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© Jean-François Beauséjour. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
© Jean-François Beauséjour. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

What does it mean to be a part of a team or a club, and what attitudes and values enable a group to thrive? An article by a New Zealand All Blacks rugby coach has some interesting insights, which are relevant to anyone who wants to help build a positive club culture.

Alongside the technical skills, physical ability, tactical awareness, mental toughness and all the other outstanding qualities a player needs to possess to be considered for one of the most legendarily and consistently successful sides in sport, the All Blacks also have one very simple selection policy:

No d*ckheads

The policy is there to wean out inflated egos and make everything about the team, based on the central belief that, “You can’t be a positive person on the field and a pri*ck off it.” What then, according to the All Blacks, is d*ckhead behaviour?

“A d*ckhead makes everything about them. They are people who put themselves ahead of the team, people who think they’re entitled to things, expect the rules to be different for them, people operating deceitfully in the dark, or being unnecessarily loud about their work. Often teams put up with it because a player has so much talent. We look for early warning signs and wean the big egos out pretty quickly. Our motto is, if you can’t change the people, change the people.”

That's a pretty simple rule but one that's fundamental in creating a positive and successful environment, avoiding the toxic behaviours that can damage clubs. It’s also an attitude that has - we hope - unconsciously underpinned Cambridge South and which is one of our greatest assets as a club. We are regularly told by new members how positive and friendly the club us, and how much they like playing for our teams: a lot of that comes out of ‘No di*ckheads’.

Cambridge South has grown rapidly in recent years, adding more men's and ladies' teams as well as starting a new junior section. So how do we preserve our positive culture as we grow as a club and welcome new members, and ensure we remain the sort of club we want to be? D*ckhead behaviour, as well as toxic, is also infectious: if it’s allowed or overlooked, it spreads. Once more, it's worth quoting the All Blacks:

“The management might not spot these counterproductive behaviours. The players and leaders themselves should call others out for their inflated egos. Our coach Steve Hansen, a brilliant man, once came into a team meeting a few minutes late. As he walked in, one of the senior players stood up and said, ‘Coach, you can’t be late. Not again, please.’ So it’s actually the team monitoring this behaviour.”

In other words, it is the responsibility of everyone at Cambridge South to collectively uphold the values and behaviours we expect, and require our teammates to do the same. This should be done in a positive way; it is not an excuse for bullying or for some individuals to set themselves up as self-appointed judges - it comes from collective behaviours and attitudes. It can be easy for someone to defy one person - even a team captain or club officer - but to defy the collective attitude of a whole group is very difficult: those people simply won’t last.

South is an amazing and exceptional club and it is made so by everyone who is part of it. It is something we should cherish and protect. As we begin a new season, we’ll leave the final words to the All Blacks’ coach:

“You can have all the strategies in the world, but in the end, what will enable you to overachieve – or underachieve – is your culture. As the custodian of the culture, I make sure everyone has a sense of belonging. When you walk to the pitch, you should feel you belong to this place and that it’s fed and nourished by the people.