Monday, 11 July 2011

The Parallels between Sport and Business

Businessmen have long pondered on the parallels between sport and business, and whether business could learn anything from sport. So let’s take an interesting example, the techniques used by Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid’s current coach, and the former manager of Chelsea.
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The first thing that Jose Mourinho instills in his team is a winning mentality. The difference between winning and losing in sport is very small and getting smaller. The strong survive, and win. No matter how great football a team plays, if they are weak mentally, they will not win the major titles. Witness Arsenal last season, and you will get my point. Creating a winning mentality is crucial because this then develops to an unbreakable team spirit, which can carry a team, even when all their energy is spent.

Mourinho constantly reminds his players that football is a team sport. The team is more important than any individual. No player can win a match on his or her own. Each player must make a contribution to the collective by working hard. Nothing is achieved by not working together, that is why Mourinho would prefer to have a team of ‘work horses’ than a team of individual ‘superstars’.

The coach instills discipline and organization in his teams. He plays his teams in simple, understandable formations, specifically designed to neutralize the opposition. He starts with a strong defence, on the basis that if your team does not let in any goals, you only have to score one goal to win a match.

Mourinho trains his team to be stronger and fitter than the opposition. When there is so little between the major teams these days, the last ten minutes of any match is vital, because this is when teams tire. Manchester United are masters at winning matches in the last ten minutes of games, as are teams managed by Mourinho.

Mourinho coined the term ‘the special one’. It is important in sport as in business to have a strong leader. The idea was that everyone knew who the leader of the team was, whose leadership was unquestioned. The focus of attention was on the manager, who knows how to deal with it much better than his players. This has the added advantage of taking the pressure off his own players, who would usually perform better without the pressure.

There is always room for improvement. If a change is need, its effect should be immediate and effective. A football coach has the chance through his substitutions to change the course of a match. If one team is effectively neutralizing the play of the other team, the introduction of new players combined with a change of tactics could unsettle the opposing team and make them give away a goal.

It is important for the strong leader to also actually be in control. Mourinho found it increasingly frustrating when he was expected to be the leader of the team at Chelsea and achieve results, but was becoming less in control of matters affecting the team and transfers. Apart from the meddling of Abramovich, Avram Grant and others were placed by the club in positions of authority that undermined the manager’s position and affected his control over the team.

Hard work and attention to detail over an extended period will achieve results. Yes, Mourinho makes his players work hard. Before every game they are each given a dossier giving them all the details on the opposition and their opposing players. Nothing is left to chance and there are no surprises.
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Jose Mourinho is one of the first professional coaches in the history of football. He studied Sports Science at the Technical University of Lisbon. He also worked with Bobby Robson at Barcelona where he was known as the ‘translator’. He has achieved outstanding results by learning in the classroom and learning in the field, and applying coaching theory with strong motivational and psychological techniques. He has created a new, more professional way of doing things.

So are any of the above methods applicable to the world of business? Well, hellooo, yes they are! Luxury Hedonist would argue that they are all applicable. If you go down to your local bank, are you impressed with the consummate professionalism of the bank employees? Can you recognize their knowledge, and the quality of their products? I don’t think sooo!

The fact is that the world of business is very competitive in general and there are industries that are extremely professional and have strong leadership. But, there are also industries that do not have strong leadership, do not train their personnel to a professional level, and to use a football metaphor, risk being relegated to the second division.

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