By VINESH NAIDU
Every four years, something strange happens to the human species. Sleep patterns get messed up, medical certificate printers make a killing, as do coffee makers worldwide, and that’s just the periphery industries benefiting from the knock-on effect.
No, it’s not some seasonal human evolution, it’s only the greatest show on earth. To give you a perspective on its global reach, the 2006 edition’s final was watched by 720 mil people, wholly a ninth of the entire world population.
Now that’s what you call a truly global phenomenon.
It’s the World Cup. It actually is one of a kind in that it unites people the world over through the game of football. You would think Brazil was the world’s biggest colonizer the way some people here in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand wear the famed yellow jersey of the Selecao and scream themselves hoarse.
But who makes up the team? Ask any fan worth his or her salt, and they will easily roll off the first 11 of their respective favourite teams and then stutter through the next three or four names and finally give you a blank stare when you ask about the remaining eight players who make up the substitutes.
If you can’t name all the players, the ones who actually appear on TV, glossy magazines, hair gel advertisements and even KFC, what more the army of people who actually help form a team?
If you think about it, our teams at work are similar. There are plenty of supporting cast that we don’t normally consider critical to operations yet without them, plenty of processes break down.
Who are these unsung heroes? Who is it that ensures conditions are just right for these players to be at their peak to bring glory to self and nation?
In tribute to the notion that many parts make a team, I am sharing with you some of the lesser known, less glamourous roles that form the contingent that makes up a football team.
You aren’t going to see these guys on TV; well, maybe if he does something not very flattering – like celebrate a goal, step on a bottle and promptly twist his ankle, as one is wont to do. Here’s watching you English physiotherapists, the irony of it all.
So here goes, five people who help make football successful without actually scoring a goal!
1. Sports psychologist
A bit of a New Age addition. Just 10 years ago, any athlete seen with a shrink would have been classified a loony, unsuitable to play however good his kicking or heading skills may have been. Today, more and more teams realise the importance of the mental state of athletes and what a big role it plays in conditioning for success.
Approaching a game in the right mindset can sometimes be more important than physical conditioning especially if the footballer is already at peak fitness but has just suffered a surprising defeat to a weaker team, for example.
This becomes a non-tangible hurdle that the sports psychologist is tasked with helping the athlete overcome before stepping on to the pitch.
Similarly, partnering a coach is now in vogue for leaders. The old adage is true – it’s lonely at the top. So having an external coach is sometimes a great sounding board as a non-vested party can provide key insightful questions to clarify the way ahead!
2. Grounds men
A lesser known fact for most fans – the length of the grass plays a huge role in the way teams are able to pass the ball. So every team has a different preference, usually dictated by the tactics of the manager, and this is then ensured by a designated team of grounds men.
They are charged with ensuring that the grass is always maintained at the correct length and moistness to ensure the team plays in optimum condition. Long ball or short passing? It all depends on how long the grass is today!
Who is keeping your operations; operationally tweaked to strategy? We all know about the CEO, but who is the COO and is his or her team actually directing the day-to-day translation of the vision?
3. Kit men
It’s a contact sport, and you need clean clothes and good sturdy protective paraphernalia.
Every athlete has a personal preference of shirt and shorts size as well as shin pads and boot laces. While the athletes are busy listening and absorbing the tactical instructions from the coach, the kit men lay out the correct clothes to be worn for the particular match.
As the adage goes, you are what you consume. More than ever, athletes have to adhere to a strict diet of healthy and energy-filled foods to keep them in peak physiological condition. Right up till the early 1990’s it was normal, even expected, that you would be able to find your local club footballer at the watering hole down the road every evening enjoying a pint with the fans.
Today, that action would incur not just the wrath of the manager but also fans who are empowered through social media to become the eyes and ears of the player’s club!
The nutritionist ensures that each player has a specifically designed diet in order to maximise their physiological conditions and this includes helping the body recover from exertions after training and games.
5. Conditioning coach
This brings us to the next person, the conditioning coach. Sports science has enabled enough of a breakthrough in human physiological knowledge to understand that not every person reaches peak performance the same way. So you can’t just make 40 school boys run their lungs out every two days and expect to see mini Usain Bolts at the end of the year.
Athletes today are commodities and require customised attention keep them at peak physical condition under various conditions. These include slight changes in weather that can impact their fluid loss rate as well as body thermoregulation.
It’s the conditioning coach’s responsibility that each and every athlete is ready for the day’s training or match.
Practicality in organisations
I see similarities here with a growing trend in companies to focus resources on ensuring the right culture is developed internally. Right culture helps to condition the mental and physical contribution levels of employees and it is much too great an issue to be left to chance – as is leaving an athlete to manage his own physiological condition. Get the condition of the athlete right for peak performance and reap the benefit.
Similarly, condition the employee through the right culture, pressure points and challenges, and watch your employee and by extension, your organisation grow. Football today is a paradox. For most things operating within a capitalistic framework, the moment it becomes big business, it loses touch with its roots.
The key to sustaining this seems to have been by ensuring that the supporting roles and structures of the game; personnel as well as infrastructure; are brought up to speed with the pace of expansion.
Something to think about?
Consider this from a leadership perspective. Who are those supporting the core roles of your teams? How are they contributing and are they aligned to your mission and vision?
How much of active engagement is happening between you and them? Imagine a situation where the manager of a football team only meets his grounds men once a year at the annual dinner. Long ball or short passing games be doomed.
As I write this, we would be just a few days from the long awaited final – since my beloved Azzuris have exited, I have graciously transferred my allegiance to the Albiceleste! As you lap up the excitement, spare a few moments to think about your own supporting personnel and ensure you have constant engagement to boost your team’s performance!