Harness the Right Mentality: Lessons from African Teams in the World Cup.

“Some people believe football [soccer] is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude.  I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” ~Bill Shankley (1913-1981; regarded as one of football’s greatest managers)

Ghana soccer club

Ghana lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in South Africa

I love sports of all kinds.  I’m fascinated by the LIFE lessons I can learn by studying the players, coaches, management and fans.  I am by no means an officiando of sports psychology but I have a growing fascination with what it takes to achieve a winning attitude, whether on or off the field.

I recently ran across an interesting article written by Steve Vickers on the World Cup titled “Mentality holds African teams back at World Cup – John Barnes.”

In 1997 world football legend Pele predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup.  Yet, seventeen years and four World Cups later, no African team has even scored in the top 4 teams.  In fact, since the start of the FIFA World Cup in 1930, no African team has ever been in the top 4.

John Barnes, former Liverpool football elite that played for England in two World Cups, coached the Jamaican National team and is currently an analyst for African broadcaster SuperSport.  He cites many problems with the African national teams:  not paying the athletes on time, poor travel conditions, and lack of communication with the administrators and their respective teams, to name a few.  Barnes further states that African players that play for European teams are treated much better by the European teams than when Africans play for their own national teams.

These are outside circumstances contributing to the lack of success of the African football players.  Yet, I agree with Barnes that there is a potentially bigger reason for their lack of results:  their thinking.

As football fans across Africa are hoping that one of their World Cup representatives can reach the semi-finals or even win the tournament in Brazil this year, …… John Barnes believes that the mental aspect of the game is holding the continent back.

Though the African players are physically and technically equal, Barnes believes  they haven’t adopted the correct mental attitude and desire to win the World Cup.

There are many great lessons to learn from this example.  For starters, how we think about and respond to the outside circumstances in our life will dictate the results we have in life.  In addition, I identified 4 specific lessons to learn from the example of these African football players:  trust, appreciation, attitude, and work ethic.

1) Trust is everything in relationships.  The African administrators have broken trust with the players.  The results of that are underperformance through decreased discipline and desire, lack of unity between the players and administrators, and lack of national identity and respect. If you have a lack of trust, it must be earned back.  As the saying goes, trust may take years to develop, but it can be lost overnight and it takes a long time to re-establish.  Individuals with poor trust in relationships defaults to functioning on minimums rather than living up to their potential.  In order to start building trust in your relationships, I recommend reading the book Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey as a starting point.

2) The African players are probably feeling underappreciated by their team management.  Underappreciation is a much bigger issue then we realize.  We all feel appreciation differently and appreciation may look different at work than at home.  Ask yourself this question, “How do I feel appreciated?”  Then ask yourself how can you make others feel appreciated.  The more an individual feels appreciated, the more they are willing to perform up to their potential.  Some great reads include How to have Power and Confidence in Dealing with People by Les Giblin and The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

3)  Attitude is a choice, regardless of the circumstances.  Why do some people thrive while others flounder under the same circumstances?  Attitude! There is a great book on positive attitude I just read titled The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.  Attitude really is everything.

4)  Work ethic:  It may not be the external work that is lacking but the internal work of developing and  managing our thinking.  Like Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few people engage in it.”  I reccommend reading Resolved by Orrin Woodward.

As I have embarked on my own personal leadership journey over the last 7 years, I have asked myself and helped others ask the question, “Am I willing to develop the discipline and adopt the correct behaviors to win in life?”  This sameFIFA world cup trophy question stands before the African football players.  If they accept that responsibility, than with the right information, support, and discipline, I believe they can win the World Cup.  Will you accept the same challenge to conquer your mental game?  If you say yes, I predict a “Word Cup” sized victory in your life too.

Godspeed toward your “World Cup” victories in LIFE.


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2 Responses to Harness the Right Mentality: Lessons from African Teams in the World Cup.

  1. Jim Benedict says:

    So true. All actions flow from our thinking, if that is askew we either go a few degrees off course from our goal or worse, don’t reach our full potential. A book I am rereading now is Attitude Is Everything by Jeff Keller. Short on pages, long on practical advice!

  2. Ginny Schultz says:

    Great article Matt! I really like how you included books that people can use to dig into these lessons further! Thanks!

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