Steve Hansen, All Black coach
There is more to Steve Hansen than the monotonous responses you see in All Black press conferences.
Hansen has a compassionate side, not seen much in the public arena. “I’m a little rough around the edges but a big softie on the inside. Most dads are like that” said Hansen.
His role as the All Blacks coach is only one aspect of his life and I wanted to learn and share more about the other aspects which make up Steve Hansen, the person.
The first thing I noticed when meeting Hansen was the casual shorts and old fleecy jumper he wore as he walked out of the lifts into the hotel lobby. It was a far cry from the number ones he sports in press conferences; which actually made me happy and less nervous. I was happy to see him in comfortable clothing. I was even happier when he hugged me as it wasn’t an awkward tap-on-the shoulder-kinda hug but a genuine bear-hug which eased the nerves further.
As we chatted and I started setting up the equipment, I slowly noticed his calming influence. “I know what to do with that, I can do it” said Hansen as he reached for the lapel mic in the bag. He could tell I didn’t know what I was doing with the equipment (which I hired especially for his interview). “Do you have headphones to test the audio? Plug it in the recorder and let me know if you can hear me” he said as I was fluffing around with my camera. Not only had he agreed to meet me on the team’s day off but he helped me set up too. Bless him.
The longer we chatted, the more I noticed about him. His calm exterior was always there but under the calm surface I could sense a level of awareness and discipline about him which came across as he spoke. The subtle way in which he responded to my questions actually helped me with the structure of the interview as I was jumping all over the place with my conversation. Without showing any signs of annoyance or pointing out the obvious, he methodically steered me back on track and filled in the gaps with his responses in a thoughtful manner. So thoughtful, I didn’t notice he was doing it until after the second time it happened during the interview. Bless him for that as well.
Hansen grew up on a dairy farm, 2 miles from the Dunedin airport but moved to Christchurch around the age of 15 with his parents and three siblings.
“I was one of those kids who went to school to eat their lunch” admits Hansen. “There are two types of students, the one who fully takes advantage of all the opportunities school provides and the other who doesn’t” he said. On reflection, he wishes he was the kid who took advantage of the academic opportunities available to him, not just the sporting ones. “I’m not saying I’m a dummy but I could’ve taken advantage of the academic opportunities more” he said. Asked why he regrets that, he responded articulately “It’s a wonderful opportunity to grow, learn and develop your mind so when you leave school you have the process that allows you to do that” states Hansen. He admitted when he left school he had to start that process all over again and it was difficult.
However, one major experience and learning curve which helped develop that process following school was working. “I was fortunate to attend university after school; the university of life, also known as the freezing works” joked Hansen. Working opened his eyes to the world around him as he was rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life and different cultures. He learnt more about people and what they are like through work which helped develop other personal skills he may not have received at a traditional university.
One skill in particular, his emotional intelligence; which is important to Hansen. “Working gives you experience and exposure to other things which makes you a better person. It’s not all academics; academics can sometimes be black and white and life isn’t always black or white. It’s got a little bit of grey in it” grinned Hansen.
After the freezing works, he travelled and played a stint of rugby in France before returning home to a variety of jobs, including running a bar while he waited to get into the police force. He eventually made it in and gave 8 years’ service before starting work at the Canterbury Rugby Union. The rest of the climb up the New Zealand rugby ranks is history.
Hansen and his wife Tash have a blended family of 6 children ranging from 14-29 years of age. For Hansen, family life is important. The kids, their 10-acre property and animals keep him busy when he’s home. A typical day usually consists of dropping the kids to school (if they have them), grabbing a coffee with Tash and spending time together. “We play out the day as it comes and we make sure that we as a family are doing what’s best for us as a family” said Hansen.
I was interested to hear what advice he would give to his kids from all of his life lessons. I was taken aback by his advice and it showed more glimpses of an intelligent, well-rounded man with a depth to him that his deadpan answers in press conferences shield.
- “Be true to your real self. Don’t get caught up in something you’re not. Be true to your own values and the things that are important to you”
- “Understand you’re going to make mistakes and that’s ok. The important thing to remember when you make mistakes is to learn from them”
- “To be able to love others, you have to love yourself. Love who you are” shares Hansen.
Interests and dislikes
“I’m passionate about people, particularly my family. I’m passionate about my job; I’m fortunate and grateful to have a job I love” said Hansen. On the flip side, things that annoy him include greedy people; people who are self-centred and people who don’t show any care or consideration for others. “That annoys me a wee bit” grumbled Hansen.
As a little boy Steve wanted to be a jockey but obviously he outgrew that calling. Asked if he wasn’t the All Blacks coach, what would he be? “A horse trainer; most likely in Australia as the horse racing industry is a lot more competitive over there” he said. His interests outside the family and work are horses; he owns some too. I cheekily asked if any of them were any good, “Some are good and some are not so good so they even themselves out” laughed Hansen.
As for Hansen’s future plans, “I don’t know, I haven’t thought too far ahead. I’ve just re-signed obviously through to the World Cup and we’ll see how that goes and then make some decisions” he said. Regardless of Hansen’s plans post 2019, he has undoubtedly established himself as one of New Zealand’s most influential coaches; no small feat given the calibre and experience of New Zealand sporting greats. Although, in light of Hansen’s varied career, his story is a clear example that professional sport does not have to define one’s life, but it provides opportunities to enrich it.