Words of wisdom from Sir Graham Henry

Sir Graham Henry spoke to a crowd of sports students at St Peter’s School.

Staff and students at St Peter’s School were recently treated to a visit from one of New Zealand’s most special sports figures – Sir Graham Henry. The former All Blacks coach spoke to a crowd of well over a hundred people, glued to his wise words and giggling at his excellently dry sense of humour.

The talk came as part of the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup team’s visit to the school, which spent some time training there last week as part of the build-up to competition. Henry, one of the coaches, was asked to give a presentation to the school’s sports academy students, and they certainly made the most of the opportunity – picking his brain for the many secrets of success in high performance sport, and getting a few cool stories in the process.

Instead of giving a prepared speech, Sir Graham simply fielded a range of well-thought out questions from the crowd, from what makes top sportspeople so great, to how to deal with loss.

“It’s not easy,” he said of losing big sports games, “but I think you learn more from adversity, more from the times which are difficult, than you do from the times when you win.”

Henry detailed some of his past achievements, from being headmaster at Kelston Boys’ High School in the 1990s to coaching at Auckland Grammar in the late 70s – where he originally set the goal of eventually coaching the All Blacks. “… and in 2004 I became the All Blacks coach, so it only took me 34 years!” he said with a grin. “Some things take a long time, but if you keep persevering you get there, hopefully.”

Over a hundred students filled the school’s junior homeroom to hear Henry speak.

Among the first questions he took, one student asked him what made Richie McCaw such a great All Black. “I can’t speak highly enough of him,” he said. “If you’ve got the desire, passion, that’s a hell of a good start, and that’s all he had, and everything he built from there… he was hugely driven.

“You wouldn’t call McCaw a naturally gifted sportsman, but he’s a man with a massive backbone and a huge ticker. He just worked really hard at being the best he could be. That’s all he did, he just wanted to be better tomorrow than he was today.”

“The big thing is they are always striving to get better,” he said similarly, when asked what makes the All Blacks such a great team. “There’s a ruthless pursuit of excellence by every person on our team. So if there’s one value they have, is understanding you’re not the finished product, you can always get better.

“Once you think you’re there, well you might as well give up. There’s always a next step.

“It doesn’t matter what sport it is, I think the big thing is constant desire to improve. … The big attributes are; a great mentality, a great mindset, and ‘how can I get better’.”

Henry added that the most important thing of all, whether pursuing excellence in sport or any subject, is passion. “One of the most important things is that you love it, you’re passionate about it … and then you put the skills in and develop the body to be the world champion.”

Inspired by his excellent attitude, one person asked, ‘how can students build a strong mindset at a young age?’, and the answer was simple. “A strong mindset is something that happens all the time,” he said. “I think it’s about going out and doing what you’re meant to do each day, keep on pushing the boundaries, and never have an excuse … Just be committed to doing what you’re meant to do. And if you do that you get into the habit of that pursuit of excellence.”

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