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How has Gareth Southgate raised the England men’s football team tournament performance level so dramatically and how can we apply his methods to our own challenges? Rather than under-perform (as they have done in their last three tournaments) in this World Cup England are overachieving.
Ranked 12th in the world by FIFA at this World Cup they will finish 4th at worst and will play for a place in the final tomorrow. They have even won a World Cup penalty shoot out for the first time ever.
Whatever happens next that is demonstrable progress so what is Gareth Southgate and his team doing differently/better?
I think we can break the higher performance levels Gareth is achieving down into five main areas
1) Learning 2) Data 3) Preparation 4) Team Culture and 5) Healthy Relationships.
“You’re always learning and we had the chance to interact with lots of different coaches” Gareth Southgate.
Before this World Cup, Gareth and his team analysed the past tournament performance of the Spanish and German football teams to understand how they had managed to achieve great results so consistently (although not in this World Cup ironically).
His team learnt many things but one of them was the importance of set plays (corners, free kicks etc) deducing that Germany had scored a high percentage of their goals from set plays and Spain had conceded a low percentage from them.
This insight resulted in England focusing on set plays in their preparation and play so successfully.
Winning Like Gareth –> Always be learning. Study the people/teams/companies that are successful in your industry/environment. What do they have in common? What are they doing differently to you? Synthesise these things down and incorporate them into your Strategy and Tactics.
One of the perennial criticisms of previous England managers was their lack of preparation for World Cup penalty shoot outs in particular.
“You can’t practice penalties”, they would say “it’s all in here” pointing at the side of their forehead.
Of course that is partially true, a lot of “it” is inside your head but a lot of “it” is also experience and the psychological aptitude to cope with extreme pressure.
“We do all our training and at the end of the session we have 10 minutes of set-plays with the attackers at one end and defenders at the other.” England goal keeper Jordan Pickford
Gareth and his team studied the past penalty taking record of all the members of the England squad and had them undertake psychometric testing to understand their ability to perform well under extreme pressure. The pre-decided penalty takers also practice penalty taking every day.
Four out of five of England’s penalties were successful against Columbia and that was enough for victory.
Winning Like Gareth –> Prepare in any and every way you can for critical challenges you may face in the future. Make sure you have people with the right abilities in the right role for what you are asking them to do. Qualify and quantify the talent at your disposal as much as possible.
Gareth Southgate is a much more modern data driven leader than some of his predecessors who came across as much more “experience and instinct” driven. There really is no excuse these days for not using data as much as possible to inform your decision making.
Winning Like Gareth –> You will always make decisions as a human being but do it given the best possible information.
4) Team Culture
The England players are playing with much less of the fear that has paralysed England teams in previous tournaments. A lot of the credit for this can be put down to Gareth and his team for the relaxed and adult-adult (rather than adult-child) team culture he has created within the team.
Winning Like Gareth –> Empower, trust and respect your talent. Don’t micro-manage them. Make sure they have time to relax and recover from periods of intense pressure. Encourage them to bring their personalities to work and have fun!
5) Healthy Relationships
Judging by his interactions with the players Southgate and his team are clearly approachable and empathetic but demanding leaders.
“I think the coaches have a great set-up,” England Defender Danny Rose told Radio 5 live. “The gaffer is really relaxed and approachable and Holland is the one, who if you step out of line, do a bad pass or are late, gives you a grilling. They have got the balance down to a tee.”
Winning Like Gareth –> Be approachable and always willing to help your team members but don’t shy away from holding their performance up to constructive scrutiny to raise individual and collective performance levels.
Whatever happens next the England team at Russia 2018 have performed much better than any England tournament team in the last twenty years and Gareth Southgate and his team can take a lot of credit for shaking up the English football orthodoxy and applying modern leadership approaches and techniques to the business of being successful in football tournaments.
It’s coming home 🙂
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