Home Phone

DNA of a Champion

Sir Clive Woodward Speech at IOD NE Region Annual Dinner 20th March 2013

The talk explained Clive’s views on what it takes to be a champion using a simple 4 tier model and a lot of emotive clips taken from the Olympics and England’s rugby world cup win back in 2003.

Talent – The starting point for any champion is to have a natural aptitude and skill for their chosen endeavour. This alone however it is not enough as the competition will have talent too. Clive remembered being in the England dressing room and thinking the French dressing room across the corridor was full of talent too and if this is all we are relying on then we will not win.

Teachability – Clive gave all of the England rugby players laptops – which back in 2003 was unusual and they had to go on IT courses to discover how to use them. The press had a field day with this assuming they should have been fed raw meat instead! The idea was to find out which players still retained the ability to learn, the ‘sponges’ as opposed to the ‘rocks’ those who had lost their passion to learn. Clive weeded out very talented players who he considered were rocks – they were dropped from the team. He had a belief in technology and when Pro-zone, the system that tracks a player’s every movement throughout the game, came in – which is a rugby players worst nightmare as it means there every move is captured and can be analysed afterwards this changed the perspectives of the senior players. The old hands had been arguing that the ‘game had changed’ it was ‘faster’ there was ‘less space’ than in the past. Prozone de-bunked these perceptions and gave Clive the tools to analyse and plan tactics and the players knew they had nowhere to hide. This is an example of shifting long held views using irrefutable data.

Pressure – The ability of a player to make the right choice when under pressure. Clive had a magnetic board and a clock at every coaching session. He would set up a scenario and set the clock for the remaining minutes in the game and then randomly ask players to call out what they would do in this situation. This put the players under pressure in front of their colleagues and simulated the pressure they would feel in a real game when a decision under pressure had to be taken. We do not use this enough in business – we talk around pressure situations, we do not simulate them. Thinking under pressure can be coached and taught – it is what other professions such as airline pilots, the marines etc. do for a living.

He showed a great clip of some synchronised swimmers who totally lost their dive as did the next pair and the next. The reason was that the competition had been disrupted by a prankster dressed in a Tutu who had broken through security and disrupted the competition. The three favourites pairs all were affected by this disruption and fell off the leader board. The Greek pair, who had no chance of winning so they thought, had no pressure and executed a great dive and won. The moral is those who can operate under pressure will win, those who can’t will fail.

Will – This is to do with personal attributes and the willingness champions have to sacrifice and go the extra mile. He cited Nicola Adams the Leeds boxer who won the first ever ladies gold medal for boxing in the 2012 Olympics. She was obsessional about training and had a real passion for the detail of her sport and it is these characteristics which separate the champions in their chosen field.

The talk was both informative and entertaining and the use of actual sports clips added some real emotion.

Malcolm Follos 20th March 2013