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Castles by Ants – Episode 28: Expectations of Sports Executives & Coaches

An ongoing series about psychology in the world of sport.

They make deliberate decisions regarding this issue in the United States, and in most of the cases, it is the sports executive who is responsible for this decision. In Europe, if the coach is in charge, they have a very concrete idea of what kind of a team they would like to see in the future, and if the executives bring the coach to the team, they usually do not deal with this issue! But what does the question of “what kind of team should we build?” entail? It mostly means determining the most important goals for the team. Does this sound like a banal question? Well, what kind of team could we want? Naturally, one that wins. One that brings the best results. Well, if anybody thinks this is the main goal in every case, they are wrong. Let me briefly return to the field of business. When I started working as a mentor, I took it for granted that working in business development, you should build up a company in a way that it generates the biggest possible profit and personal income for the owners. I took it for granted that this can be the only main goal, be it an international or local project. I was doing my job by contributing the best of my knowledge, and it did work in my first two projects. The revenues and profits increased; everybody was happy. Then, my third assignment made me question how I had viewed the world before. The potential partner had come for an offer emphasising in the very beginning that although he had heard about me before and was aware of my results, the reason he wanted to work with me was that we had performed a business development for his best friend, who was very satisfied (a conventional story so far). I said to myself “this will be easy, everybody knows how it works, we can get to work”. So, I started the development in the usual way. We analysed the team, highlighted the weak spots, noted the colleagues that were potentially dangerous, and prepared the schedule for sending them away. This is where the first problems arose, as there were some names on the list that blew the owner’s cork. He asked for a sit-down, as he would not budge on this. In the meeting, I told him that the replacement of these people would be a basic criterium for success. His answer to this was that these people had been working there for 12 years and he would keep them at all costs. I had made all kinds of strategic arguments, when, after a four-hour discussion, he finally confessed. He told me that he did not need more money and he did not want an increase in profit. What he really wanted was to be able to come to work to a friendly company every day, and if this meant that he would fall short of a potential profit of more than one million euros, this would only start worrying him if he started having financial problems. We ranked his goals, on which, to my huge surprise, “profit increase” only ranked 6th. At that time, I simply thought I had met an odd bird. Since then, we have started all developments with a special workshop with the owner, or, in the case of an international company, the number one leader, to create a “goal map”. I have been through several of these meetings, and it has only occurred twice that profit took the top rank! For some, the goal was to constantly be in the centre of the business elite, that is, to hold high-end conferences. For others, the goal was to make their company likeable from the outside as well. Some made it their goal to bring together a professional team that can develop globally innovative solutions, no matter what it takes. But never, out of more than a hundred cases, have the five most important goals been the same for two different people!

What does this have to do with sport? There are large similarities between building a company and building a team. I dare say this from a 12-year perspective. And if we don’t define the “goal map” in the beginning, we will surely fail in the end! Of course, in the case of sport, we always have the match result in the end, but that is much more subjective than anybody would think. OK, I digress, for the Győri Audi ETO handball team, for example, winning the Champions League is pretty objective. Such clear, objective goals, however, rarely occur in sport. One reason for that is that there aren’t too many teams in the world delivering such results. So, what could other goals be? I will give some examples of trendy goals. It has become critically important and appears more and more often in the life of clubs: the key roles should be filled by home-grown players! One of the best examples for this (and in their case, this trend cannot be considered new) is the Ajax football team. They raise their players, and then have them play enough in the club so they can sell them later. This business is worth it not only financially; the image of the team is a good one within the football society. Well, this goal appears more and more frequently in the lives of clubs. Then there is the next goal, mainly in those countries and those clubs where the performance of the national team has priority over that of the clubs: the team management wants to see home-grown players on the pitch. These expectations still come from the sports executives, and in these cases, they have to find a coach that consents to the fact that everyone will be satisfied if the team reaches, say, the fourth place in the given league. The expectation brought up as an example before can also be mentioned as a goal: we want to see a likeable team! In the United States, this is of critical importance, as the sponsors will not foot the bill for the victory itself if the moral rules are not clarified and abided by perfectly! Speaking of the US, they put a huge emphasis on equal opportunities, although it is also becoming more of an expectation in Europe as well. A team that is sufficiently diverse in terms of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds appears to be the goal in many cases; although it’s seldom formal, the phenomenon does exist. We could keep listing the different goals; there truly are many different kinds of expectations during teambuilding, and these must be clarified beforehand.

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Castles by Ants – Episode 27: Basics of Cohesion