The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


When You Focus On Winning, You End Up Losing …
August 8, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So by the time you read this, the World Cup will be over.

Maybe your nations team did well, maybe they didn’t … but I read something about the Belgium’s technical director that I thought was brilliant and can be a massive lesson to anyone who has other peoples development in their hands.

Before I get to that, I have to give some context.

Before this World Cup, Belgium’s national team was a joke.

Sure you could argue that a country with only 34 professional clubs – spread over two divisions – they were always going to be at a disadvantage and sure, you could also argue their re-emergence has as much to do with immigration as it does with improvement of the players, but regardless of that, the approach adopted by Michel Sablon, Belgium’s technical director, is brilliant to read.

While he talks about the 3 key stages of turnaround, the one that has grabbed my attention the most was his belief that a focus on winning meant a lack of focus on developing.

After studying how other nations developed their teams and analysing 1500 games, Sablon instigated a rule that the youth teams were no longer to focus on results.

That’s right, the result didn’t matter.

He took this a stage further by scrapping all league tables for under-7 and under-8 teams.

His rationale was that the ‘win at all costs’ attitude that had previously been adopted was inadvertently stopping players from developing their own abilities and so if they took that issue away – and didn’t care where the national team ranked on the World stage – they could start changing that.

And change they did, because by focusing on improving rather than winning, they ended up with a better team … playing a better system … that started getting them much better results.

In essence, the byproduct of focusing on improvement was success.

Of course it all makes total sense and yet it’s still utterly refreshing, probably because we live in a society where we’re constantly told to focus on the prize rather than value of development.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff he did that was awesome, even though many regarded it as radical [ie: once a youth player ‘stepped up’ to the national squad, they would never be brought back down again, even though many national teams think that is the way to ‘bed’ the youth players in] … but the upshot is that in just 12 years, Belgium went from the football wilderness to an entertaining and exciting team who are real global contenders and so – regardless whether you like football or not – I urge you to read Michel Sablon account of what he did because it’s more insightful, inspirational and educational about business and team development than any industry book you’ll ever read.


35 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Did Belgium do that well in the World Cup?

Great viewpoint though, I especially like the “focus on improving rather than winning”. How long did it take you to say that to your Nike client?

Comment by Pete

It would be a much better post if Belguim won instead of finishing in mediocrity.

Comment by DH

They’re ranked 5th in the world.

Comment by john

In the period of time it took for them to go from obscurity to 5th in the World, I’d say they’d be more in line for an effectiveness award than many of the ad campaigns that have been given applause.

And yes, I did tell my Nike client. Took me about 0.25 seconds … now if only I’d come up with that thinking rather than just repeating what someone else said.

Story of my life.

Comment by Rob

And your sex life.

Comment by DH

There was more insight and strategy behind this football development plan than all advertising campaigns. If a planner did it, it would be hailed as genius but as they didn’t, most would ignore it and carry on thinking they are the only ones with smarts.

Comment by Pete

Are you being anti planner? Who are you?

Comment by DH

Why is there a link on my name that takes me to nowhere? I didn’t put it in? What sort of witchcraft have you put on this blog?

Comment by DH

Good point Pete. Far better than the insights that say “mums don’t like housecleaning” and then are executed by showing a mum not enjoying the housecleaning.

Comment by George

Insight: “Mum’s love kids”.

Ad: show a film of a Mum loving her kid.

Comment by Rob

USA didn’t need any of that strategy shit, we just had balls and fight.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s why you didn’t win.

Comment by DH

I’ll tell homeland security to deport you. Traitor.

Comment by Billy Whizz

And a good goalkeeper

Comment by Northern

They lost.

Comment by john

Belguim is famous for chocolates and pedophiles and they only made the chocolates so they could get to the kids. (Best movie quote of all time)

Comment by DH

In Bruges?

Comment by George

First european movie I ever liked.

Comment by Billy Whizz

This is great Robert. What is being said is obvious, but great insight is like that, hidden in plain sight. But having the ability to see it isn’t enough, he found a way to apply it and that’s the key difference.
Great post, thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Comment by George

Six years, millions in government funding and ideas that have been used for years in other countries would be another way of looking at it.

Comment by john

Which countries used it before John? I know there were elements used by nations like France, but I didn’t think it was on this scale.

Comment by Pete

Germany, Spain presumably Portugal. Italy I don’t know about and the Scandanvians of course.

Comment by john

But either way, it puts Forest in perspective.

Comment by john

Excellent post Robert. They are approaches and considerations that could easily be extended to the world of business and education.

Comment by Lee Hill

Could not agree with you more, especially with the state of education – which is seemingly getting more and more designed around ‘passing exams’ than learning. Especially across Asia, though arguably – it’s always been focused on that.

Comment by Rob

Keeping junior staff away from any proper work for first few years might mess with your business model.

Comment by john

Not to mention your vacation schedule.

Comment by john

Great post, although I’m biased since I got Belgium in a sweepstake.
By the way, I’m guessing you persuaded Dan not to focus on the results of your attendance to work record and celebrate any improvement

Comment by Northern

That’s still “under discussion”.

Comment by Rob

you mean hes still waiting on his fucking lawyers to give him the answer that gets him out of this fucking mess.

Comment by andy@cynic

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