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Football is a highly conservative game so it is hardly surprising that those who work in it tend to be conservative as well. None more so than experienced managers who hold on to ingrained opinions on how to achieve success and who refuse to look at ideas that challenge those opinions.
It is for this reason that there are managers who still do not fully trust the benefits of a healthy nutrition regime, of proper training or of the use of statistics to help shape tactics.
There is little doubt that the majority of these managers possess a huge wealth of knowledge about the game of football. Most of them have spent their whole adult life working within the game and in all probability know little else apart from football.
And therein lies the problem; there is a point at which the laser focus on the game at the exclusion of everything else hinders rather than helps. Their lack of curiosity about anything other than football leaves them with a poor frame of reference with which to look at any new idea that they come across. Or, to put it another way, they aren’t equipped to absorb and learn new ideas.
“As we grow older we tend to become less active explorers of our mental environment, relying on what we’ve learned so far to see us through the rest of the journey.” So writes Ian Leslie in Curious, a book that deals about curiosity and the role this plays in our lives.
“If you allow yourself to become incurious, your life will be drained of colour, interest and pleasure. You will be less likely to achieve your potential.”
Sound familiar? It should especially if you’ve heard ‘traditional’ managers talk dismissively about the value of statistics in football or negatively on the notion of rotation in managing the squad’s fitness levels.
That is not to argue that coaches should be curious for curiosity’s sake. Indeed that kind of curiosity – diversive curiosity – often results in wasted effort. What people should be trying to foster is what Leslie terms as epistemic curiosity, which is a more structured and deeper form of curiosity that can ignite the desire to learn and attempt to do things that one would not normally consider.
There is much that coaches can learn by being curious at what is happening in other sport, to come up with one obvious example. There is much to admire and think about if you spend some time looking at the ideas that underpin the success of the All Black rugby side, for instance. The same can be said of other team sports like basketball or hockey.
Will all that can be found in such examinations be immediately useful for coaches? Probably not, but they will sow seeds that will blossom when their time comes.
Steve Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From” calls this the slow hunch. “Rather than coming out of the blue…the best ideas are the result of hours, days, sometimes even years, of digging into a subject and pursuing the hunches that slowly emerge as a result,” he says.