So you’re in charge of a sports team that’s just lost a match or isn’t doing well in general. What do you do? Well, here are my top 5 tips:
1. IGNORE THE PRESS
Sports journalists are not the kind of people you want to listen to right now. They’re under pressure from their editors for juicy stories, and defeat is pretty juicy. Your team losing generates more column inches, speculation and debate than when you win. They want you to fail, so they can talk about your replacement. They’ll offer all kinds of advice, some of it from ex-players. None of them really know what is going on behind the scenes and you can’t really trust them so it’s best to treat their advice and doom-mongering with a pinch of salt.
2. IGNORE THE FANS
The fans are passionate, they’re devoted to the team, they share the ups and downs the cheers and the tears. One day they’ll be calling for the head of who they think is to blame for your defeat. “Out! Out! Out!” they’ll chant. But let’s be fair here: Most of them don’t know what it’s like to play, let alone manage, professional sport. They’re in pain over the defeat and they want a quick remedy but a doctor doesn’t let the patient diagnose amputations so you shouldn’t let the fans dictate team policy. They’re too emotionally caught up in it all: It’s like asking for dating advice from someone who’s just broken up with the love of their lives.
3. TAKE A HARD, CRITICAL LOOK AT YOU AND YOUR TEAM
Instead of retreating into a bubble and becoming more entrenched in your opinions, now is the time to dissect what went wrong. You’ve got hours of video footage of the matches, analysis, readouts, reports, statistics and a team of experts at your disposal so you have what you need to see where you went wrong….so long as you are fair and harsh where you need to be. Don’t go using all that information just to exonerate yourself and your team. Assuming you’ve been in the game long enough, you should have a contact address book of colleagues you can call up for their outside advice.
4. AVOID KNEE-JERK DISMISSALS
Sack the manager! Sack the players! Get rid of the senior players and put the youth in! Sack the coaching staff! The aftermath of defeat is a time for the baying mob to call for sacrificial victims. The key to getting rid of someone in the team is having someone better who can come in, otherwise you risk going backwards. If you’re going to sack the manager, you’d better know who you want to come in their place and what you think they do that’s better than the one you’re getting rid of. It’s the same with the players; pension off the senior pro by all means but is the alternative some inexperienced youth who isn’t as good as your outgoing senior on one of his off days? And you picked the failure. You appointed that manager, or picked that player who let you down: Before kicking them out, think about what mistake you made and why you made it.
5…BUT DON’T RESIST MAKING CHANGES
Steve McLaren once said, after a run of five defeats, “keep going, keep going, keep doing the same things”. Well, he was wrong. Whilst wholesale changes and new brooms sweeping clean present a raft of problems and may not solve anything, refusing to budge on any issue definitely won’t turn things around. Change needs to be managed, not let loose. So your current manager has let the club slip from top 6 to mid table: Maybe if you hadn’t sold your star player, the one the previous manager depended on so heavily, and maybe if you spent wisely and enough then you wouldn’t be making your manager play the hand he’s been given. He might be on the point of an epiphany, a way ahead for the team and you’re about to jettison him before that can happen so someone else can come in to do some crisis management. Maybe it is time to start winding down that senior pro’s career, but do it in a way where his replacement isn’t dropped right in it with comparisons still ringing in their ears. Get the most out of these guys before parting a fond farewell. Maybe you need to be a bit brutal with the changes, but don’t end up traumatising the rest of the team.
But none of this derives as much perverse fun as sackings, dismissals and bemoaning the end of the team.