What England’s 2018 World Cup squad can teach us about leadership and teamwork
As I write this blog, World Cup fever has well and truly hit England! We have actually made it through to a World Cup semi-final for the first time in 28 years and survived a penalty shoot-out too!
In fact, this latest England team have already broken a few records. The 6 – 1 win against Panama was England’s biggest World Cup win to date (the previous record was 3 – 0) and the penalty shoot-out against Colombia was the first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out victory for England.
Regardless of tonight’s semi-final result (Come on England!), nobody can deny that this team have been successful and have shown incredible team spirit from the beginning of the tournament.
But what makes this World Cup squad so different? Why is this team succeeding where its predecessors have failed?
Here are my thoughts…
Gareth Southgate has approached his role of manager in a different way. He has used his own experiences of playing in the England team and crashing out of a big tournament (anyone remember his missed penalty of Euro 96?). He has been on the receiving end of positive and negative press and lived to tell the tale. He knows how much pressure is on these players. In addition to that, he has picked a largely inexperienced pool of talent that he can teach and guide, and has already gotten to know through his time as under 21s manager. He has also recognised that mental health, attitude and wellbeing are just as important for success as the fitness levels and football skills each player is bringing to the table.
Southgate has made a big point of drilling into his team that they are not defined by what has gone before and they are ‘making their own history’. He is opening their eyes and minds to the fact that anything is possible if they work hard for it. He has also employed a team psychologist to work with the team behind the scenes on any mental barriers such as fear of failure and dealing with pressure. They have also held group sessions where players open up to each other about their anxieties, which has brought them closer together as a team as they build trust and get to know and understand each other better. They have also been allowed to see their wives, girlfriends and children where previous England managers have banned this for fear of distracting the players. Southgate, from having been there himself, recognised that having that support network from loved ones could be a positive if managed correctly.
The team have given more press conferences and one message they all seem to push out there is that they feel lucky to be there and are very much living in the moment, match by match. Now, we advocate business planning but breaking down a big plan into manageable chunks of time frames like this makes the grander plan seem less overwhelming and daunting.
The squad have also carried out a form of risk assessment and seeing where they could come undone and put strategies in place to deal with that. It is evident that they have practised ‘set pieces’ and penalties and played together A LOT. They seem to always know where each other is without taking the eye off the ball. I heard they had also discussed coping strategies for going into extra time and playing longer games and, have you noticed that nobody has really lost their cool yet either, despite all of the shirt tugging and dirty players they have encountered too? Whenever things have got a bit heated, other team mates step in and move the player away from the situation.
This generation of England players have been given the tools to turn them into a great, successful team – structure, emotional support, opportunity to practice and perfect their skills, trust and faith from their peers and feeling valued by their manager.
Win or lose tonight, there is a lot that business can learn from the 2018 England World Cup squad.