There is so much leaders can learn from sports teams. Staying with world cup football here are some more insights. Building upon last week's post "Learning from Champions" these are:
The Trainer and his co-trainer team
The trainer of a football team has other experts assisting. There are co-trainers, fitness coaches, and also an expert physician. The trainer is responsible for leading the team, for the system to play, and for strategy and tactics. Yet, he relies on the expert advice of these personally selected trusted people: his trainer staff. Contrary to the belief of most people a great, exceptional trainer is not the ‘lonesome rider’. The opposite is true. Team playing begins at the top. Even though the final decisions are made by the trainer. For instance, the decisions who plays and who is reserve, what system is going to be played, and so forth. That’s his responsibility. That’s what leading is about.
The Team dissected into its parts
A football team consists of 11 players and each one has a certain position in the team. A position where the player is best at. Great trainers have a highly developed sense of recognizing what a player is best at. Often better than the player himself. Top teams consist of top players. A-players who know how to play. They started already in their childhood. They are both: extremely talented and also hard workers. They understand the importance of training. They are not easy to lead. A trainer has to earn their respect and develop mutual trust. Each player has a different personality. And the trainer must be able to tune in into their frequency, so to speak.
A football team consists of three different parts: Defence, Midfield, Offence. In the early days of football this was easily recognizable. The offence, the strikers, were the heros. They were the more gifted players. The midfield always had the more intelligent players. The midfield was the link between defence and offence. The defenders were the most robust players in charge of stopping the opposing offence, no matter what. The entire game was more static. It had a clear role allocation. And clear, visible boundaries between the different parts.
That has gone through a dramatic change. Modern football has become incredibly fluent. The teams must play as a team in its entirety. Sure, there is still defence - midfield - offence. Yet, the boundaries almost disappeared, became fuzzy.
The brain of the game is the midfield. That’s the place, the linchpin if you so will, where the game is controlled. Highly sophisticated movements on the field are initiated here. It’s where creativity resides. Yet, it requires from all players, no matter what part, the intelligence to understand and anticipate, And it requires the highest technical level and talent to execute. The more accurate and speedy the passing of the ball becomes, the higher the ball possession.
Defence and midfield are creating the spaces the offence, the strikers, need to score. If they fail, scoring becomes very difficult. On top of this the players need the ability to read, understand, and anticipate the opposing team. The better they are at this, the higher the probability of success, of winning, becomes.
That’s in a few sentences what the trainer has to create and build. And playing in the champions league, playing at a world cup requires a lot of training and a lot of brain power. To reach such a level only a few trainers, true leaders, are capable of. And for that they need the best A-players they can get. In essence, the team must play like an orchestra. That’s what great leaders and trainers create.
The Role of Physical and mental fitness
Football is an exhausting game. A player gotta run 90 minutes … and then still must have enough strength for a possible extra time of 30 minutes. And the mental strength for a penalty shoot out after 120 minutes, if it comes to that.
Physical and mental fitness are of the utmost importance. Talent alone doesn’t do the job. The hard work is the daily training to build both, physical and mental strength. Part of that training is also to learn how to handle aggression against oneself. In the heat of the battle that happens. When you are fouled the 10th time in a row you might feel like retaliating, which is a surefire way to get a red card. Hence, keeping cool and having self awareness and self control is essential. One has to remember: when emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.
Another important part is that we are all human beings. There are days when we just excel in everything we do. And then there are these days when we just suck. It’s difficult for oneself to recognize these times, when we suck, before it actually happens. Hence, it becomes one of the most difficult tasks of the trainer and leader to see these subtle changes in the players. When he does, a decision can be made to let someone else play instead.
And that is another aspect the trainer and leader has to take care of. Only if physical and mental fitness of each one of the team is reached, readiness of the team can be established. Hence, besides the team playing you need always a plan B, need reserves.
Orchestrating the Play
Orchestrating the play is the trainers and leaders responsibility. The trainer decides the system to play. And the trainer decides which symphony. It depends a lot on the opponent one is facing. And it also depends on circumstances like the stadium, the weather, etc. And don’t underestimate the psychological advantage of a home game. The more data you have, the better your orchestrating becomes. And the more effective your training. Yet, great trainers and leaders understand that they can’t control most of the factors. Hence, flexibility of thinking of each player must also be trained.
Strategy and Tactics
One of the core tasks of the trainer and leader. For instance, when you are qualified for the world cup you have to, ideally, win 7 games in a row to become champion. That’s a herculean task given the fact that you have to play against the best of the world. Players get exhausted, physically, mentally, or both. Or they get injured. The trainer has to prepare for that, must have contingencies.
And then he has to play his system with a different strategy and different tactics depending on the opponent. You can’t play against Brazil the same way you would play against the Netherlands. Each opponent requires a different strategy and different tactics.
Sticking to the strategy and yet keeping the most flexibility in adapting to the evolving game is crucial. The only constant is change.
The overall goal in a world cup is, of course, winning it. Hence, your general strategy must take into account that your team must play consistently on the highest level. To ensure that the trainer must also know when it is convenient to slow down and only do what’s necessary. You don’t want your team to die in beauty. Never lose sight of your overall goal.
Executing the Play
The truth of the matter: executing the play. The trainer and leader can only do so much. The team is on the field and the team executes what has been trained for, They score or they don’t. Not the trainer. Yet, it remains the full responsibility of the trainer. Hence, each team has one or two field leaders. The team captain and his co. Picking the right field leaders is crucial for success. As Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Picking as your field commanders the bravest instead of the smartest always leads to blunder.”
Often, trainers feel that they should reward a great player with being the captain. That distinguishes great leaders from good leaders. They pick those able to accomplish this task on the field. And, for instance, as good as your goal keeper might be, he is not the right guy to become captain. You cannot lead a football team from behind. The ideal field leaders are capable of translating the strategy and tactics they trained into a smashing success. And they are also willing and capable of making their own decisions based on how the game is developing. And they know how to drive a game home.
Exceptional football teams always have great field leaders. And they know one thing: it ain’t over until it’s over. In other words they never, ever give up. That fighting spirit, that character is what makes a team standing out, makes them champions. That’s what great trainers and leaders are capable of creating and instilling in a team.
There are striking similarities between football teams and teams in organizations and companies. My aim with my description above was to raise your awareness for that. On top of that I want to trigger your own thoughts and how your teams compare to these champions.Times have changed for football. And times have changed for everything else. Exceptional leaders are leading, training and coaching their teams. And exceptional leaders have also their own trainers and coaches. People they trust completely and that provide them with honest feedback.