Another letter from the DOC – October 2008

Reading the Daily Telegraph the other day I got quite intrigued by an article about the Premier League’s plans to start six boarding schools around the country for future footballers between the ages of 11 and 16. The plan apparently is to stock the six schools with the best youngsters in the country and the powers that be are hoping that an additional £150 million in the next domestic television deal for the Premier League will cover the cost of setting up the academies. Clubs wishing to have their player’s board will also be charged an annual boarding fee of around £25k per pupil.
I wonder if it is a good idea? What do you think? Will it create the kind of environment that World Class footballers of tomorrow will come out of? Maybe. Is it the kind of environment that threatens to produce some very one-dimensional individuals that are good at nothing but football? Perhaps. Will it produce a competitive culture where likeminded people can strive together? Probably. Can it be copied by other sports? I wouldn’t think so… Which other sport in Europe would have anywhere near the muscle to create something like this? Not the sports that I know anyway.
After the Olympic Games in Beijing I was interviewed, along with some other people, by the Swedish equivalent of Newsweek Magazine over the poor Swedish result in the games. Many of the conclusions in the published article were that more money is needed and Sweden cannot compete with countries that spend this, that and the other on their National Squads. And look what happens when the government does not step in and say, “we are going to win this number of gold medals”. The interesting thing is that I think trying to do what others do is completely the wrong strategy. David would never have beaten Goliath had he used Goliath’s strategies. The fact that David fought in a way where he could use his strengths, or perhaps his mind more than his muscles, won him the fight.
In a book called Good to Great, Jim Collins looks inside 11 big companies that have taken the step from being good to become great. The 11 companies were all on the so-called Fortune 500 (the top 500 U.S. public corporations as measured by their gross revenue) list in the US and they were all in pretty ‘normal’ businesses such as electronics, banking and pharmacy. What seemed to unite them all was that they had found some very good answers to the questions:

What can we be the best in the world at, realistically?

What can we not be the best in the world at?
Isaiah Berlin, a professor at Oxford, divided people into two groups, foxes and hedgehogs. Every day the fox, despite his cunning, fails to make prey out of the hedgehog. The hedgehog goes about his daily business, and when the fox comes along, he simply rolls up into a spiked ball. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time, and see the world in all its complexity, so they are scattered rather than focused on one simple organising idea or principle. Hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single basic organizing principle that unifies or guides its daily life. Everything else outside this basic concept is irrelevant and not worth wasting energy on. The essence of profound insight is simplicity. Hedgehogs see what is essential and ignore the rest.
Those who built good-to-great companies were in varying degrees, hedgehogs. Comparable companies behaved like foxes, never clarifying a single concept, tending to be scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.
So what on earth has this got to do with football or developing elite athletes? Perhaps nothing, but maybe there is a bit of David’s fight against Goliath in all of us, and what if we could do better by being a bit more of a hedgehog rather than a fox? So if we still want to be great at sport and for some reason cannot find £150 million to create boarding schools – what can we do? Perhaps the secret lies in the last question that the Fortune 500 companies managed to find the answer to:

What are we deeply passionate about?
Whether we are a David or a Goliath is really irrelevant as both, if they want to be good, will need to find a way to get as many people as possible for as long, and as much as possible, doing what it is they want to be good at. David’s strategies to get this done however need to be completely different from Goliath’s. That is why golfers, football players, tennis players etc will continue to pop up in all corners of the world!
Last week in Adelaide David beat Goliath when Sweden for the second time in the last three events (yes, there was a gap with a second place in 2006…) left the rest of the world behind to win the Women’s World Amateur Team Championships. This week it is the men’s turn to take on the fairways and greens at Royal Adelaide and The Grange Golf Club. 68 teams are ready to start the battle on Thursday morning, local Adelaide time. You can of course follow the action from the England Team on my blog below.
If you would like to find out how far on your way to greatness you have come there are some excellent tools on Jim Collins’ website.

Best regards,
“It is time for us to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever, the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it.”
– Vince Lombardi

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