It’s coming home…
Following England’s World Cup win against Columbia, principal consultant and football fan Stuart Bailey reflects on the strengths helping this England team to perform when it matters.
It’s coming home! Or to borrow another line from the infamous 90s hit… “Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before, they just know, they’re so sure, that England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away…”
Nobody truly knows if we will be celebrating on 15 July or if we will be drowning our sorrows following an earlier exit. But, we do know that something feels different about this team; about the way Gareth Southgate has influenced them and about the overall approach the team seems to be taking.
There appears to be a much calmer approach, a quiet confidence that is growing and a sense that a great deal of attention has been paid to the mindset of the players, the coaching staff, the media and even the general public.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which this has so far felt different:
The influence of the manager
Whether it is his experience as a player, his penalty miss in Euro ‘96 (and that pizza ad) or his work with the FA, Gareth Southgate’s calming influence appears to be rubbing off on his young and relatively inexperienced team.
We have the lowest number of caps for a squad at this World Cup, but their conduct belies this inexperience. Their calmness under pressure, their ability to play down the situation they find themselves in and their responses to the media have shown maturity beyond their years.
After the exciting win over Columbia, Southgate was asked if this was a ‘coming of age’ for his young team. Rather than the assumed response of “Yes” followed by a great deal of hype, he simply said, “They now have something to look back on, to draw from the experience and to write their own stories.”
I don’t think any professional footballer isn’t capable of kicking a ball into an 8-yard by 8-foot frame from only 12 yards away. However, with around 70,000 people shouting and cheering inside the stadium and the viewing billions across the globe, the stakes and intensity suddenly ramp up.
Until Tuesday, we haven’t had a great record for penalties. Even with some of the Premier League’s best footballers in our team, our ability to perform on the biggest stage has been lacking.
Southgate and his team have looked deep into the psychology of the shoot-out, comparing techniques, character, how they work as a team, and even their heartbeat when stepping up to take the kick.
They have talked about “owning the process”, visualising the long walk from the half-way line and placing the ball in the exact same spot time and time again. Holding their nerve, staying calm under pressure and being confident to hit the back of the net requires a strong mindset.
‘Resilience’ has been used a lot by the England camp and was evident again when it came to the provocation from Columbia on Tuesday evening. It seems to be a key differentiator – a winning mindset helps make our champions great.
The influence of mindset and behavioural training is becoming more evident in elite sport. Dean Hardman from England Athletics shared a story with us from the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia:
“In the men’s 200m final, our athlete stormed over the finish line to win his first major title and completed a lap of honour to celebrate his victory. During his victory lap, he was stopped by officials and was told that he had been disqualified for a contentious lane infringement, which had actually been caused by another athlete.
“It was heart-breaking and hard to understand the decision let alone the disappointment that he now felt. After staying at the track to appeal the decision until the early hours, he headed back to the village, unsuccessful in his plight.
“At this point he could have decided to forget the relay the following day, to train or head home to prepare for the summer, or just to feel sorry for himself. Instead, he aimed to use the disappointment as further motivation in a quest to win himself, his team and his country a medal.
“It made him hungry to help the team who had supported him when he was down. The men’s relay victory showed how an individual can bounce back from disappointment and lead his team to the gold medal.”
We will certainly need more resilience as the tournament goes on and we deal with the general ups and down that it will no doubt bring.
Emotional intelligence, mindset and behaviour are becoming more increasingly important in everyday life. You don’t have to be an elite sportsperson to practice techniques of managing your emotional control and choosing the right mindset to get the best outcome.
Many organisations across the globe are investing in their people, combining technical skill and process knowledge with a considerable slice of resilience and resourcefulness development. These companies, like elite sportspeople, will find themselves winning the awards, achieving their goals and differentiating themselves from their competitors.
One final key ingredient that I wanted to share is passion. Despite the calm exterior, influential words and focus that Gareth Southgate has demonstrated, the picture accompanying this blog is my favourite. Let’s hope to see one of him holding the FIFA World Cup trophy in a week or so time.