Success is a journey… not a destination?

What is success? Is it the winning of trophies? Or is it the moment that one gets financial gain out of winning a sports match? Maybe it is the moment when one has felt they have mastered a certain skill or technique. Or could it be when you have achieved everything that you want out of the sport that you are playing.

The truth is that everyone will have their own views as to what success is. These are called goals in coaching parlance, and can be set in terms of outcome (getting to a certain place and result) or by process (the steps or techniques that one has to go through to get to the outcome). Many people have questioned how great coaches such as Vince Lombardi, Sir Alex Ferguson, or, more recently, Danny Kerry with the GB Women’s hockey team (for whom PRC’s speaker Crista Cullen plays) have embodied the “teamship” (as Clive Woodward terms it in his book, Winning) in order to be so successful, and it would seem sensible to dissect their skills and learn from each of them.

In working with a number of businesses in London, we (PRC Elite) have designed a simple model to start to understand some of the processes that could be ticked off in order to get to the highest level possible. In terms of teams, this is just as suitable for sports teams as it is for orchestras, theatre companies and any group of people, although by no means is it a definitive guide, or is it intended to be.

The first step for any coach or manager is to get all of the base structures covered and accounted for. We regularly see the best teams have the right kit in place (which links with Sussex Academy coach Mark Nash’s article about the importance of good footwear). Teams that build an identity with wearing the same kit conform to Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory (1961), that this identity allows for each player within the team to feel accepted and part of the overall group. More structural base components could be the base strength and conditioning programme, the quality of training conditions, or the basic planning of the athletes’ training timetable that are put into place. Thus the first part consists of the simple, underpinning things which can then be built upon into the future.

Once this has been done, the management can then build a culture. We can see this in the way that England cricket has developed their one-day game so quickly over the last few years. That team now have raised the top standard, and it is expected for each player to not only work hard on their game, but also play without a fear of losing, concurring with Atkinson and McClelland’s theory of Achievement Motivation, where the highest achievers are usually the Need to Achieve motivational types. They accept challenges, take risks, and do not give up easily if they fail. This phase requires a certain amount of change thinking and management in order to facilitate the culture that the manager or coach envisages. As Michael Jordan stated…

However, this cannot be done without a certain amount of “buy in” from all involved in the team. This needs a can do attitude from the performers and from the coaching staff, and, as the Swedish management parlance talks about, the statement of “see what you can do” needs to be regularly asked in order to give the side ownership of the goals and techniques that lead to those goals. Each member needs to subscribe to what the targets are, thus creating task cohesion, and therefore working together for the common goal.

Clive Woodward’s book, Winning, gives an intriguing insight into the finer points of creating a successful team. One of the most illuminating chapters is his discussion on critical non-essentials. These are key areas that don’t necessarily have to be thought about, but are crucial to a team leading the way. What does the changing room environment look like? How colourful is it? When are the team eating in relation to when they are training or playing? What are their hydration levels like in training, and how much quality vs quantity do they have in their training session? These critical non-essentials lead to the final part, that of making sure the players are all self-starters. This comes once all of the above stages are completed and consists of the players themselves taking control of the environment and working on their own games outside normal team training and playing time. Are they re-watching matches on video? Are they self-evaluating? What are their recovery programmes like?

A clichéd statement regarding success states, ‘Success is a journey, not a destination’ may be quite a simplistic way of viewing success, but certainly without a structure to developing a sporting team, success becomes much more difficult to attain. There’s lots to learn for any sportsman or leader from practitioners like Lombardi, Ferguson, Woodward and Kerry, and taking the best parts from each can surely only make a coach or leader better at developing a team?

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Nick Tester Written by:

Nick Tester is a leading figure in Sport and Education, having been Head of Cricket at Chigwell School and Head of Boy’s Games, Football and Cricket at Ardingly College.