby-pamby in some senses. It’s fine by you, obviously?
Oh, it may seem namby-pamby to some people, but I know that to get the best out of these people and, again, I refer back to your family, like is it namby-pamby to love your own children and love your wife? I don’t think so, so why would it be any different when you spend a lot of time together and some of those times are heart-wrenching, some of them are great experiences, and I just see it as just a natural progression of being together, and they’re a group of brothers, and it’s about sharing those intimate moments from a sporting environment and you become closer because of that.
We talked before about getting a pat on the back, as you said, or a kick up the bum.
How do you, Steve Hansen… how do you see, how do you get the feel for what a player needs? How do you read a player as to whether they need that?
Well, once we’ve talked about the team coming first, the team’s made up of a whole lot of individuals, so you try and do your best to get to understand the individuals and what makes him or her tick and particularly the players. You’re really looking at them, ‘How am I going to get the best out of that person?’ along with the other guys that are helping you do that. And it’s just about watching them every day. You know, ‘Okay, well, he’s come in for breakfast today, and he don’t look happy, so something’s happening in his life or…’ It’s a feel. I don’t know. You just know after a while when you’re rubbing shoulders with them all the time what individuals need and what they don’t, and I guess that’s the art of coaching.
I mean, some people— it is the art of coaching, of course, or emotional intelligence, or EQ, I guess. You know, have people said that to you before, ‘You’ve obviously got a high EQ – high emotional intelligence’? Is that something you’ve got?
Oh, not sure. My wife would probably tell you I don’t, but, look, I think if you take the time to get to know yourself first. Like, self-awareness is massive, you know, ‘What’s the thing that I know about myself when I’m under pressure?’ and then you can actually look at others and say, ‘Well, that’s how he reacts. That’s how she reacts,’ and good, bad or indifferent. And when you know those things, then you can help them be better.
How do you motivate yourself? You spend a lot of time motivating the team, obviously, but what’s motivating you?
Interestingly enough, I don’t think my job is to motivate the team. My job is to create an environment where motivated athletes can perform. So how do I motivate myself? I guess it’s, one, I love winning – really love it. I’m a very, very competitive person. You know, I love debating and having discussions. And when I was younger, I was probably an average human being because of that, because I’d lose sight of, actually, this is just a discussion; it’s not a competition. That took a while for me to learn that and probably hurt some people along the way, but… So I love winning.
How did you hurt people? By…?
Well, New Zealanders are great at putting other people down. You know, some of us are quite sharp with our tongues, and you hurt people’s feelings by smacking them when— I don’t mean physically but verbally because you’ve outwitted them, but you walk away feeling pretty good about yourself because you’ve won that argument, but really you didn’t. You lost. You know, you lost somebody. So once you learn those sorts of things, I think that’s a little easier to understand compassion, I guess. But going back to your question of how do I motivate myself? Well, one, as I said, I’m competitive. Two, I have a massive amount of respect for the All Black jersey. I think, you know, I was never good enough to play for the All Blacks. I’m very, very grateful for the fact that I’ve been given the opportunity to even be the assistant coach, let alone the head coach. I’ve spent a lot of time in here now, and I understand the identity of who we are and what we want to be, and the mere thought of not doing what was right would, you know, destroy me, I think. I really desperately want to make sure when you walk away it’s been done right. So that motivates you. Then you’ve got your family, who make a massive sacrifice. And people say, ‘Oh, you sacrifice a lot to be here.’ We don’t sacrifice anything. We get to tour the world, we get to stay in lovely hotels and we get to play great arenas, and you’re doing something that a lot of people would chop their arm off to do. But the people who do sacrifice are your family, so you don’t want to let them down. If you’re going to be away from them, you need to be great, so that motivates you. And I think they’re probably the three key things that get me up in the morning and want me to be good at what I do.
You know, there’s also the bad feeling or the fear that New Zealand has of losing or that anger that comes out when the All Blacks do lose, and, you know, you’ve obviously thought a lot about this. It’s that weight of expectation that is on you from the country. How do you deal with that?
The key thing you’ve got to deal with first and foremost is understanding that in the All Blacks there’s a constant pressure. It’s constant. It’s just there all the time. There’s an expectation. And once you understand that and you accept it, it’s a lot easier to deal with it, because it’s just there, so, ‘Okay, what am I—? Am I going to run away from it, or am I going to walk towards it and take this on?’ And one of the reasons why the All Blacks have been as good as they’ve become over many many years I think is that expectation externally – our fans, our ex-rugby players – all expecting to front up and play well and win. Internally, the expectations have to be greater than that, and they have to meet those expectations and even be higher, so I think it’s driven the All Blacks. For a long time I think the All Blacks were driven by a fear of losing. You know, over time I think we’ve changed that to really not fear losing, because when you fear something, you stop taking risks, and if you don’t take risks, you don’t get the big rewards. And I think winning the World Cup in 2011 took a big monkey off a lot of people’s backs, and we could say, ‘Well, okay, people can stop calling us chokers now.’ And not only just the players, I think the whole country – it was just a big sigh of relief. And, you know, I’m a great believer that you’ve got to keep challenging the boundaries and you’ve got to be courageous enough to, you know, step off the cliff and jump into the unknown. And, you know, if you’ve got talent when you do that, then anything can happen. You can go to places that people can’t dream of.
