Jo Geraghty


The Culture of Sport

Date added: 14th Jan 2013
Category: Employee Engagement

At the time of writing we are approaching the end of the first week of the New Year.  And so far it’s a game of two halves.  Whilst gyms and fitness centres are rubbing their hands at all the new members who have signed themselves up for several months or more, twenty-five percent of us have already given up on our New Year resolutions.



Just 39% of those in their twenties and 14% of those aged over fifty achieve their New Year goals

In fact, a report in the US Journal of Clinical Psychology reveals that just 39% of those in their twenties and 14% of those aged over fifty manage to achieve their New Year goals.   Psychologists attribute this failure level to a number of factors including the setting of unrealistic goals, trying to do too much at once and not making allowances for your own personality type.  In effect, in order to stick with a resolution you need to change your behaviour and this involves rewiring your brain to change its default patterns.

 Harder to change the behaviour of a whole organisation

If this is hard enough to do on an individual basis, how much harder is it when you need to change the behaviour of an entire organisation, particularly one involved in the field of sport?  For the purposes of this article we are mainly going to concentrate on the challenges faced by professional sports clubs but we do acknowledge the difficulties faced by small clubs which largely depend on volunteers who give up their spare time and money to help individuals and teams to excel.   These volunteers from diverse backgrounds have varying agendas and varying levels of expertise and the way in which they work together can make or break not only clubs but individual talents.


Managing team spirit vs individual needs

When it comes to the professional game, whether it be rugby or football, ice hockey or cricket, the challenges faced by clubs can be immense.  The assumption is that certain individuals have a team player mentality and as such slot naturally into any team situation and always do the best for their team.  Whilst this is partially true, no matter how much of a team player someone is, as a professional sports person they also have their own agenda, perhaps to get on to the national team or to play for a top club.  This leaves the management with the twin tasks of managing and fostering team spirit whilst not ignoring individual needs.


But professional clubs have far more to worry about than simply managing the team.  The club has to be run as a business; there are owners or shareholders to satisfy, the fan base needs to be kept on side, not forgetting the needs of all of the support staff from physiotherapists to cleaners.  It is no wonder therefore that the Harvard Business School recently took time out to look at Sir Alex Ferguson’s management and leadership style.


The lessons to be learned

Harvard not only sent representatives to the UK to watch Sir Alex Ferguson in action, they also invited him to lecture to students. Summing up the experience one student commented that “hearing how Ferguson motivates his players, creates a culture around his team, and gets key influencers within his team to be the ones to drive that winning culture through … these are the lessons we can actually take in our business careers going forward.”


These comments sum up the reason why Sir Alex Ferguson has had ongoing success with Manchester United.  He has identified the culture required for success and works hard to instil that culture throughout the team and the club as a whole.  Admittedly he has had the finances and the backing of the owners to enable him to carry out his plans but his management style and emphasis on culture has ensured that success has followed.


Some professional sports clubs may not be as lucky and clashes between owners and managers or lack of funds or poor team bonding can lead to unsatisfactory performances.  But delve into the smaller professional clubs which are successful despite lack of funds and you will usually find a strong management culture at the heart of their success.


With a strong culture, with a vision and with the management team working to engage the players in the club’s ethos anything is possible.  Without it, all you have is a collection of individuals with their own agendas and worryingly poor performances.

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