Ivory towers and well hidden silos punctuate the professional sporting landscape far too much. It’s a life that gets played out publicly. Winning and losing are what you get judged on and it’s very easy to lose sight of learning and improving as everyone has an ego and an uncontrolled ego can eviscerate everything.
It’s easy to surround yourself with yes men. It’s a comfortable look. “Of course we are doing the right thing – we are all brilliant.” Our backs get slapped, our ego gets inflated, but the cliff edge is approaching and the fall is mighty and unsalvageable.
It’s a well trodden path, especially when management teams are formed and squads put together. However, to fully ‘breathe’ as an organisation you need to create pluses and minuses.
- Pluses – people you can learn from.
- Minuses – people you can teach and help improve.
- You also need Equals to challenge yourself against.
This creates flow and stops egos winning. It lets you grow and be flexible rather than be stunted and brittle.
Never stop learning
I’d find plenty of people from all walks of life to learn from and look up to, and have a group of wise men and women that I knew I could gain perspective and foresight from. It’s so important to have those people in your life and recognise you need to keep learning, but you also need these people to give you perspective. It stops you mentally retreating into your own bunker and inadvertently cracking open that cyanide tablet in your molar.
The same goes for those that aren’t as experienced or as far down the line as you yet.
Teaching helps you clarify your own thinking and reminds yourself of what’s key, what’s fundamental. In sport it’s like having a house open to all the elements. You need firm foundations.
Passing on your knowledge and acting as a mentor will help both parties. It is crucial. This doesn’t have to be formal and, actually, it’s the best way if it isn’t. Understand it’s important and let it evolve naturally. Once you’re open to it then it will occur. When you’re ready, they will appear.
The same goes for Equals. You need to be challenged and involve people you can go toe to toe with mentally and tactically, technically and physically. It’s only going to drive the same performance. If you get this right on the management side then you can create some amazing synergy.
I like to have people that challenge me, be them a player or a fellow coach, a physiotherapist or a conditioner. You need to embrace some healthy debate and conflict because it breeds vision and creativity and avoids the blindspots and oncoming cliff edges.
Dynamics, learning and a positive culture
It’s the same with players. A squad with these dynamics is going to constantly improve and learn. It also leads to a positive culture where everyone respects each other and that word that drives nails into me every time I hear it, ‘banter’, doesn’t take hold.
If anyone reading this operates in an environment where comments such as “I’m just taking the friendly piss” or “he doesn’t mind me doing it” exist, then that culture is f***ed.
I’m not being the perceived fun police here but Fiji taught me so much in this area.
Yes, we laughed in training and in tournaments. Often hysterically. Someone breaking a small rule might also have had to do a dance sometimes in front of the team. Yet it was all good natured. Never pointed. Never individualised. Those dances would often start with the one player and finish with the entire team. The jokes would often be on yourself. Self-deprecation over getting laughs at the expense of others. It was all linked into caring for each other and also making the connection that one misplaced word to someone can have a lasting effect.
One misplaced jibe at a player can collapse all of the positivity you may have formed. You have to be consistent and you can’t be that coach that’s best mates with him when he’s playing well and then walk past him blindly in a corridor when he’s not. Want to be taken seriously? Then be consistent.