As the Lions tour, Hannah Prince analyses the winning mentality.
As I write, one of the greatest sporting challenges is taking place; the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. The squad of 41 players – who normally compete against each other week in, week out – come together to live, work, train and play as a unit, and attempt to gain their first series victory in New Zealand since 1971.
To succeed, they must become a fully integrated ‘team of teams’ made up of players and staff who show good working relationships and mutual respect for one another.
“Having people who have worked together, understand each other, trust each other, will be essential:” Warren Gatland, British and Irish Lions coach
So how do they achieve this, how do they work effectively as a team?
Self-awareness is the key. There is no ‘I’ in TEAM, and while this is grammatically correct, to take this old saying too literally is perilous. A team is only as good as the sum of its parts, and those parts are made up of individuals who, bring their unique set of gifts and flaws with them.
How can this team understand each other if they don’t first understand themselves? How can this team of teams be integrated if they don’t know how they come across to others?
It would be dangerous to assume that a team can function well if individuals are blind to these. How can this team understand each other if they don’t first understand themselves? How can this team of teams be integrated if they don’t know how they come across to others?
The answer is, they can’t. So before this Lions squad can be truly effective, individuals need to take accountability and responsibility for themselves. This means understanding their strengths and weakness, their preferences and how they come across to others.
Self-awareness in this sense includes:
- Knowing about both your own and other team members strengths and areas for improvement
- Understanding that you and your team members have similarities and differences in the way you like to process information, make decisions and orient yourselves to the world
- Understanding that all team members may have different styles of communicating which may be different from your own
Having this knowledge and self-awareness can help the Lions to perform well during their current tour by underpinning some key factors required for success. Using contemporary research within the field of psychology, let’s take a look at what some of those factors are.
Arguably, one of the main roles of a leader is to articulate a clear and compelling vision that team members are inspired and motivated to achieve, while ensuring the team has enough resources to actually achieve it.
While there are many leaders in this whole squad, including tour management, performance and backroom staff and the leader on the pitch, there are two that stand out: those being head coach Warren Gatland and on-pitch captain Sam Warburton.
Gatland is mostly concerned with defining and communicating effectively individual roles and responsibilities, liaising with other staff members to generate a game plan and a tactical strategy as well as picking the starting 15.
While he has some influence during matches, this is limited as it’s in the hands of the players and it then becomes Warburton’s job to commit to the vision articulated by Gatland and ensure everyone else does too.
Warburton is also responsible for decision making on the pitch, for example, when a penalty is given to the Lions, while there may be a team discussion about what to do, ultimately that decision lies with the captain.
There’s also a code of conduct in rugby to follow as a player and leader, Warburton has to ensure he acts within this and the laws of rugby, in order to be an effective role model for the rest of the team to emulate. Both Gatland and Warburton need to use the right cognitive, motivational and affective processes to impact performance.
In simple terms they need to be able to inspire and motivate the team through a shared vision that everyone is emotionally invested in. When a leader does this, they inspire, develop and empower their team to be the best that they can be.
This should result in the players internalising that vision and competing for their own intrinsic reasons, resulting in better performance. For this to happen, leaders need to be aware of their leadership style and the impact it may have on their team.
This piece will be concluded later in this week.
About the author
Hannah Prince is the Business Psychologist at Insights Learning and Development. She has a background in sport psychology and passion for understanding the underlying psychological factors required for high performance.