For those whose attention is focused solely on football it might come as something of a surprise to learn that there are other sports (well, apart from the obvious that is baseball) that are looking to adopt the 'Moneyball' concept.
Yet when Dave Brailsford* was launching the professional road racing outfit Team Sky, it was precisely to Moneyball that he referred. Only that he wasn’t referring to an extensive use of statistics (even though those play a key role for him) which is what many mistakenly believe this book is all about but rather on the willingness to look at established practices from different angles to see whether matters can be improved by doing things differently
“What he did was take a really refreshing, clean review of the standard thought processes that had developed over a period of God knows how long,” he said when talking of Billy Beane, the key figure in Moneyball.
Brailsford, however, doesn’t simply talk about working in such a manner; he lives it. Everything is analysed and people are constantly brought in from other sports so that they can look at and question particular habits.
Indeed, the British Cycling team have developed one of the most fascinating concepts in world sports: marginal gains. Essentially, there is a whole team of people who look into matters to try and identify areas where benefits – even small ones – can be gained by changing the way things are done. The belief is that if you accumulate enough of these small margins you will have a big enough advantage over your rivals to win.
In all this there is a very powerful message for those involved in football. It is far too easy to get lost in your own world; to believe that something should be done as it has always been. In fact, history proves that usually that isn’t the case and that it only takes someone to think about doing something differently to prove that.
Equally, it is far too easy to being reactive to what happens in your own world but often that allows you to be second best at most. It is easy to react to what the French have done, or what the Spanish have done, or the Germans. Yet it won’t make you unique and it is unlikely that it will make you particularly strong.
That will only happen if you try to learn from as many sources as possible. What has led to the success at British cycling? Why do the New Zealanders produce so many fantastic rugby players? How come so many world champion long distance athletes come out of Kenya?
Be mindful of when someone, somewhere is doing something great. Absorb what lessons they might have. See if you can adapt them to what you’re doing. Repeat.
Do that often enough and you will build an advantage that others will find it difficult to match.
*For those who aren’t aware of who he is, Sir Dave Brailsford played a key role in the transformation of British Cycling from also rans to the dominant team at the Olympics. If you want to learn more about his ideas and methods, then I recommend the recently published e-book “Mastermind: How Dave Brailsford Reinvented the Wheel"
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