The inevitable football world cup blog!
Ronaldo and Messi bowed out of the World Cup this week and their departure prompted a flurry of tweets. I was particularly struck by one from Rio Ferdinand:
The message is clear: football is a team sport — it’s pretty hard to deny that. But how should we balance team versus individual brilliance?
For some time sports have been classified according to the level of interdependency. In football or soccer the level of interdependency is high. Ronaldo and Messi’s success is significantly affected by their teammates skills and attitude. Ronaldo was able to rescue Portugal with his three goal miracle against Spain but that’s not going to happen every time. It’s great to have a Ronaldo or Messi in your team but it can’t guarantee you victory.
Another sport with a high degree of team interdependence is basketball. The interplay of team members is critical to success. Adam Grant in his excellent TED talk describes the problem with having the team of all stars and the importance of humility. Yet his research tends to demonstrate the best teams have a combination of good team players and star players.
Other team sports place a greater reliance on individual performance. In cricket and baseball there are clearly periods of play where an individual can have an innings that significantly affects the game.
Finally, there’s individual sports — for example, athletics, cycling or golf. However recent research leads us to question if any sport is won by individual brilliance alone.
“Most individual sport settings involve groups, as athletes often train in a team environment even though they compete individually and often in opposition to their teammates. However, the reliance on task interdependence to dichotomise sport environments into one of two categories (i.e., team or individual) overlooks further differences in how members rely on each other (e.g., interdependence for individual and group-level outcomes or resources)”.
The report encourages a more nuanced reclassification of sports beyond the false dichotomy of team sports or individual sports.
The reality is that all sports involve a combination of individual and team activity. Therefore as a manager or coach you need to understand and coach both individuals and teams.
I sometimes ask people whether they could ever imagine a great football coach that exclusively focussed coaching either the individual or the team.
If you had said to Alex Ferguson of Arsene Wenger “It’s OK to talk to talk to the team as a whole but don’t ever have a one to one with a player”. What do you think the reaction would have been If Alex Ferguson was not able put his arms around someone that needed a confidence boost (or indeed give them the famed “hair-dryer” treatment)? On the flip-side it’s ludicrous to say “you can coach individuals one on one but don’t ever coach the team as a whole”.
If you are coaching an athlete or a boxer you may well spend more time coaching the individual but there are clear moments when you need a team to support. For example in training or sparring in recovery or mental preparation. These groups will need to share a common goal.
We see this same false dichotomy in business today. If you are a manager you need to be able to coach the team as a whole and each member individually as well.
The implication for people managing a team is that they should consider three things when they want to get the best out of a team.
This world cup is way too unpredictable to call. The winners will manage to get the best out of both individual stars and the team as a unit. Spain and Portugal were not up to it. Let’s see what happens tonight!
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