Google+ Blueprint for Football: Looking At The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Monday, February 13, 2017

Looking At The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

There are some books that are obvious reads for anyone in sports; where there are clears lessons to be had in texts aimed directly at people within sports.  Other books are not so obvious.  Yet although these are not directly aimed at people in sports it is still possible to learn from them.  Indeed arguably reading such books is even better because it opens up the way you think about various issues.

Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” is one such book.  On the face of it – as one can easily deduce by the title – it is an aggressive attack on a lot of pop-psychology that is circulated these days.  The idea that positive thoughts can be enough to lead to a happy life, for instance, is one that particularly irritates the author.

Though Manson is primarily a blogger, there is a lot of substance to his writing.  As with a lot of articles online, the title is aimed at getting people curious and willing to check it out rather than because it is all about creating controversy.

Indeed it is in the explanation over what he means about ‘not giving a f*ck’ that this starts to emerge and the value of the book for football coaches becomes obvious.

Manson makes reference to Alan Watts’ “backwards law” which goes something along the line of the more that you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.

What this essentially translates to is not looking always for positive experience and that, if you learn off it, a negative experience can end up being an extremely positive experience.  It is only human to want to be comfortable but sometimes that leads to apathy.  It certainly doesn’t lead to development.

In football terms, if you get too comfortable coaching kids within a certain age group you may opt to keep on doing so not because you know that it is best for you or what you really want but because you keep getting high on the feeling of being good at it.  You don’t go looking for new challenges – which might ultimately bring with them further satisfaction – but chase the easy fulfillment.

It is around such feelings and search for easy comfort that this book is focused.  Indeed the whole philosophy of the book deals with not caring too much (if at all) on what may be thought of you.  Indeed it lays out three rules that end up applying to anyone within the game of football as much as they do in everyday life.

The first centres around being comfortable with being different.  It is not easy when you are trying to do something that is not conventional.  There were many who criticised and ridiculed Arrigo Sacchi when he first spoke of his ideas that centred around zonal marking and pressing.  He was seeing things differently in a country that had been dominated by catenaccio - the religion of ultra-defensive football  - for more than two decades so this reaction was hardly surprising.

Perhaps a weaker man would have folded and gone the conventional route.  But Sacchi, a manager with no history as a player and who had spent most of his adult life working to be in a position to try out his ideas did not, to paraprhase Manson, give a f**k about what others thought of his ideas.  He was comfortable with being different and that brought about a revolution in the game.

Sacchi is also a pretty great illustration of the second of Manson's rules: that in order not to care about adversity you must first care about something more important than adversity.

This might seem to be pretty obvious but is not so. For some people the headache that might come with trying something new can be too much.  There are countless coaches out there who come up with new ideas but many fail to try out these ideas because they fear the challenges that players might put up or how fans will react.  They care more about not facing the problems than they do about the potential end result that might come through them.

Sacchi didn't care about players not accepting his ideas.  What he really cared about was seeing his ideas being executed; that is what drove him.  He coached his players so they understood his ideas, explained what he wanted them to do and then made sure that they did so.  Not everyone appreciated it and he certainly had his fair share of set-backs.  Still that didn’t really matter to him as he was convinced of his ideas.  Of course, he was a great communicator and his enthusiasm ended up driving his players but that is essentially a secondary aspect.

This leads into the final point that Manson makes: that you’re always choosing what to care about whether you realise it or not.  You have to decide whether you are going to focus on your ideas and what you want to do or whether you are going to give in to what others might say or think.  

As a coach you often have to make difficult decisions especially if you are doing something that goes against the accepted norm.  It is perfectly fine to choose the option that leads to least resistance but you have to be conscious that you’ve essentially given power to the possibility of criticism or failure.  And once you’ve given up that power it is very difficult to claim it back.  

How many teams fail to deliver on their potential because a manager starts deferring to some or all of his players on major decisions?  Indeed a clear sign of a manager nearing the end of his career is any news of that manager making decisions to keep certain of his players happy.

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