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May 27, 2010 / General

I sat down with a hotdog and a sense of déjà vu in Helsinki's Olympic stadium. It was a warm evening on September 10th last year and I was about to watch Germany V England in the Ladies European Championship Football Final.

I sat down with a hotdog and a sense of déjà vu in Helsinki's Olympic stadium. It was a warm evening on September 10th last year and I was about to watch Germany V England in the Ladies European Championship Football Final.

I had just played the beautiful game representing a British Embassy XI on an adjacent pitch versus the Finnish Parliament. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, a politically correct score line. And now I was hoping for a much greater degree of quality and a landslide victory from an England side: Well, the quality was there...

As Gary Lineker once famously stated, ‘"Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins." One of England's finest there, blaming the ref and underlining the mental block that exists when the Germans are involved.

The same hope and expectation preceded the same predictable result

The Germans earned a well deserved 6-2 victory that evening and delivered a moment of joy too for the one Scottish spectator in the crowd. On this occasion England were brave, sloppy then brave, and then really sloppy again. As the game developed, Germany went 2-0 up before I'd eaten my hotdog (which was a Frankfurter). England came back to level the score and then the Germans, grateful for the competition, stepped up a gear and eventually powered home to a 6-2 win. It was a harsh score line for England but definitely the right result.

Some things never change. What is it about the Germans and their approach to team sports!

Here's another very recent example: They've just hosted the ice hockey world championships and narrowly missed out on the final in a 2-1 semi final defeat to the Russians - The Germans don't even play ice hockey! As hosts they felt obliged to enter a team so as not to offend anyone, and nearly won it... Can you imagine England putting out an ice hockey team to front up to the mighty Canadians or the Swedes? No, me neither.

But there's obviously something there and this is not a new debate - They have no little talent for putting a team together, selecting an effective leader, assigning clear roles, with clear goals and an emphasis on planning and hard work. In fact they consistently achieve across virtually every sporting discipline. Has anyone from England ever asked how they do it?
"Excuse me Germany, can you detail your winning approach to major sporting tournaments? Even when you have a relatively average team (2006 World Cup, for example) you still reached the semis, losing only to the eventual winners."

Modelling Excellence in Sport

I propose that we assign a team of sports coaches to travel to Germany and shadow every German national coach for 12 months to gather information on technique, communication, team work, training programmes etc. Or am I being naive here, would the Germans not share...?

I believe they would: They're a friendly bunch and proud of their sporting tradition and it would please them to know that someone else was asking them for their input. It's been happening for decades in the business world as thousands of British businessmen and women week fly out each week to Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and many more cities to do business, forge relationships and share a beer or two so how can it be so difficult? Couldn't someone just ask?

Business people would call it a competency based framework: the study of what constitutes ‘excellence'. The aim of a competency based framework is to identify those behaviours which ensure great performance by studying those who have excelled in a given field.

It's what forward thinking companies have been doing since the 1980s: Identifying effective leaders and successful team members and studying how they achieve better results in their day to day tasks. This research or intelligence if captured well can then be used in the recruitment process, induction programmes, training and so on and typically leads to great performance. It's a kind of ‘blue print for success' which provides the manager and team members with the tools and expected behaviours that will lead them towards high performance.

I'm sure the Germans have a sports version somewhere in the vaults below the Reichstag (probably written in 1954 shortly after their first world cup win). All we need to do is get our hands on it...


Anyway, enough of that unless I get a phone call from The FA or Lord Coe to pursue the idea.

It's a ‘given' that the Germans will apply the same organised approach in next month's world cup in South Africa: The same one they've been using for over half a century, but it works.

They're being widely written off this summer due to a lack of a superstar (s) in their current team, such as a Messi, a Ronaldo or a Ribery for example. However you can expect them to be composed, support each other, work hard and do their homework on the opposing team to a greater degree than most.

Never write off the Germans because they always have a plan, even when it's ice hockey, and especially when it's the world cup.

Nick Vertigans