Haka, teams and energy

Haka of the All Blacks before the match agains...
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As a way of helping my students learn each other’s name I often use an activity I know as the Haka. Have you ever seen the New Zealand Rugby team (the All Blacks) at the beginning of a match? They perform a Maori dance that certainly makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and probably scares the living daylights out of their opponents. I usually show the students a couple of short videos to mentally prepare them for the experience, the first is a performance of a Haka, the second is of a Maori explaining the words and describing its significance. What I love about the second clip is that the Haka is explained as “a collective frenzy”, “a unified front”. As my students shout their name accompanied by an aggressive gesture their call is followed by the refrain of all their peers. We go round in a circle and an intimacy is created by sharing something that may be a little uncomfortable to some.

Last night I witnessed the same zeal; I currently work for a company that creates and harnesses this energy. The good news is that they choose to invest in their people’s development and the room was filled with more than 120 people all there on the company’s dime. For two hours we investigated our strengths and weaknesses using a framework of competencies. We were encouraged to take these findings and contemplate them in relation to where we wanted to go in the company, and we were shown and practiced how to give and receive feedback. All this was interspersed with a “collective frenzy”, clapping and hollering creating a “unified front”.

It is exciting to work / study somewhere that invests in ramping up the energy and helping their people to feel a group bonding experience. Are there times when you have felt this kind of frenzy and connection? What do you currently do to create unity?

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Sweetspot

My audience shifts somewhat uncomfortably and laughs nervously looking around them. We are in a ski resort and they are learning to telemark ski. “You want us to clap a rhythm?” This is a make or break moment in my style of teaching, rather like dealing with Cai, it is not a moment for words, it is a time for action, a time to picture myself as the Pied Piper of Hamlin and lead convincingly in a way that looks fun and engaging.

Before I have time to turn around I am at the head of a line of happy clapping shufflers, alternating between their left and right feet leading, bending their knees and genuflecting to the snow gods. Smiles light up their faces.

In 1972 Timothy Gallwey wrote a book called the Inner Game of Tennis, among the many tips for coaching sport that he shared, one stands out to me. Rather than focusing on what should be, observe what is; both with accuracy and non-judgement. More often than not we focus on the wrong thing. Gallwey asks students to say “bounce” when the ball touches the ground and “hit” when the ball meets the racquet. His reasoning being that if a person’s observations are accurate their body will adjust and correct automatically to achieve the best performance.

In 1999 John Jerome wrote a book called the Sweet Spot in Time where he delves into the art and physiology of excellence. As the title suggests rhythm plays a large part in this process. A majority of grace and power lies in timing; whether that timing is synchronous or not depends on the activity. For instance running is a very synchronous activity, if you spend more time on your left leg than your right then not only will it look and feel ugly, it will cause any number of issues in other areas. A tennis serve on the other hand is asynchronous and involves a number of sequenced actions. When the timing is right, the ball flies of the racquet, if you swing at the same speed and the timing is out then the result is nowhere near as good.

As I walk into work I cannot help myself. I feel the need to watch people run past me and wonder how much more efficient they might be if they contemplated the two concepts I have just shared. I also wonder whether if they had a coach who did what we did when teaching skiing how they might find their performance improve without even contemplating it. By being aware of what is happening without questioning why, the improvements occur naturally. By clapping with the lead change, participants were able to hear if their changes were rhythmical and synchronous or not. Before my eyes the stuttered, lurching shuffle of a beginner inevitably transformed quickly into the fluid dance of someone far more experienced. More importantly it did not appear to be laborious, just a natural change and the participants were not even particularly aware. The more I think about that class, when the skiers thought less about what they should be doing, they became better and it happened more quickly.

So my questions today are, what is the rhythm in your life,and how do you observe what is truly happening without judging yourself?

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