Dr Rudi Webster/File Photo

Commentary by Dr Rudi V. Webster

Leaders understand the importance of clear vision and good strategy. But they also know that these two factors can only take the team or organisation so far. Plans and goal charts do not accomplish performance. It is people who get things done. People breathe life into the organisation’s vision, plans and mission. And in sport, it is competent, well-trained, highly disciplined and highly motivated players that are the key to the team’s success.

The good leader demonstrates what the organisation stands for by setting the right example. He believes that self-leadership, group synergy and teamwork are key factors in performance and spends a lot of time communicating, facilitating, monitoring and motivating himself and his team. He designs systems and structures to monitor and improve performance, and to detect and correct any deviations from the normal.  He knows that poor teamwork equals poor performance.

In sport there are basically three types of teamwork. In each type, leadership, management, coaching, motivation and group interaction are different.

In American football, the main objective is to keep possession of the ball and move it down the field to score a touchdown or a field goal. Some players never touch the ball during the game. The head coach is king. He has great power and the game usually revolves around him and his plans. Obedience and conformity are key priorities. Disagreement and individuality are not encouraged or tolerated, and leadership is rigid and autocratic.

In basketball and soccer, everyone handles or kicks the ball and the players are flexible, innovative and creative. Chemistry is a key factor in this type of teamwork – how the players interact and communicate with each other and with the coach and how they cooperate and coordinate their efforts. The performance of the team is often greater than the sum of its parts.

In cricket, the result of the game is the sum total of individual scores so there is more emphasis on individual effort, individual style and self-discipline. It is not unusual for a player to win a game for the team with good individual performance. Motivation of the individual and the management of his strengths and weaknesses should be top priorities.

Martin Crowe a former New Zealand player once said, “Many people play cricket because of the unique nature of individual expression, bowler against batsman, all inside a team environment. Eleven-a-side offers plenty of variety in personality and character that is required, given the different roles and skills that are called upon. Cricket is a fine all-round sport: healthy for the body without direct contact, and healthy for the mind as it makes you concentrate for long periods.”

Good cricket presidents, administrators and coaches are flexible enough to accommodate internal differences and individual needs while focusing on the common goal or purpose.

One rule for all often creates sub-optimal performance in the team.

Sports organisations run into trouble when the team plays one game and the president, administrators and coaches play a different game. 

When a cricket president or coach manages his team like an American football manager or coach the players and the game usually suffer. This often happens because he invariably sees himself as the star, ignores feedback and focuses intently on his own plans and priorities, not necessarily those of the team. Instead of building an enabling and a learning environment he often creates an adversarial one that inevitably stifles individual talent and interferes with team dynamics, team unity and team motivation.

During the last two decades, West Indies cricket has been trapped in an ever-increasing failure spiral and just when we think that things can’t possibly get worse, they do. During that period there was a dramatic turnover of presidents, CEOs, head coaches, specialist coaches and players. Yet, none of these changes altered the fortunes of the West Indies team. The one thing that has never changed is the structure, competence, and performance of the board. One wonders if that constant is not the major cause of the ever-increasing failures of the team.

A former president of the West Indies Cricket Board recently told me that leadership in Cricket West Indies (CWI) is poor and that whatever leadership there is, it exists at the level of the coach and team manager. He feels that the weakness at the top must be overcome.

He stressed that several criteria are needed for good leadership in CWI, top of the list being fairness in dealing with players and persons who work for the board. He stressed that if Cricket West Indies continues to ignore the Rules of the Disciplinary Committee there will be a feeling that no justice is present in the system and that finding common purpose and direction will be difficult. He believes that if a fair and honest system were re-introduced into West Indies cricket there might be a dramatic change in the team’s fortunes.

Bill Russell the great basketball player emphasised the importance of teamwork when he said, “The main difference between great teams and good teams is not physical skill but mental toughness. That is, how well a team can keep its collective wits under pressure.

Teams that can do this under the greatest pressure will win most of the time.” Players in Clive Lloyd and Frank Worrell’s champion teams would wholeheartedly agree with Russell’s comments.

To appreciate the importance of Russell’s teamwork, we should look at an exact opposite, the cancer in the human body. The epitome of selfishness and egotistical behaviour is found in the cancer. The cancer is not concerned about the health or survival of the body; it is only interested in itself and its power to grow and spread throughout the body. As it spreads it leaves a destructive path and eventually kills the body. But, in killing the body it kills itself because it can only survive in a living body. It commits biological suicide. How significant is that lesson? Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in failing and failed organisations.

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