England v Sweden: GB Inline Hockey Coach On Why Behaviour Trumps Skill

You may not know the name Andrew Sillitoe, but he is one of the most revered coaches in inline hockey, and has managed to get Great Britain playing with the big boys. I sat down with him to ask what the secret is to his success
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You may not know the name Andrew Sillitoe, but he is one of the most revered coaches in inline hockey, and has managed to get Great Britain playing with the big boys. I sat down with him to ask what the secret is to his success

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When it comes to winning, performance coach Andrew Sillitoe has been there, done that, got the t-shirt, medals and trophies. One of Britain's most revered inline and ice hockey players, Sillitoe is Team GB's current inline head coach. Against all odds, Sillitoe and his team of amateur players gained promotion to Pool A for this year's IIHF World Championships in June in Ingolstadt, where they will face hockey giants such as USA, Canada and Sweden. With England set to face Sweden this eveningl, I sat down with Sillitoe to find out the secret to his success, and whether Roy Hodgson could take a leaf out of his book.

Andrew, let's say you're in Roy Hodgson's shoes for the next few months. You've got the toughest job in English football... where do you start?

He needs to find the ‘glue’ that will bind the team together and create an environment for achieving results. He will need to focus on creating a winning culture, rather than a trophy-winning mentality. Winning is a by-product of doing things right. He’ll need a holistic approach and he’ll need to take control from the FA to achieve it. The fans will expect England to win every game and therefore a high level of mental toughness will be required to manage that kind of pressure. It's not going to be an easy process, but if he follows the five steps that I use to achieve success, he'll have an England team worthy of winning The Euros.

VISION

Nowadays, teams focus so much on winning cups, medals and titles that they forget what it takes to win the first place! Winning doesn't just happen on the rink or pitch: it happens in every area. Here at Team GB, our equipment manager is as important as our top goal scorer, and every player knows that no man is indispensable.

This is what I call a High Peformance Culture: a culture and system where players are self motivated, give as much to the team as possible, put their necks on the line for each other and will do what ever they can to improve performance. Although this will require strong leadership skills from Hodgson, it won't require his direction: ultimately, it is England's players who need to decide on a vision.

They are the ones who need to agree on what they want to achieve, taking into account factors such as where they are now and what needs to be done to close the gap. Most importantly, players need to identify what it will feel like when they achieve their vision, and implement that feeling today!

Team GB, for example, wanted promotion to Pool A, which, considering we lost to Australia the previous year and had never beaten Austria, seemed unrealistic. With a vision of 'looking, acting and feeling like a Pool A Team', however, we didn't lose a game and beat Australia 11 – 1. If Roy Hodgson is going to make any sort of noise at the Euros, a High Performance Culture and vision are imperative.

Winning is a by-product of doing things right. He’ll need a holistic approach and he’ll need to take control from the FA to achieve it.

RESULTS

Once the correct vision has been put in place, only then can you start thinking about results. I always run classroom-based workshops with my team to agree on what goals we're aiming for. This is where the team unpicks the vision and turns it into tangible results and objectives. Hodgson will need to agree the goals they are aiming for and talk about the reality of where the team’s current performance is and where opportunities for improvement lie.

Having discussed factors such as the team's current performance (we agreed that we were a bronze medal team) and areas to improve, we set one simple goal for the 2011 Championships: to win gold. All I needed from my players was commitment and they had it from me.

Another key factor at this stage is communication. Hodgson has to get to know his players personally; he’ll need to identify with what drives and motivates them. I had 35 players in the squad before selection, but getting to know players personally was key to our success. Every player is different and needs personal attention to get the best out of them.

A bit of light banter and competition from Hodgson won't go amiss at this point: one of the biggest challenges for a national team is maintaining rapport between players when they are in competition during the domestic season.

With complete buy in from his players, England's new manager will find that little direction is required because they understand the mutual goal and are clear on the opportunities for improved performance.

A bit of light banter and competition from Hodgson won't go amiss at this point: one of the biggest challenges for a national team is maintaining rapport between players when they are in competition during the domestic season

SYSTEMS

With a fully committed group of players on board, the next step to any successful campaign is to establish a style of play. It is at this point that I bring my experience as a player to the table, implementing a specific framework of how we want to play the game as a team. Although direction from the coach is needed to successfully put this framework in place, I still like to have player involvement to create awareness on their behalf. I will ask them questions such as: 'How do you think we should play the game?' Many leaders have too much of an ego for this. I'm always surprised at how insightful players are, even those playing their first year with the team.

Hodgson will gain more credibility and support from the players if he includes them in the decision-making process. England's football team main strength tends to be instinct. They will never play with the flair of Brazil because it is a cultural thing. I believe the English game (in any sport) requires a framework comprising freedom, creativity and autonomy.

Our biggest fear as a sporting nation is worrying what might happen if things go wrong, rather than enjoying what happens when things actually go right. I implemented 5 frameworks for our offensive and defensive strategies; as long as I saw the players were disciplined around the 5 key areas, I knew that we would play well, they had freedom to be creative when necessary. No manager or coach should be happy with their team playing safe or with a fear of failure; a team will never reach their full potential with that mindset.

No manager or coach should be happy with their team playing safe or with a fear of failure; a team will never reach their full potential with that mindset.

CULTURE

You can have all the skill in the world, but without the right attitude, behaviour and belief, all that talent is going to waste. The biggest driver for me when it comes to achieving results is behaviour. As a coach, a lot of time and energy can be wasted trying to 'motivate' a team of individuals. Getting the right core set of values is the key to success: values are part of the framework that create an environment conducive to winning.

Hodgson will need to inspire the players to exceed their own expectations. Professional sport is 90% psychological and too much time is wasted developing skill. England is blessed with skillful football players, and Hodgson will need to make selections based on behaviour and creating the right mix of players. This may involve making tough and controversial decisions.

The key here is that a player believes in the values and the values are aligned to their own, rather than being just a set of words; they have to live and breathe them. For us, they were: Respect, Energy, Rapport and Reward. During our A Pool matches in Ingolstadt in June, values will be the glue that binds the team during the tough times. 90% of sport is psychological and too much time is wasted developing skill; at the highest level the skills are there. For me, our values were the formula for our success at last year's championships and will be a major factor in Germany.

PERCEPTION

Step five focuses on how the players want to be perceived. England need to consider what they want the fans, management other players saying about them. This will formulate a 'mission' statement. It becomes the team mantra and how they do things. It encapsulates the first four steps and makes it external.

For more information on Andrew's work, go to www.andrewsillitoe.co.uk, search for Andrew Sillitoe Performance Coach on Facebook, or follow him on twitter @AndrewSillitoe

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