Have You Read Legacy?

Below are my notes from Legacy, placed poorly in article form. Please excuse the writing. I’m more concerned with sharing a great read than writing a great blog post today. Some days it’s about getting sh_ _ done.


Legacy is a brilliant yet simple work on the subject of culture in team sports. Although the examples are unique to rugby the lessons can be applied in every team sport and in many cases even in the workplace.

Our sport culture currently is enamored of monitoring and technology. Sports themselves are being taken over by young geniuses from schools like Harvard and Yale. These young men, and lets not kid ourselves its’ mostly men, love their stats and hire “stat geeks” to fulfill their appetite for statistics.

Interestingly, we have performance stats and physiological measures yet we tolerate abhorrent behavior in pursuit of victory.

Thankfully, organizations like the All Blacks and New England Patriots continue to prove that great culture trumps great technology. It is one thing to measure something, it is entirely another to figure out what to do about what you have measured or, to decide if you have measured it in he right people?

The author James Kerr quotes legendary basketball coach John Wooden, famous for teaching the proper way to put on a sock,  “winning takes talent, to repeat it takes character” P9

Bill Walsh, another dynasty builder quoted, said “you get nowhere without character. Character is essential to individuals and their cumulative character is the backbone of your winning team.” P9

Owen Eastwood, a lawyer for All Black players, described it this way:

Performance = Capability + Behavior (p.10)

I might even amend that to:

Performance = Capability x Behavior.

Behavior is not additive but, a multiplier. The effect of poor behavior on capability or potential is exponential, not additive.

The emphasis of the book is that character is essential. I have often said that sport as currently constructed builds more characters than character. The All Blacks stress humility, a quality mostly lost in American team sport, as the foundation of character.

The book quotes St Augustine on humility:

“ lay first the foundation of humility… the higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be it’s foundation”. (P.17)

A big part of the development of humility is what the All Blacks refer to as Sweeping the Sheds. Star players participate in cleaning the locker room as a sign of humility. They “sweep the sheds”. (P.18)

The quote is “never be to big to do the small things that need to be done”

In American collegiate and professional sport this is a lost art. Teams have armies of equipment people who cater to every need and whim of the athletes. This creates a kind of learned helplessness that runs counter to the essential character development.

In chapter three the essence of what will be the central premise of the book emerges. If character matters than “better people make better all blacks”. P33

The All Blacks simplified in terms only athletes can. “Better people make better All Blacks” became simply “No Dickheads”.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of serving in the higher levels of sport know that it is easy to find great athletes but, difficult to create great teams.

Phil Jackson, one of the best ever at making individuals into a team, is quoted in Legacy as saying “ this is the struggle that every leader faces. … how to get members of the team that are driven by the quest for individual glory to give themselves over wholeheartedly to the group effort”. (P76)

Another interesting point in Legacy revolves around the concept of the self fulfilling prophecy. In most cases the self fulfilling prophecy ( p 91) was viewed from a negative perspective in that expecting bad things would bring them. However the All Blacks adopted a reversal of sorts. Create the culture, create the expectations and people attempt to live up to them.

At Boston University our hockey coaches consistently preached that our hard work would make us a great third period team. We began to make our players believe that if we were tied in the third period we would win and if ahead entering the third we would never lose. That became our identity and the statistics over a decade proved that out. We became a team that fulfilled the prophecy and were hard to beat at the end of the game.

This is the beginning of mental skills training. A subliminal process of high expectations. As with many areas of the book the idea of mental skills or mental toughness is well thought out. Bede Brosnahan, an All Blacks consultant, summed it up nicely.

“ most organizations don’t focus on a program of mental skills training. They go for a program of one off hits, which is unrealistic: a training session, an away day, an inspirational speech, but nothing continuous and progressive.”

Both collegiate and professional organizations have tried the “train like a soldier” or “be a navy seal for a day” approach to mental skills but mental skills is as much about creating an environment of discipline, structure and work, as it is about screaming and playing army for a day. This is one reason I feel that strength and conditioning and strength and conditioning coaches are so important. In strength and conditioning there are few rewards beyond individual achievement and there is a commitment to process with only the hope of an outcome. To players so used to trophies and awards, strength and conditioning can be a long arduous learning process.

The process of mental skills and strength and conditioning come together again toward the end of the book when the concept of Champions Do Extra is introduced. (P.139) Champions Do Extra is self explanatory but often counterintuitive. So often our talented players are used to doing less, not more. Coaches coddle talented players at an early age to keep them happy and showing up. I have often stated that talent and work ethic are inversely proportional. In bad organizations the hardest workers are most frequently, reserves, backups and fourth liners. In good organizations the hardest workers are the best players.

However, this is a skill that must be taught and reinforced. The great coaches know this. I love the quote from Animal Farm “all animals are created equal, some more equal than others”. Elite level coaching is about realizing this and creating this unequal- equality. It is about about knowing how hard to push and when to pull instead of push. It is also knowing that you can hug someone while you give them a push.

The concepts were firmed up in what was called so fittingly The Black Book. One old player lamented that in his day you didn’t have to write things down ( p. 143) but, the creation of culture requires both the spoken word and the written word. The All Blacks used simple language in the Black Book that described their ideals.

  • No one is bigger than the team
  • Leave the jersey in a better place
  • Live for the jersey, die for the jersey
  • Its not enough to be good, its about being great
  • Leave it all out on the field
  • Its not the jersey, it’s the man in the jersey
  • Once an All Black, always an All Black
  • Work harder than an ex-All Black
  • It’s an honor, not a job
  • Bleed for the jersey
  • Front up or fuck off

The All Black concepts were simple and often vulgar but, they got the point across. There were expectations and not meeting them meant consequences. In the “me first” world of today’s sport this concept seems almost outdated.

I would often talk with legendary hockey coach Jack Parker about selecting or electing captains. My feeling was that a good captain had to risk being unpopular. A guy who wanted to be liked doesn’t make a good captain and probably not a great coach or manager.

The All Blacks like to say “you don’t own the jersey, you rent it”. (p. 171). The key is that rent is due every day. With Legacy, you consistently see the tie ins. The rent is the extra that champions do.

In the final chapter the author James Kerr relates the Legacy concepts to business. To paraphrase, Kerr says that businesses that flourish in the long term exhibit all the characteristics of the All Blacks. The business exists to create real value, and the employees believe in the mission. It’s not about a phony mission statement that gets drafted or a company slogan but rather about a way of doing business (p. 177)

The book concludes with the Wooden quote “be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is what others think you are”.

Please, read Legacy51tnzosSDkL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.






2 Responses to “Have You Read Legacy?”

  1. […] Boyle gives a run down on the book “Legacy” based on the All-Blacks Rugby team who recently won the rugby World Cup in […]

  2. I have enjoyed all your book recommendations Mike! Keep them coming.

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