The English Premier League is barely under way this season and already club managers are under intense stress and pressure to secure enough points to ensure their team stays in the top division. Survival provides their club with another year of immense financial rewards and even a whiff of failure, is not tolerated by fans and boards alike.
As a result the managers require incredible mental toughness to ensure they shield their players from the stress and pressure of the traditional and social media spotlights. They need their players to stay calm and focused to achieve the peak performance required to survive and flourish in the most competitive league in the world.
Mental toughness is defined as the ability to perform under stress and pressure; whatever the circumstances. The 4C’s framework developed by Clough and Strycharczyk provides a simple and effective template to achieve that.
What happens in the EPL has so many parallels in the organisational workplace as leaders also need to perform under the intense stress and pressure imposed by the stakeholders, shareholders and the board, staying calm and ensuring their people can achieve their best performance within the given plan.
Reverting back to the EPL, Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of my home team, Manchester United, did this very well whereas the current manager Jose Mourinho is not immune from openly criticizing his players in the media. I can only imagine this raises their stress and anxiety levels and negatively impacts on their performance as they think about what could go wrong and not focus on what should go right.
In contrast, another current EPL manager, Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool, appears to be a master of achieving the right balance, as he did during his many years at Mainz and then Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga.
His team has a system called gegenpressing (counter pressing the opposition) and every player plays within the system. He supports his team with hugs and smiles and encouragement and invites the Liverpool supporters to cheer loudly.
As a result Liverpool are playing entertaining football, winning matches and the players, supporters and Klopp himself appear to be having fun in the process.
I enjoyed this excerpt from a recent interview by Klopp after an unexpected defeat at promoted side Burnley. It suggests he has perspective and supreme confidence in his approach, which is rubbing off on his players. He and they know that if they stick to their system they will win many more matches than they lose and that an occasional defeat can be tolerated without a media witch-hunt and counterproductive stress.
“At Burnley we conceded an early goal but it is only a goal. In football we will have this situation a lot of times in our lives. Stay patient, stay positive, that is really important. Don’t frustrate yourself after five minutes, missing a chance is missing a chance. It is the same against Barcelona, Real Madrid or a smaller team in Germany. That is always the same. That is the experience and togetherness you need. You have these situations you need to go through together and think ‘That is normal, let’s try again’. That is what we need to do.”
His comments are relevant for football, everyday work and for life.
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