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In a sport that is considered to be one of the most traditional going, you’ve become well known for thinking outside the box when it comes to team culture…
For me, the best way to cultivate improved performance is through leadership. Information on the latest leadership models is everywhere nowadays, but the ability to use it, to apply it 100 per cent accurately to your specific team, is very rare. To do it well you need high levels of self-awareness and emotional intelligence and the courage to adopt a collaborative approach with your players whenever possible.
What does a collaborative approach entail?
Well, one small example is that at the Royals we don’t have any disciplinary procedures for tardiness at team meetings – the players are trusted to know what is important and act accordingly. They’re treated like the intelligent professionals they are, and the result is you have players who take responsibility for their own actions and behaviour. We’ve never once had a problem with this approach and I suspect we never will.
In your opinion, what element of improving performance doesn’t receive the attention it deserves?
Sport is generally fixated on winning, on the motivational power of wanting to be top of the pile. But in every competition there are far more losers than there are winners – after all everyone can’t come first – and I don’t think enough attention is given to how you can lose well. To do that, first of all you’ve got to manage the failure, and that means dealing with it on its own terms. Feel the disappointment by sitting quietly and reflecting on it. Avoid any temptation to act out because of bravado or insecurity. Simply acknowledge what has happened, accept it for what it is – remember that you’ve simply lost a game of sport, it’s something that will have happened before and will certainly happen again, it is not the end of the world – and then, when you’re ready, look at the energy of the group and see if anyone needs your help. An over-focus on oneself is detrimental to your team’s health, whereas doing something positive for someone else instantly improves your mental state and the group’s as a whole. That type of behaviour – naturally wanting to put energy back into the collective – is a hallmark of a successful team player.
And then is it a question of analysing what went wrong?
Generally I like to give the players time to get their emotions back to healthy levels, so reflection is almost always kept for the following day and done in the team environment. First of all you need to take an honest, objective look at your preparation, which is the foundation of all good performance. Was it good enough? Was there anything you’d do differently? I’ve often found that writing down specific elements of your preparation helps clarify your thinking, but different approaches work for different people. Then you need to consider your performance. I don’t like it when teams focus on unpicking a mistake; I consider it far more beneficial to look first at the positives from a performance and then what should be done differently next time – finding solutions rather than playing any sort of blame game. If you do your job right as a coach you’ll find players lead these sessions rather than you, which shows they’re engaged and looking to learn. Finally, once you’ve decided on a course of action, you and the players need to commit to it – write it down, announce it in front of the team, whatever you need to do to make sure the lessons of the performance are ingested and used.