Bringing it home…
Although football didn’t come home for England at this summer’s World Cup, there were plenty of lessons learned. 44’s Junior Editor Jonny Hooke looks at some of the positives we can take from the greatest tournament on earth…
Gareth Southgate’s appointment as England manager in 2016 hardly captured the imagination. Yet two years on, he’s calmly revitalised the team, instilled pride back in the country and become the most unlikely of fashion icons.
One of Southgate’s most impressive qualities has been to speak with refreshing clarity and honesty about his players, the opposition and England’s chances. Rather than being weighed down by hope, he called for his players to enjoy the experience and didn’t let them, or the media, get carried away.
Lesson #1: Managing the expectations of your clients is one of the most important aspects of building a rewarding relationship. Communicate regularly, address problems directly, set goals and agree on milestones and timelines. This will build the trust and honesty that’s vital to any collaboration.
When Japan were beaten by a last-minute goal against Belgium in the second round, you could forgive their fans for making a hasty retreat to the exits. Instead, like each of their three previous matches, they stayed true to their values and picked up rubbish in the stands before leaving. The team also cleaned the changing room and left a note that read ‘Спасибо’ – Russian for ‘thank you’.
Lesson #2: Whether it’s accepting defeat on the pitch or dealing with a tricky project, take pride in what you’re doing. Have the enthusiasm to go the extra mile and do the best job you can. People will remember that extra effort in the long run.
Nobody personified calmness – a trait that so often eludes England players on the world stage – more than the Three Lions’ talisman Harry Kane. During the match against Colombia, he was bundled over and wrestled to the ground at corners, but refused to lash out.
And when the time came to give England the lead from the penalty spot, the skipper rose above several minutes of squabbling, cynical attempts by the opposition to scuff the penalty spot and whistles from the partisan crowd, to net his sixth goal of the tournament.
Lesson #3: Stay focused and don’t let external pressure distract you from your goals. The best leaders in the world, both on and off the pitch, know how to set an example, overcome doubt and reduce anxiety.
This summer, Germany became the fourth European winners of the World Cup in a row to see their title defence fall at the first hurdle. Joining them on the ‘champion’s curse’ list were France (champions in 1998), Italy (2006) and Spain (2010). Before the tournament, Germany had lost just three of their previous 32 games. Yet on the biggest stage of all they froze, and were duly knocked out in the first round for the first time since 1938.
Lesson #4: Never rest on your laurels, as clients will remember you for your last successful project. It’s important to treat every piece of work as if it’s your last. Focus on continuous improvement and strive for quality each time.
England’s penalty hoodoo is well documented: we were knocked out of six major tournaments by a penalty shoot-out between 1990 and 2012. That’s why Gareth Southgate spent countless hours with his players on the training pitch to dispel the myth that shootouts are impossible to prepare for.
Through meticulous planning, practice, repetition and psychology (he spoke about “owning the process” of penalty kicks), he helped the England players banish their innate fear of netting from 12 yards with an extraordinary victory over Colombia.
Lesson #5: Take time out to research your clients, find out how they operate and plan accordingly. This will stand you in good stead when trying to reach your goals.
With no world-class talent, how can you account for Sweden exceeding expectations and reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 1994?
Step forward Daniel Ekvall, the team’s sports psychology advisor, who worked hard to improve teamwork, unity and communication across the whole squad. This meant no individuals, no egos and – most notably – no Zlatan Ibrahimović, the controversial, outspoken and often problematic forward.
Lesson #6: Individuals will never win you the World Cup: you need a team to lift the trophy. Whether it’s senior managers providing guidance, or junior people keeping things ticking along in the background, everyone counts. Having one part of the team malfunction causes disruption across the whole. To truly succeed, you need a team that works together, with each other and for each other.