Why Only The Occasional England Team Works

We have all been in some form of team that has really functioned, a team with true cohesion that has all the necessary ingredients to be truly intra-active; where the right things happen without a word being spoken, almost as if you are reading each others’ minds. The sad thing is these teams rarely come along and their longevity is limited as the individual team member’s circumstances change, so the magic chemistry that created the team alters and fades. Now compare that experience to that of the English Football team in the 2010 World Cup, great in terms of its individual components potential but found wanting when it came to competition.  Two English teams that have achieved international success are Clive Woodward’s Rugby World Cup winners and Grant Flower’s Twenty20 Cricket World Cup winners. Both teams had similar qualities and it is these qualities and their relevance to success that are worth exploring further if we are to identify the ingredients of successful teamwork.

Leadership was key to both these teams success with the strategic leadership, the shaping of the environment to create success, coming from Grant Flower and Clive Woodward. They created the strategic conditions but both were supported superbly on the field by the strong tactical leadership of Martin Johnson and Paul Collingwood.

What Clive Woodward and Grant Flower were able to develop was a real Vision for both their teams that was sold to and bought into by every team member in each of the squads. Their vision became omnipotent and their vision became reality as the teams belief grew. Their vision became the team’s vision. Working like a motivational magnet it pulled the players to greater heights of self belief as individuals and as individuals their shared belief and team ethos made for a stronger more cohesive team; much stronger than the sum of the parts as ethos, beliefs and attitudes are contagious and empowering.

Once a vision becomes reality in the mind of those striving for it, it is all the smaller supporting aspects working in unison in the background that support the team to greater achievement the momentum is all consuming.  Preparation of all aspects is key to shaping the future, so developing the team’s confidence, inherent flexibility and indefatigable spirit. This remarkable cohesion is created through empathy and understanding of each team members needs and the whole team’s requirements. From medical preparation to physical preparation and probably most importantly the psychological preparation, which is the oxygen of great performance all are considered, delivered and all contingencies prepared for during the preparation phase. Look at the Italian coach’s reaction to Italy’s (The World Cup holders) exit in South Africa. Marcello Lippi stated “I take all responsibility for what happened. Because if a team shows up at such an important game with terror in their head, heart and legs and if the team is unable to express its abilities it means the coach didn’t train that team as he should have done, psychologically, technically or tactically.”

Now let’s look at the German experience at the World Cup. A spirit of positivity is engendered by blending some of the innocence and naivety of youth with the wily know how and maturity of the experienced players. This positivity enhances self belief and delivers a constant positive attitude that refuses to recognise defeat and fosters continual improvement. The German coach Joachim Loew talks of the “lightness” of youth which courses through his team and when they play – they so clearly enjoy it.

A team is made up of people and it is important to have the right people in the right seats- Johnny Wilkinson great kicker attacking runner and great tackler at fly half and Craig Keiswetter hard hitting opener and able but not brilliant wicket keeper. Both allow options in other areas of the team both were the right players in the right seats. But a team needs more: someone with a sense of humour and a wicked wit such as Matt Dawson and Graeme Swann, people who communicate well like Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Prior who support the captain and his message. |The team needs its quiet warriors who lead by example on the field showing the courage and grit of Richard Hill, and Eoin Morgan who do their business superbly.

And then and only then there is the superstar the Kevin Pietersen or the Johnny  Wilkinson. But these superstars have been nurtured and developed within a team they are not hungry for the next contract and further individual accolades, they are not so overpaid that they are disinterested, they are as hungry for team success. They share in that success and consider themselves part of the winning formula and not the sole architects of it. They put team success ahead of personal reward and status.

Team Cohesion and understanding is critical to the bonding experience which leads to the interdependence that a great team has is spades; it is developed away from the ipod and other individual entertainment technologies, it is developed through mutual experience and understanding which can be fostered and which, in both Rugby and Cricket, is honed on long tours away from home. It is interesting to compare the frequency and length of Rugby Union and Cricket tours with Football and Rugby League tours and the comparative success internationally.

The old adage that there is no I in team but there is a me holds true and it is the ability to put the right blend of characters in a team that is essential to success those who add extra curricular value on top of their sporting prowess whether it be through their leadership, communication, sense of humour or an outstanding work ethic. Those that fit into a team ethos and further empower the team through their presence are essential. The team needs leaders throughout it to supply strategy and vision at the top and to supply guidance and tactics at the bottom people who stand up when the going gets tough, people who have pride in their team, people who have passion in their performance people who hate losing, people who care. Creating a sensational team is far more difficult than just picking the best individual players and that is why we often have far better prospects in international competition on paper than we ever do in reality.

I wonder if a team from the Championship would have played in such a lack lustre way in South Africa?

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