Football gets its Hawkeye

January 8, 2018
WG Grace
This week, football’s new video assessment system reaches cup competitions in England. Will we learn from experiences in other sports?
Technology was accepted for lines-calls in tennis some years ago. It has also been introduced into cricket, and Rugby (both codes). LWD followed the emergence of Hawkeye in tennis, and one post has been studied as a business leadership case.
The changes were mostly accepted, perhaps grudgingly from those with a yearning for the romance of earlier days. Football now seems likely to follow a similar trajectory of initial controversy followed by eventual acceptance. There will almost certainly be learning from experience.
The new football system has been tested in Italy for around a hundred matches. It seems that the video referee is called into action in about 25% of matches. This is in contrast to the approach followed by rugby, when the hold-ups are incessant, and where referees are now conditioned to check every possible infringement,or point-scoring opportunity.
Tennis and cricket have opted for a limited number of player appeals. The approaches has been linked to spectator involvement following the game on large viewing screens, and rather naff graphics in cricket.
The problem I see is a concern by official bodies to obtain the ‘technically correct’ decision. This may be influenced by the financial swings hanging on a single decision.  In tennis, this means the evidence for a ball being hit in (including on) the line, or outside the line. The technology tends to be trusted to a precision that is not possible for the human eye of even the best umpires. A similar state of affairs holds in cricket where the technology reveals the slightest of contact with ball on bat, which would influence a decision for caught or LBW (out for the ball striking the player’s pads according to complex rules known as leg before wicket).
The current systems reduce uncertainties of human error to plausible ‘right or wrong’ decisions.  We are not quite at the limits of uncertainty according to the scientific principle formulated by Heisenberg, but not precise enough to make practical debate futile.
A better way?
There is a modification to this approach which seems better to me. The technology could be used to avoid obvious errors, rather than resolve minuscule quibbles over the slightest of touches of a ball on a bat, or whether  a ball has gone beyond the line (of a football or tennis playing area , or marginally forward in a passing sequence in rugby (one of the game’s delights cut short too often at present.)
Will the new system being introduced resolve controversy about decisions by the officials? Not according to one Italian expert describing their footballing experience. Are the fans happy? Only if the decision is in their team’s favour, he replied with a sigh.

A Happy Jar for joy, and a Stress Box for kicks

January 4, 2017

Wales rugby ball

An exchange of tweets this week resulted in a comparison between the merits of the happy jar and the stress box. I’m in favour of a matching set of two

It all started for me with a tweet about a happy jar. You write down any happy thought on a piece of paper and put it in a happy jar. This ‘idea about an idea’ worked for me. I could see its applications in education and home-life.

I later traced the idea via @janesanderow and tweets were exchanged. Mine started:

WGAI

In creativity sessions, the invitation to positive thinking is WGAI [What’s Good About It]. I have seen training walls and whiteboards plastered with WGAI Post its. Recently, there was a great example at the Creativity and Innovation Management meeting in Potsdam, where participants looked at the with future strategy for the journal, encouraged by their two new dynamic editors. See also my recent post about WGAI and a good idea

The Stress Box

But what about The Stress box? I don’t think I have posted anything, but the tweets about the happy jar just reminded me of an anti-stress trick used in sports management to counter unhelpful thoughts. At a stretch, it also connects with fast and slow thinking, controlling your monkey and such ideas.

I came across the idea first with the Welsh rugby player (and now International kicking coach) Neil Jenkins, who explained how he prepared for a kick, by imagining his bad thoughts and locking them away.

Today, Wales rugby has a new kicking hero in Dan Biggar. In matches, his mentor Neil Jenkins is often seen close by,as Dan goes through his kicking routine. It looks bizarre. It has become a national iconic image known as the Biggerama [You can look it up on Utube].

Both And, not Either Or

Which is why I argue the case for Both And, not for Either Or.

Subscribers to LWD, I rest my case.


Why England Rugby may have found their ideal coach

February 29, 2016

Eddie JonesEddie Jones could be the ideal coach for England, according to one theory of leadership. But a Clive Woodward he ain’t

In the words of Monty Python, England rugby needed something completely different, after its nightmare of a World Cup last year. The selectors reacted by sacking the rather school-masterly Stuart Lancaster, and replaceinghim with the pit bull terrier that is Eddie Jones, and mastermind of Japan’s World Cup heroics.

Leaders Member Exchange theory

I base my case on a theory of leadership known as Leader Member Exchange or LMX. It is not as fashionable as charismatic leadership, which anyway is revealing its dark side in the US Primaries at present. But LMX has been subjected to a fair level of academic scrutiny.

LMX and Eddie

The classic paper on LMX by George Graen and Mary Uhl-Bien is now twenty years old. However, it has withstood the test of time and is still a good starting place for anyone wanting to make a serious study of leadership.

An update can be found in Dilemmas of Leadership (2015) and in The Sage Handbook of Leadership.

The key point about LMX is that a leader’s impact becomes clearer if you can tease our characteristics of the relationships between leaders and followers. This requires understanding of various levels of interaction including ‘one on one’ and ‘one on group’ levels. After twenty years, there is still a lot to go at.

[Incidentally, in re-reading the Graen and Uhl-Bien paper I found a sophisticated treatment of ‘leadership making’ as followers contribute to the ‘making’ of’ a leader, the rationale for Leaders We Deserve.]

In this post, I borrow just a few ideas from LMX to comment on Eddie Jones the coach as leader, and his impact on individuals and the England team performance. I make no attempt to test the validity of LMX theory.

Effective leadership resides in developing mature trust-based relationships between leader (in this case Jones) and followers (the squad). I mention the squad not the team. There have been examples of disastrous and immature relationships between the elite first-pick team and the mid week team, for example, on Lions tours. The trust placed in the leader from the first team (the in-group) is rnot found among members idesignated as reserves unless the social identity of the players is handled sensitively.

The theory has contributed to thinking about how in-groups and out-groups form. Jones has to deal with that, as does any other coach. The tricky problems of trust development are believed to be important. In football, the terminology for trust breakdown is ‘losing the dressing room’. A simple specific example was the situation (dilemma) facing Jones’ predecessor Stuart Lancaster over the selection of the son of one of his coaching staff.

Everyone hates us …

We are getting some clear messages from Jones about his beliefs, and those he would like to instill into his players. They have included the old in-group and out-group motif. He insists that England is hated by the other five nations and the team has to deal with that.

The selection of the tempestuous Dylan Hartley as captain is consistent with the combative style Jones seeems to be aiming for.

When questioned about targeting Ireland’s gifted but injury prone Sexton of Ireland, this week, Jones said he expected to play to any weakness in an opponent.

It is a kind of ‘nobody loves us but we don’t care’ style.

Gentlemanly values, ungentlemanly conduct

Whereas Mourinho’s football teams were as tough as any, The Special One preferred to pretend they always were superior players dealing with the unjustified assaults of inferior opponents.

In the past, England’s rugby coaches have been English and tended to approve of gentlemanly conduct. The taste for muscularity was still there, revealed in the fondness for a preference for selecting for forward dominance, and use of a vocabulary in which massive was the adjective of choice for general performance and physicality.

Clive Woodward, coaoch of England’s world cup victory had his favoured enforcers, but would rarely celebrate violence openly.
Somewhere between the two extremes of concealed and overt encouragement of in-play mayhem was the approach of the great coach Caewyn James who years ago urged his Welsh team to get their retaliation in first.

Expectations are high in England

Early days. Will Eddie Jones lift England to their expectations of competing with the Southern Hemisphere teams? He has one advantage. The current squad has potential to do better than they have been doing.

Maybe, like Trump on the stump, he is giving voice to an approach his players already approve of.

It may all end in tears. But there is a great potential waiting to be unlocked in the current England squad. And Jones may be just the man with the key to unlock it.

If I have read LMX theory accurately, the challenge will come as the squad develops, and different relationships are called for between a coach, his captain (or her) and players.

[drafted before the England Ireland match , Feb 26 2016]

 


On decision making, Plan B and half-time team talks

October 27, 2015

Sam DavisNotes on a rugby match, half-time motivational talks, and executing a change from a Plan A to a Plan B

The match features The Ospreys of Wales playing Connaught of Ireland. The game is as important as any league clash, but hardly one in which the result is career-changing.

 

Ospreys have the more glamorous internationals and reputation. Connaught have more local players, although they are catching up on the other Irish regional teams. Home advantage to Ospreys. Connaught are on a good winning streak and Ospreys are recovering from the donation of key players to Wales for the World Cup. Ospreys expect a tough match but as home team are favourites. Their home record against Connaught is very good.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Rugby World Cup 2015. How Wales beat England with a little help from Japan

September 27, 2015

Wales rugby ball

September 26 2015 Wales 28 England 25

The statistics suggest it was a close match. It was more than that. It produced a tale of a glorious last minute triumph by a team cruelly depleted by injuries and facing exit from the World Cup

[This post is updated for the duration of the Rugby World Cup of 2015]

I might one day be able to write a balanced evaluation of the match, if only for discussion about the leadership lessons contained in it. For the moment I can only put down first impressions.

Four years ago, a young Welsh team battled to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Their captain Sam Warburton made an instinctive impetuous tackle against a French opponent which led to his instant dismissal from the field. Wales lost narrowly. France lost easily to the New Zealand all blacks in the final.

The Group of Death

Four years later the core of the Welsh team, now more experienced, found themselves playing in the 2015 competition, hosted by England but with a small number of matches played in Wales. They had been drawn in what was in sporting cliché terms the Group of Death, with three strong teams, Australia, England together with Wales, as well as two weaker (or at least lower ranked) teams Fiji and Uruguay.

The all play all format among the five teams meant that one of the favourites had to be eliminated at the end of the pool stage. From the moment the draw was made, the match between England and Wales was seen as potentially crucial.

The England team had showed promise in the run up to the tournament. They also had the advantage of playing in their national stadium at Twickenham. Australia also arrived in good form and was seen as one of the top three teams, behind World Champions New Zealand, and a powerful South African team from a country that had already won two world cups. Wales were regarded as strong enough to cause trouble, but likely to be eliminated unless they were able to beat one of England or Australia.

The Welsh preparation campaign under the wily chief coach Warren Gatland had stuttered with injuries to several key players. Then in a warm-up match a few weeks before the tournament, the loss of more players, including their world-class goal kicker Leigh Halfpenny.

The England team had also suffered injury withdrawals from their first match against Fiji. The coaching team led by Stuart Lancaster had to find a plan B against Wales. The decisions inevitably aroused criticisms. Lancaster had selected the highly talented but inexperienced Burgess, a recent recruit from Rugby League. For understandable reasons, Lancaster also decided to start with a specialist goal kicker replacing one of the team’s more imaginative playmakers.

The match begins

The evening match was played before a capacity crowd. England was seen as favourite to win even by Welsh rugby supporters and commentators.

The match itself was tense partly for its importance to the teams, and partly because it was close, and with errors from both teams. England seemed physically stronger and edged ahead. A defensive error from Wales, and England powered over the line for a slick well-executed try. Then Wales sustained more sickening injuries. Liam Williams at full back replacing Halfpenny was stretchered off. Several more replacements were needed as backs and forwards were battered out of the game.

At half time, England had a  ten point advantage, and had nearly stretched the lead further. England just have to stick to their plan, Sir Clive Woodward declared, speaking from the commentary box. His reputation as as a coach was earned for his success with England’s famous World Cup winning team of 2002. I supposed he was right, even if it he did sound a bit smug. Had he lost that sense of the danger that might come from a wounded and desperate opponent?

The England team did not quite stick to what they were doing. In the second half, England substitutes were brought on to finish off the depleted Welsh team. Then a sneak attack from Wales and a try not unlike England’s first half effort. Wales were clawing their way back.

With time running out, it became clear that Wales were fighting harder. England were not exactly holding on, but seemed inclined to protect their narrow lead. As happens, defense is not always the best form of attack. Another flurry of penalties and Wales actually grab a three-point lead.

Two minutes to go. England has to score to even out the match. They are awarded a kickable penalty which would have drawn the game. The England captain Robshaw picked the ball up and gestured to the referee and to his goal kicker to go for the corner flag with possibility of a subsequent last-minute try bringing victory.

The crowd is roaring England on to victory as their forwards advance to within five meters of the Wales goal line.  From the lineout, England secures the ball and prepares to batter their fatigued opponents out of the way as they advance over the line. But the the attacking move as the Wales players hurl themselves ferociously into the maul and drive players and ball  into touch. Wales have only seconds to secure the ball from their lineout throw and the game is won.

The ball is thrown, and is cleanly held by Wales. Time now plays its relativity trick, but the electronic scorecard moves remorselessly on. The referee blows for time. England have found a way of losing. a game that they were winning, and a minute earlier could have drawn. What had been witnessed was sheer anger and fury uncorked and directed against not England but against injustice and cruel fate.

Those players still standing sink to the ground, before the red-shirted ones find enough energy to revive and celebrate.

Déjà vu

Let me have a moment of sheer speculation. This was not the match that this World Cup will be remembered for, outside Wales and perhaps England. That had taken place when the Japanese team won an incredible game against the mighty South African team.

Two minutes to go, and Japan had a penalty award. Kicking it would result in a draw. Or the Japanese captain could elect to go for the win. The situation was similar to the one that changed the result of the England Wales game.

Here is my speculation. The Japanese captain won global respect for his courage in risking a loss seeking the win. Might Chris  Robshaw have been thinking about that glorious moment, as he made his own fateful decision? Does he even know himself?

Can’t believe what I saw

The ITV cameras switched to the studio. Outside, various bodies could still be seen recovering on the floodlit grass. Sir Clive Woodward and his greatest warrior Jonny Wilkinson stared glassy-eyed into space. What do you make of that Clive, the presenter asked. Sir Clive struggled for words. Shocked, he eventually replied weakly. Can’t believe what I just saw.

You will, Sir Clive, you will eventually.

Updates start here

Wednesday September 30
Wales will suffer from the injuries occurred against England.
The squad named for the next game against Fiji on Thursday October 1 includes three forced changes, and more players out of position.

Fiji has lost its two initial games but have completed well. Also, they have a brand of power play that might produce even more injuries. The one consolation for Wales is that Fiji has lost their most potent rampaging player, 20 stone Nemani Nadolo, banned for foul play against Australia.

Saturday October 3

After losing to Wales, England’s woes continue. They become first hosts to crash out of the World Cup of Rugby at the pool stage.

Sunday October 18

Australia narrowly beat Scotland with controversial late refereeing decision.

Saturday October 31

All Blacks defeat Australia to retain World Cup in memorable style.


Dealing with performance anxiety: the Coach’s dilemma

February 4, 2014

FencingDealing with performance anxiety has been a major issue in the development of a science of sport management. The knowledge gained is contributing to understanding of choking and under-performance across the sporting spectrum

I recently asked a [very small] sample of contacts whether performance anxiety and its management were important in coaching their sport. Here are few responses:

Football

In football, reckless tackling is deemed career-threatening and met with assorted bans and other sanctions. Although sometimes this is deliberate it is loss of control often through pressures to perform. Weak penalty kicks would be another example. Routines that work in practice influenced by performance anxiety.

Rugby

Rugby Union is a sport which prides itself in the traditional sporting values of personal discipline and respect for the referee’s authority. The violence, as in other contact sports, is mostly channeled legally into man on man hits. But there are still surprising episodes of grievous bodily harm. Off-field skullduggery are also known including coaches fixing blood injuries to obtain player substitutions. Nor is violence a product of the sport’s recent professionalization. One of the most-quoted injunctions was from a coach in the era of amateur rugby who urged his players to ‘get your retaliation in first‘.

Tennis

Non-contact sports create fewer opportunities for the release of a competitor’s tension through physical aggression. In Tennis, much aggression is directed towards explosive attack on the ball. If that fails, an attack on the racquet becomes a back-up strategy for some players. The action is subject to sanction, but the punishment is minor.

One tennis player who rejects the release provided by racquet-smashing is Chinese star Li Na.

Golf

Golf, in common with other non-contact ball sports [such as snooker, pool, ] requires execution of well-grooved routines which can break down under performance anxiety. In golf, the breakdown of routines particularly in putting is famously known as the Yips. The medical condition is considered a kind of small muscle fatigue. Similar breakdowns of performance are known in the world of music among violinists.

Fencing

William Thompson is a qualified fencing coach. He outlined how a leading international trainer dealt with performance anxiety:

“I studied fencing under Professor Robert Anderson who died in 2013. He explained to me that his role as the coach of the British Olympic team was to remove all stress and performance anxiety:

‘My foot ware is causing a problem,’ Coach: We will change your foot ware.
‘There is noise from the room next door and I cannot sleep,’ Coach: We will move your room.
‘My training partner does not seem motivated,’ Coach: We will change your partner.
Performance stress has its observable symptoms. The coach’s job is to address these symptoms and remove them.”

Obsession and performance anxiety

Overall, the accounts suggest that performance anxiety of players is a major issue for coaches across a variety of sports. Probably the obsessive drive to achieve among top athletes is a mixed blessing.


Warren Gatland: Rugby’s effective answer to charismatic leadership

June 26, 2013

Warren GatlandThe Lion’s tour of Australia has thrust their coach Warren Gatland into the media spotlight. His appearance and actions demonstrate that effectiveness in a leader does not necessarily require a charismatic style

Warren Gatland has appeared in literally hundreds of news items during the Lion’s rugby tour of Australia. Dozens of commentators have offered their views of his strategic decisions. I have not come across any that have implied he is a charismatic leader. Nor had I come across severe criticism of the effectiveness of his decision-making in the areas of team selection and match preparation and tactics until the announcement [2nd July 2013] of the team to play the final and series-determining test match.

Effective and non-charismatic

That leads me to conclude that he is widely perceived as both highly effective and non-charismatic. Someone surfing the Leaders We Deserve site recently was searching for evidence that Gatland might be transactional in leadership style. He can show both transactional and transformational elements in his comments about players and their motivations.

His low-key press performances suggest that he is has an uncomplicated way of understanding the needs of his players which avoids the dangers of showing favouritism. This was important, because Gatland had coached the successful Welsh squad to success prior to the tour, and will resume duties after it. Journalists from the other Rugby playing countries England, Scotland and the combined Irish territories might have hinted at favouritism in selection. Gatland’s frank press conferences may have contributed to avoiding that criticism. The evidence is that he has largely addressed the dangers of demotivated ‘second class citizens’ playing only in the provincial games. This has bedevilled earlier tours including the one coached by [Sir] Clive Woodward.

Kicking out the box

I don’t like to capture leadership style as a fixed and unitary trait. Style is better (in my judgement) treated as a description of an important pattern of behaviour that may change with circumstances. That incidentally is the basis of situational leadership theory which suggests just that, offering style as variable according to circumstances or contingencies. Beware of boxing people into one fixed style of behaviour.

Level five leadership

I have written in the past about level five leaders in sport, a term attributed to Jim Collins. The theory is that charismatics have powerful influencing skills, but tend to be tripped up by their own ego. Level five leadership has been described as demonstrated by those who show fierce resolve with less intrusion of personal ego. Which may suit what we have seen of Warren Gatland recently. But I hope that assessment is not the same as putting him into a conceptual box.

I write this still uncertain if the Lions will win the three match test series. The outcome will not impact on the evidence of Gatland’s effectiveness or style.

Hero to zero?

The Warren Gatland story hit the headlines internationally through his selection decisions for the final test. The series decider took place after a one-point loss by the Lions in the second match. Gatland made several changes. These would have been controversial as the starting XV contained no Scottish representatives and ten players from Wales the country Gatland now coaches. But the most shocking omission was that of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) Irish legend who would have been playing in hist last Lions test match. Gatland, it is worth noticing, was a successful coach of Ireland’s national team in the past. He had noticed and nurtured O’Driscoll’s great talent.

The selection was widely criticized, provoking bitterness and anger in the judgements of such authorities as Sottish commentator Ian Robertson, and by former Irish commentator Keith Wood. I found the hundreds of comments in web-discussion sites both depressing and enlightening. Fury and anger was directed towards Gatland. The most widespread comments were that he was an inept decision-maker, following a dubious strategy which involved picking his ‘own’ Welsh players. (Gatland is from New Zealand, incidentally, the country most fiercely competitive against Australia.). One more balanced comment reminded us that Gatland is notoriously unsentimental in his decision-making. At the start of the Lion’s tour he left behind Sean Edwards, his [English} coach to the Welsh team’s backs. Edwards Felt ‘gutted’ about the decision.

The most revealing comments indicate that Gatland should be judged on whether the Lions win the final test. I have explained above why I think that is a poor way of assessing a leader’s capabilities. But I welcome comments from LWD subscribers.