Blueprint for Champions: Ideas from Clive Woodward (2008)

Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill. Muhammad Ali

The fundamental principles of managing winning elite teams:

1. You cannot hope to be the best in the world at anything you do unless you have full control of all facets that go into creating that success. The job of running an England team is akin to running a business with no employees – the players are contracted to, have loyalty to and in many cases are developed by their clubs. Winning in most cases will therefore be in spite of, not because of the system. As a result it is necessary to find ways to motivate the players long-term, in such a way that they have the incentive to represent their country and want to continue to do so.
2. No business would want to lose its best people when they are clearly good enough to carry on at the highest level. No team in the world can afford to lose its best players early, or to have systems in place which do not allow players to reach full potential as seniors. We should fully understand the immense importance of retaining and looking after the talent we have.
3. It’s too easy to be complacent when you think you’re doing everything right or when you are the very best: the quest to ‘go beyond number one’ in everything you do has to be paramount and if you wish to continue to be successful has to be ongoing.
4. It’s what we do with skills coaching and the understanding and development of technique which will determine the world level of our top athletes. If we don’t set the right standards early we will fall way behind the rest of the world. The prime coaching emphasis must be on the individual qualities of the player: each performer is different and will only achieve his/her maximum potential if the developmental emphasis is on the harnessing and blossoming of the individual strengths.
5. Unless we have ‘everyone’s nose pointing in the same direction’ the chances of success are very much diminished. Any success is a massive team effort. Even the top people behind the scenes cannot do their jobs and deliver for the athletes, unless the whole organisation is behind them and the relevant systems and methods underpin and support what they are aiming to achieve.
6. Set yourselves apart from the traditional, established methods of coaching and development and endeavour to ‘look and work outside the box’. We will never produce world champions by slavishly following what has gone on before and trying to ‘ape’ the systems set up in other countries where traditions and cultures are different. We have to find the vital edge for winning, the critical essentials which tip the scales in our favour, the crucial strengths within each performer – above all however there is little point in finding these unless we have the time with the player to work on them!
7. It is all too easy to end up with compromise in sport; politics are involved, officials have the remit of having so many to try and please, there is a juggling to retain the balance between the interests and priorities of different sections and aspects. This is a concept which is acceptable and keeps the majority happy. However this is not a concept which can apply to the elite team: if the goal is really to be the best then there can be no compromise in standards. Re-evaluating the working structure to improve the possibility of future success is a proven and essential method for successful organisational development.
8. The most important job of any elite coach is to provide his players with every chance of being successful – nothing else! You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while – you do them right all the time. At an elite level it is also the coach’s job to refuse to compromise, the player must be completely ‘in focus’, only he or she matters.

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