By Simon Hartley, Be World Class.
A football manager in England called me in to do some sport psychology work with his squad because they were starting games well but losing their lead. Sometimes they would go two to three goals up and then start to lose their way. The manager couldn’t understand what was going on.
Let’s be honest, his challenge is not unique.
This morning I received an email from a friend who runs a very successful business in London. His email read…
"Quick question: any recommended reading for dealing with a team's psychology when on a winning streak (dealing with complacency and pushing performance despite an apparent absence of need)?"
James’ email is very revealing. He understands that often motivation is easier when a team has a crisis, when they’re facing adverse conditions or when they’re chasing an immediate target. Those situations tend to spark our emotional energy. However, how do you motivate a team to perform at their best if there is no apparent or desperate need?
Motivation is known to many psychologists as “the why of behaviour”. The reason is all important. If there is a crisis, the reason to push ourselves is more obvious. It is also true if we’re chasing an immediate goal or target. But what’s the reason to push ourselves when things are “okay”, “fine”, or when we’re “doing quite well”?
I met with the football team and asked them what they thought their “2 Lengths of the Pool” was. If you haven’t come across that strange term, it means the team’s job in the simplest possible terms.
Initially, the football team said that their job was to win. I believe that’s where the problem lay. If they think that the job is to win, it is likely that they’ll take their foot off the gas if they feel that the job is already done. Personally, I don’t believe that the job of a football team is to win. I’d argue that their job is to score as many goals as possible and concede as few as possible.
If the team’s job is to score as many goals as possible, and concede as few as possible, they should still do that even if they are 3-0 up after 20 mins. If they could score a fourth, they should. If they could stop their opponents scoring, they should. I’d argue that it is not good enough to win the game by one goal, if you could win by two or more. If there is a tie for the league title at the end of the competitive season, the championship could be decided by the total number of goals scored and conceded; not just the win-loss record.
I’d also argue that the team’s job remains the same no matter what the score is, or how far through the game they are. When the team started to realise this, they understood the reason to keep pushing and focusing for the entire game, regardless of the score. Most people don’t consciously decide to become complacent. Sub-consciously, they just start easing out of their ‘discomfort zone’ and back into their comfort zone.
By focusing on scoring as many as possible and conceding as few, they remained focused on their key processes for the entire game. As a result, they began to maintain and extend their lead in the game, rather than lose it. No doubt you’ll see how this principle translates to sales targets and other outcome goals.
So, what does this mean for my friend James and his business?
Firstly, his team need a reason to excel, not just to ‘get-by’ or ‘do okay’. They need to have a reason to sharpen their focus and invest their energy. If their aim is to hit a target, their motivation might slip if they believe that they’ve already made it. However, if their aim is to be better today than they were yesterday… and better tomorrow than they are today… it’s likely to remain strong and enduring.
To hear Double Olympian, Chris Cook, describing the “2 Lengths of the Pool” concept, watch his interview “On…Talent” on Be World Class TV