The Lions celebrate their first win over the Tigers since 2009. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
The Lions celebrate their first win over the Tigers since 2009. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

How the All Blacks are inspiring a Lions renaissance

The Brisbane Lions have taken a leaf out of the mighty All Blacks' book in performing under the pressure of trying to win the AFL premiership for the first time since 2003.

Lions coach Chris Fagan hailed Brisbane's mental strength after their 15-point qualifying final win over Richmond at the Gabba on October 2.

It was the Lions' first victory over the Tigers since 2009 and put to bed the demons of last year's finals series when Brisbane made a straight sets exit after successive defeats.

Making the right decisions was a crucial element in Brisbane's win, and the Lions' ability to make the correct calls under pressure has been aided by an emotional skills tool used by the All Blacks to end their Rugby World Cup chokers tag.

In simple terms it's called red head/blue head, and with the help of former Rhodes Scholar Ceri Evans, it was devised by the All Blacks after their 2007 World Cup failure.

"We got to 2007 and again on the biggest stage at the biggest game, for want of a better word, we choked," New Zealand mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka told The New Zealand Herald in 2017

"We needed to understand that there was something controlling behaviour at a neurological level that I didn't have the skill set to fix."

A psychological ethos of players having either red heads or blue heads in matches was then adopted by the All Blacks.

Red is negative as it's the state in which players are heated, overwhelmed and tense. It leads to slow perceptions, rushed decisions and the game feeling too fast.

Blue is positive and where players prefer to be because it's the state of being cool and controlled, which leads to correct decision making and better performances.

If players are entering the redhead state they must use a mental trigger to return to being blue.

Ryan Lester revels in the red. Picture: Michael Klein
Ryan Lester revels in the red. Picture: Michael Klein

It worked wonders for the All Blacks, who went on to win the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

Lions defender Ryan Lester said it had also been working for Brisbane this season.

"A little bit more internally we've spoken about mindset this year, being able to play with a clear head," Lester said.

"After the finals last year we spoke about guys being a little bit too red head, a bit too emotional the way they play."

But Lester sometimes revels in the red.

"For me, I actually have to be a little bit more red head than blue, which is more your calm," he said.

"I need to actually get outside my comfort zone. It seems to have worked for me."


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