It’s been an enthralling few weeks for even the most passive of sports fans, with the race for the Premier League hotting up, the pulsating World Cricket T20, and the tense Masters Golf to name a few. After the hugely popular post last month on the film Moneyball, this month’s article makes another link from the film industry with regards to coaching – Ian Fleming’s very own James Bond. A daring, audacious and heroic agent of the British Security Services Bond has given readers and viewers tremendous entertainment since the 1950s. Whilst it may not initially seem obvious, we as coaches can draw some interesting parallels to sport and coaching from some of 007’s classic titles; some of which permeate the surface and really challenge the cornerstones of our practice.
Diamonds Aren’t Forever
Contrary to the belief of Bond’s nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, diamonds do not live forever. Have you ever had a player on your team that you would associate the word diamond with? Intricate, expansive, and high in quality – the person that has the capability to take your team onto bigger and greater things, as they can single-handedly win games, even championships on their own? Certainly there are many examples in elite sport from Lionel Messi and Lewis Hamilton, to Kevin Pietersen and Dan Carter. But what happens when your diamond falls out of congruence with your coaching values and expectations? What happens when they disrupt the dynamics of the team? Lots of coaches claim to promote the no one is bigger than the team mantra, but when a situation arises I have seen many occasions where the star player is provided with an alibi or escapes punishment so that they can continue to play a key role. The impact of this can very quickly become the beginning of the end for the coach, as the message conveys to the rest of the players that you are prepared to lower your standards.
Last month Southampton FC’s key man Sadio Mane was dropped from the starting line up by manager Ronald Koeman for being late. Ignore the fact Southampton were on a poor run, and that Koeman was under considerable pressure to deliver a win; no one, not even Mane was excusable for such a lapse of professionalism. The outcome? Southampton ironically lost 1-0. Whilst the result did not do any favours for Koeman in the short term, Southampton’s form has since improved dramatically; even more importantly, the standards expected of players hasn’t been lowered. Ask yourself as a coach how willing are you to uphold your standards, even if it is to the detriment of one performance? Consider the bigger picture when making your decision, and remember that whilst your diamonds don’t live forever your ethos, standards and discipline can.
Whilst Goldeneye in a coaching context does not refer to a financially crippling weapon as the film depicts, it provokes some thought into our ability to capture key moments, interactions and behaviours from an observatory perspective – in essence how much can we as coaches have a Goldeneye? Of course we can look out for certain things we want to see, or expect to see but this can come at the expense of missing other details we aren’t looking for. This challenge reiterates the need for us as coaches to be skilled in the art of noticing. We should strive to be like an HD camera lens which has the ability to pick up as much clear and rich information about an environment and the interactions within it. Ask yourself, how wide is your camera lens? Is it too narrow – are you missing key moments, or is it too wide and you’re struggling to notice anything specific? The key is finding that balance that enables you to use a nice wide lens whilst also focusing in on smaller details when required. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll notice that one player that comes into a session looking like they’ve had a hard day, or the other player that cuts a corner when he thinks you’re not looking. Either way, having a well-trained Goldeneye can make a huge difference to your coaching.
Die Another Day
If there’s one thing James Bond does tell us through Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig (to name a few), it’s that you should refuse to accept when you’re beaten. Even when your last hope has been extinguished, like when Marco Reus scored Dortmund’s third goal last week against Liverpool, there is always a way to be found if you’re prepared to look for it. Roger Federer defying Rafael Nadal during the epic Wimbledon final of 2008 springs to mind as another example, as does New Zealand’s opening performance against India in this year’s World T20. These are teams and individuals that have tenacity and resilience engrained in their DNA;that will to keep fighting and fighting, to the point where their opponents begin the feel the pressure because they understand this is no normal adversary. Diego Simeone, coach of Athletico Madrid recently admitted to ignoring any players he considered to be weak or not up for the fight; whilst not all coaches have that luxur y, it does again reinforce the need to harness that resilience and determination for our players to replicate, and ultimately Die Another Day.
You Only Live Once
I went to a music concert last month for the first time in five years. The band were pleasant enough on a music level, and seemed to revel in the atmosphere that their considerable fame had earnt them. I was struck by one thing more than anything else though – the amount of people in the crowd recording the songs on their phones. It is the same everywhere you look these days; people scrabbling around for their phone, desperate that they won’t have the opportunity to record the moment, or have the opportunity to take a picture or selfie. When was the last time we actually enjoyed the occasion and the moment for what it was? Let’s be honest the recording the next day, next week or ten years down the line will never be able to capture the moment, emotions and feelings as accurately as when we stood in it. So why not enjoy it for what it is?
Whilst the benefits of utilising cameras and technology are extensive in a coaching context, few things can beat the Goldeneye that I alluded to earlier. That is observing in the moment, experiencing feelings and emotions in the moment, and having an appreciation that things occur once! We don’t live twice according to Bond, so it would seem logical to place more emphasis on events that occur in the present.
Poker for some people is a game of luck; for others it’s a game of skill, much like when competing in sport. Rarely does one find themselves with the unbeatable hand of a straight flush, just as performers rarely have that magical performance which they strive so hard for. Yet somehow the better performers or poker players usually come out on top. Team mates, supporters, media and coaches often attribute a run of poor performances to a lack of form or a dip in confidence, reassuring their player that it is a matter of time before that form returns. How about this – form doesn’t exist. It’s a myth. It’s a dangerous phenomenon which is readily available to provide players with an excuse.
Good poker players, and indeed good sportspeople focus on basics rather than worry about form. If they have strong basics and are able to consistently execute those basics under pressure then they will most likely perform well. Being under pressure often requires the ability to improvise and react to the situation, be it a bluff or an adapted version of basic skills. Either way, 007 will encourage your players not to think of performance in terms of form, but in terms of how strong their basic skill base is; in doing so poker and sport become less about luck, and more about skill.
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