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Resilience: a World Cup winning strategy

July 4, 2018

We are in the throes of World Cup fever, so most of us are being bombarded by think-pieces inspired by the beautiful game. On one hand, it feels quite cliched to write about it in relation to talent management. On the other, as a Business Psychologist, the parallels between football and organisational effectiveness are hard to ignore. Clichés are there for a reason and who can turn down the opportunity to talk about football and psychology.

The World Cup represents an exaggerated display of all the key talent management priorities such as leadership, team effectiveness, competence, and employee engagement to name a few. It’s the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and focus for those involved. Despite being ‘just a game’ the stakes are astronomical and only the most effective teams can deliver the dreams and aspirations of entire nations.

Whilst watching yesterday’s game between England and Colombia, it dawned on me that something was very different about this England team. Despite not being as resplendent with talent when compared to the ‘Golden Generation’, I was a believer.

England has the worst senior penalty shoot-out record in world football, losing them the World Cups in 1990, 1998 and 2006, and at the European Championships in 1996, 2004 and 2012. Therefore, when the teams lined up to take penalties, I was bombarded with flashbacks to World Cup failures of yore. One of those penalty-related flashbacks I experienced, was the sight of a young Gareth Southgate. His heartbroken and forlorn face burned into my cerebellum.

So what is different about this team, what made them succeed where arguably ‘better teams’ have failed? I would posit the difference is their resilience. Gareth Southgate’s experiences as a player and manager has led him to focus on developing the players’ mindset.  He has been determined that his England team are open, willing to confront their fears and “own the process”. All key skills when dealing with the awe-inspiring pressure, when millions are watching you.

Resilience as we define it is an individual’s capacity to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks, challenge and change in order to achieve peak performance. The strategies associated with being resilient were on full display: the team looked like they had confidence in their capabilities as a team (Self-belief), believed they were able to win (Optimism), were able to calm themselves down in the face of fiery opposition (Emotion Regulation) and were able to come together as a team (Support Seeking).

“I’ve learnt a million things from the day and the years that have followed” Southgate said this week, when referring to his penalty miss “the biggest thing being that when something goes wrong in your life, it doesn’t finish you.” These words fundamentally underpin resilience, being able to not only bounce back from adversity but also learn from your mistakes.

Southgate’s focus on resilience has meant that on paper, an arguably underwhelming team, are now looking like potential world beaters. Last night’s achievement was hopefully a turning point in England’s narrative as a footballing nation. Whatever happens, I will be relying on my resilience to help me get through watching what transpires next on the pitch where dreams are made.

Find out how you can develop Resilience in your organisation by listening to our recent webinar on Resilience – Future proofing your workforce.

Listen to the webinar recording


Ali Shalfrooshan is a Principal Consultant at PSI Talent Measurement.

Click here to learn more about PSI's Talent Measurement solutions.

Silvana Andrade is the Digital Marketing Manager at PSI Services, International.