Group dynamics in sport

Leicester City vs. England (and what it means for you)

England failed at Euro 2016 for the same reasons that Leicester succeeded.

England failed at Euro 2016 for exactly the same reasons that Leicester succeeded so spectacularly in the Premier League: team dynamics. 

I read Danny Murphy’s BBC opinion piece from February 2016 on Leicester City’s success with some interest a few months back.

It’s a very thorough analysis of how the Blues have consistently outplayed their big-spending opponents. It focuses on group dynamics and tactics – Leicester’s reliance on the outmoded 442 system and their seemingly backward use of the unfavoured ‘long-ball game’.

It mentions their poor passing record and lack of possession, but highlights their impressive shots to goals ratio. It talks of training and how Ranieri’s men have maintained their fitness levels and tempo not just throughout big games, but also throughout the season as a whole.

There’s mention of Leicester’s ferocious counter-attacking play and the fact that they’ve often come from behind to win against big opponents thanks to a ‘never-say-die’ attitude.

And it’s that last point that interests me the most, since 70% of teams that score the first goal in Premier League games go on to win the game…

And this point:

“Claudio Ranieri has picked the same team for the past five league matches and has made only 21 changes in 25 games, the fewest in the Premier League.”

Murphy goes on to say, “It means the team has gelled in lots of areas, and is another reason they have got better as the season has gone on.”

It’s the Band of Brothers, in-this-together-ness of the former setup that makes Leicester City so much more than the sum of its parts.

Fast forward to today and not only is England (and the UK as a whole) reeling from one of the most far-reaching national decisions it’s ever taken, but its national team also lost to a vastly less fancied Iceland team last night.

Contrast the two scenarios. Leicester City with its tried and tested tactics and its heavy reliance on a stable first team and England with its ever-changing strategies and merry-go-round of Premier League superstars who meet for tournaments and then part ways to become bitter rivals week in, week out in domestic football.

Hopefully you see my point. It’s the Band of Brothers, in-this-together-ness of the former setup that makes Leicester City so much more than the sum of its parts.

And it’s precisely the opposite effect that makes the England team a frequently incohesive and ineffective force against seemingly easily-bettered opposition.

Cobbled together from a large number of top-flight clubs, but without enough weight from any single team to offer a marked effect on team morale or group dynamics and cohesion.

Military strategists have known this for centuries. It’s why grouping small numbers of soldiers into tight-knit, bonded units is so effective. History is littered with examples of soldiers from similar socio-economic backgrounds, even units assembled from young men from the same small towns, coming together to defeat vastly more experienced and well-equipped opposition. The thing that kept them fighting? A structure that met their basic need for affection and esteem.

So if you want a cohesive fighting force for excellence in your organisation, you need to foster a sense of mutual cooperation, friendship, respect and dare we say it, love for your colleagues and your company.

Get your team to gel and you can be giant-killing Leicester City. Fail and you’ll be perennially under-achieving England.

Image: Joe Meredith/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

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