What sort of things do you do to get out of the comfort zone – is what you’re talking about here, isn’t it? Get yourself out of the comfort zone, get the team out of the comfort zone. You know, what’s a sort of practical example of a risk that you’ve taken to get this team ready for the World Cup?
Well, probably our selections for this World Cup. We could have easily stayed with the tried and true, you know, a 53-capper in Cory Jane and a 49-capper in Israel Dagg, but we chose two guys who, one’s had 40 minutes and broke a leg and the other guy’s played two Test matches. But when we weighed it up from a selection point of view, we just thought, ‘These two guys are bringing something that we haven’t had that could really open up our game, and we really need it to be opened up. So is the reward worthy of a risk?’ and the three selectors said, ‘Yes, it is, so let’s go for it.’
You know, do you personally worry about losing at the World Cup? I mean, do you think about it? Do you block that out or, you know…?
I don’t worry about it, because worry is, for my mind, a wasted emotion. It’s either hasn’t happened or it has happened. So if it hasn’t happened, work towards it not – making sure it doesn’t happen – and if it has happened, then you’ve got to fix up what’s happening right now, the aftermath of it happening. So is it a possibility? Of course it is. You know, what we’re going to try and do, no one’s done before. No one’s won back-to-back World Cups. The All Blacks haven’t even been in a final in the UK or a European World Cup. So we would be very naïve and very foolish not to be thinking, you know, this could happen. And if we become fearful in that, then that’s what will happen. But if we can understand that those things are just in… they’re facts that maybe we don’t as a nation or maybe as past teams don’t want to actually— inconvenient facts that we don’t want to acknowledge. Well, we have to acknowledge them because that allows us to move back over to this side and say, ‘Righto, what are we going to do about that? How are we going to plan so it doesn’t happen? Why has it happened before?’ You know, I’ve been in All Black teams in 2007. We had the best team at that tournament, but we made massive mistakes. We’ve got to learn from those mistakes, otherwise the mistake was…. You know, it kills you. It hurts like hell to lose, but it’s even worse if you don’t learn from it and you’ve got nothing out of it. You’ve got to get something out of a loss.
So what’s the one thing that you’ve learned in all that time coaching that can stop us from losing this World Cup?
That we can’t just turn up there as the defenders of this Cup and expect to win it. We’re contenders like everybody else and there’s 20 teams there, so there’s another 19 teams, and we have to earn the right to even get to the play-offs. And then once we get to the play-offs, we have to earn the right to take the next step. So everything we do, we have to earn it.
How do you do that, though? Because, of course, everyone will say we can’t turn up like we expect to win. We’ve got to turn up, as you say, like contenders. But how do you actually create that mind shift so it’s real?
Because everyone would grapple with this. Everyone wants to get better. I mean, how do you actually do it?
I think it’s about living it every day. You create an environment where you’re living every day trying to get better and you’re not accepting that what you’re doing today’s good enough. And I think if you keep pushing and pushing that and everyone’s bought in to it first and foremost and then you keep pushing it and driving it, it’s achievable. But the minute you decide that, ‘Okay, well, we’ve arrived,’ someone’s just going to draw straight past you. So whilst we’re in front, how hard are the people behind us working? They’re working extremely hard because they want to be in front, so therefore we have to work just as hard in the front. And I think that’s the mistake sometimes we can make in sporting and even in business, I reckon. You know, you go in really well, but you’re not looking at all the inconvenient facts that are out there saying, ‘Well, you know, if you don’t sort that out, that’s going to be a problem. If you don’t sort that out, that’s going to be a problem.’ And if you’re not real with yourself, then, you know, you’re not going to get any better, so… It doesn’t mean to say we’ll win the World Cup because we know these things. We’ve still got to drive them, and there’s still going to be some really, really good— I think it’s probably the best World Cup of the four that I’ve been to because anyone can win it. You know, and the number-two side at the moment in the world is Ireland. It might have slipped after losing the other day, I’m not sure, but currently I think they’re number two. We could play them in a quarter-final. And the number-one side and the number-two side ranked in the world – one of us is not going to go forward. Now, so just because you’ve got a ranking that says you’re one or two or three or four doesn’t give you the right to be in the top four for the semi-finals, and it certainly doesn’t give you a right to be in the final.
That’s a good place to leave it. Steve Hansen, thank you for your time.
Thank you. Cheers.
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