John Morrison

John Morrison – How to create a winning culture

Mickey Harte

Mickey Harte

WHILE listening to music one evening, a line from a Los Bravos song went, “Black is Black, I want my baby back.”

That line certainly resonated with me as tnext morning, I read Sean Cavanagh, in a provincial newspaper article, suggesting, “Tyrone should start valuing the Ulster title again.”


Sean was thinking, ‘Six years is too long for a so-called team like Tyrone not to be winning Ulster’.

He went on that, “Most of the guys on this panel have not won an Ulster title, so we’d definitely welcome a big day in Clones this year to end our ‘Anglo-Celt’ drought. Winning Ulster would do an awful lot to embed a bit of confidence into the team and hopefully let us take the next step (an All Ireland title).”

Sean was endorsing manager Mickey Harte’s attitude of ‘wanting to win every game’.

Mickey has long promoted a winning team or highly successful team culture in Tyrone and next day Mickey, in an article in the same newspaper, endorsed that ‘winning team culture’ by stating, “The current squad has the potential to be as good as the 2008 vintage but they must deliver some silverware before they can be truly considered as being back among the elite.”

If an Ulster title is Sean and Mickey’s ‘baby’ this year and in ‘want my baby back’, the ‘Black is Black’ phrase set me thinking that both men may have been influenced by the great New Zealand’s All Black’s team and their philosophies.

The All Blacks were once in the same position as Tyrone are now. Statistically the All Blacks are the most successful sports team in human history with a win rate of 75%+ in the last 100 years, an achievment matched by no other elite team, in any sport.

But back in 2004, something was wrong. The 2003 World Cup was a distaster, many senior players threatened to leave; discipline was failing and, worst of all, the Blacks were losing.

In came new manager, Graham Henry who rebuilt a fresh culture based on individual character and personal leadership. Their mantra was, ‘better people make better All Blacks’ and Mickey and Sean are now hoping for their squad to be ‘better people make better Tyrone players’.

The result for the All Blacks was an incredible win rate of 86%+ and a Rugby World Cup.

Here are five lessons in leadership the All Blacks used:

1. Sweep the Sheds (Dressing Rooms)
Before leaving dressing rooms at the end of training/games, some of their best players, eg, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Mils Muliana sweep and tidy up the dressing rooms. For the All Blacks, this was an example of personal humility – a cardinal All Black’s value.
I have my team collect, bring in and store neatly all the equipment used by the team in the session/game.
So this great team has humility as a core to their culture. (Nobody is bigger than the team.) The All Black’s believe it’s impossible to achieve phenomenal success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground. Are you?

2. Follow the Spearhead

In Maoiri, ‘Whanau’ means ‘extended family’ symbolised by the ‘three tip’ spearhead, management, backroom staff, players and all move as a powerful unit in one direction. No energy sappers, no disrupters, no wasters allowed. Thus some of the All Black’s most promising players never pull on the black jersey. Why? Because the All Black’s select on character before talent as Mickey Harte has done in the past. Nobody who’ll be detrimental to the ‘whanau’ will ever be selected. Is this your system?

3. Champions Do Extra

Became a players’ mantra. The philosophy simply means finding incremental ways to do more, in the gym, on the field, for the team. It’s a focus on continual improvement (C.A.N.I), the creation of a continual learning environment and a willingness to ‘give all’ for the jersey. Tyrone under Mickey Harte is an example, and I feel Kieran McGeeney is promoting the same philosophy in his players.

4. Keep A ‘Blue’ Head

Following their early 2003 World Cup exit, the All Black’s used forensic psychiatrists to understand how the brain works under pressure. They did so as they wanted to overcome their habit of ‘choking’.
‘Red Head’ is an unresourceful state where players are off task, full of panic and ineffective – ie, careful or careless. ‘Blue Head’ is an optimal state where players are focused on task and performing to their best ability/strengths, ie, Carefree.
Triggers, like ‘stamping on ones feet’ to ground oneself (Richie McCaw); staring at the furthest point of stadium or black spot on goal posts to return to ‘awareness of your game’. Using triggers, players can achieve clarity and accuracy to enable them to perform under pressure.

5. Leave the Jersey in a better Place

This demands current players to represent all those who have come before them, eg, Michael Jones to Jonah Lomu and all those those who follow suit. Be a role model for future players, eg, Sonny-Bill Williams giving his winners medal to a young fan after the last World Cup triumph. Think of Cormac McAnallen, Peter Canavan, Brian Dooher, Fergal Logan, etc, and the work they continue to do for Tyrone after retiring.  So to are Paul McGrane, Aidan O’Rourke, Paddy McKeever, the McEntee twins, etc, doing for Armagh since their retirement. Mickey Harte and Kieran McGeeney want their 2016-2017 team to be as perfect role models as their 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008 players were.

‘Black is Black’ and teams with a winning culture become highly successful teams.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW