Whether you like football or not, it is impossible to ignore, and in spite of some of the sad incidents of violence we are seeing in France, there is much we can observe and learn from the sport, this year in particular.
Even in the midst of the Euros, the memory of Leicester City’s momentous victory in the Premiership is still sinking in, and in a time when it seems money and status seem to hold all the power, it gives us hope that there may be another force at work.
This force, I believe, is one of “team spirit”.
In the case of Leicester City, when you look at each of the players, and added up their collective value, it made no sense that they would achieve such great heights. Nor did they have the most money, or the most highly acclaimed Manager.
What they had was “team spirit”, and that, I believe, was the critical success factor which led to them winning the ultimate prize. Not just a tournament, not one singular race, but a long, hard slog of a season against some of the best football teams in the world.
When asked, the players were often quoted as saying, “we’re just having fun” – a great answer, but I think that there was more to it than that. Perhaps their manager Claudio Ranieri had something to do with it.
“I always tell my players to find the fire within themselves. A chance like this will never come round again. Seek that fire, don’t be ashamed of it. And they are not ashamed, if anything they demand to dream.”
This fire he refers to I think could be the key.
However, he had to have had that fire within him too, and that could have come from all the negativity there was around his appointment. He had a point to prove, something that motivated him, a compelling reason to do well. This sparked his fire, and he used his fire to light the sparks of the players.
Yet it was more than that. It was the power of the collective. The difference between a great team and a good team is the team spirit – the shared goal, the shared vision, yes, but over and above this, shared values and a shared “why”, the reason behind it.
What you are doing is never as important as why you are doing it. If you have a compelling reason for doing something, you can almost always find a way to make it happen. Or at least give it your best shot.
I’m seeing this same team spirit at the moment within the Wales team. Admittedly, there are certain key players who are clearly at the top of their game at the moment, and making a huge impact, but the team cohesion, the way the players just seem to gel, not just technically but energetically, is fascinating to watch. I believe they will do well this year as a result.
Their “fire” I believe comes from quite an emotional place. Many of the Welsh squad, as well as past players and pundits, credit the fact that they are at the Euros to the late Gary Speed, who tragically died a few years ago. I have this feeling they are doing it for him, in his memory. That is their compelling reason. They want his hard work to have been worth it.
The Welsh team are united in this. They play not just to win trophies or make money, they play for a greater cause, and whether they win or not, they will have still had a more purposeful, fulfilling experience as a result.
So what can we learn from this?
“A successful team beats with one heart”.
If you are a leader, you need to capture the heart of your players, and make sure they all share the same values as well as vision. As a player, you need to look inside your own heart and make sure you know your “why”. And for those of us just watching, perhaps we can take this last thought from Ranieri:
“In an era where money counts for everything, we give hope to everybody”.