How to Win

Clive Woodward (2002)

When combating a diseased organisational culture – be it in business or in sport – you need either strength of numbers or absolute authority to effect any real change. Over the years we’ve encountered many different versions of inherited thinking, or tradition as some call it, in business, sport and government. The symptoms are always the same: blind faith in the ‘way’, nepotism to protect the institution and a culture that heavily discourages, even punishes, any questioning of authority and where change is an anathema. Often the establishment can’t take in the ideas of the visionaries because such an approach would shake up many of their own top coaches – the ideas are too far ahead of what these coaches practise, know and believe in and introducing substantially different ideas would expose their real lack of knowledge.

Usually it’s the establishment environment which is lacking. It doesn’t challenge the players. It doesn’t give the players the preparation they need, it doesn’t give them every chance. The selection system is inconsistent. The coaches insist on styles of play and training methods which are inadequate and behind the times. Players prepare for games at a level of intensity which indicates they are not doing everything possible, everything that needs to be done to win.

Often England coaches, working as volunteers or part-timers, can’t provide a competitive enough environment to keep the players interested. Often too they focus on what the top players in other countries are doing, which drills in the real message that we are of course inferior. The myth of the superiority of other countries is so firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of the ‘chosen few’ in the coaching hierarchy and they seem only too keen to pass on this myth to the current players. Then they wonder why the players continue to lose.

In the English sports environment the central theme is often a spirit of participation and there is little professionalism or cross-collaboration. What we need is the basic fundamentals of sport managed with a strong business ethic. To win we have to create the right competitive environment and engage the best specialists in each fundamental area of our sport. The myth of sporting superiority is just that – a myth. The strength of the top sporting nations lies in their competitive culture and their high level of preparation, not in some magic gene. It’s no good having roughly the same tools as the other international team, you must be able to apply them differently.

Success can be attributed to how the coaching and backup team work together under pressure, how they understand the importance of teamwork and loyalty and how they are willing to do a hundred things just one percent better. As a coach or manager you have in sport a workforce over which you have no control. If you want more from your players you have to give them good reasons why they would want to put in the extra effort.

Elite squad management ground rules

  • Be open and encourage openness in others.
  • No clichés or mumbo jumbo.
  • Have your say.
  • Be honest.
  • Ensure you spend time on self-analysis.
  • Have and show respect for other team members.
  • Keep it in the team (confidentiality).
  • Agree to disagree in a non-confrontational way.
  • Have loyalty for each other.
  • Encourage a no-blame culture.
  • No excuses.
  • Be up front and to the point.
  • No gossip.
  • Don’t apologise for actions, get it right and be professional.

We are in the business of inspiration. Our job is not only to inspire one another but also all those we work with and those who watch us and support us. Our goal is to inspire the whole country. There are no excuses anymore. Remember we never work in an ‘if only’ culture.

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