Inspiration – ‘The Dark Knight’ Part II

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I wrote yesterday about, for want of a better word, the power of emotion and I want to expand that a little.  Or perhaps more accurately look at it from a slightly different perspective.

As I wrote, coaches are fond of processes.  And coaches are also fond of systems.  Systems have a couple of great advantages.  One is that they organise and therefore optimise the skills of all players in the service of the team.  A good system produces a classic ‘the total is greater than the sum of the parts’ team.  The second advantage is that by optimising the skills of the group, you minimise the impact of each individual player.  So you can achieve relative success without dominating individual players.  You can use many players with little impact on performance, including covering for injuries.  Over time you can win a lot of matches.  You can probably see where this where this is going.  There is of course also a negative side.  By reducing the negative impact of individual variation on performance, you also reduce the positive impact of individual variation on performance.  Emotions are controlled, so you can’t add them.  Inspiration is also controlled, so you can’t add that either.  In this way you can, as I wrote, win a lot of matches over time, but may also become susceptible to an opponent who is having a great day.

I suspect a great example of this is the Adelaide Crows under Neil Craig.  They won a lot of matches, and were over a long period of time close enough to the best team in the AFL.  But they always lost in the finals, often to a team with a couple of inspirational players.  I have a feeling that Poland at the Olympics was similar.  Over the last 15 months they have won a lot of matches and were the consensus gold medal favourites before the Olympics.  But when confronted in a tournament situation with a team or individual (see Australia / Sokolov) having a great day, they had nowhere to go.  No extra gear to hit.  No individual they could turn to to lead the way.  This doesn’t make them (or Adelaide Crows) a bad team.  Indeed both are by nearly any definition very good, very well prepared teams led by excellent coaches.  They just weren’t perfect.

Obviously, relying on individual inspiration to win matches is a losing strategy.  Hertha Berlin would not become the best team in Europe if they signed Lionel Messi and Barcelona would still be one of the best teams without him.  But Barcelona plus Messi is virtually unbeatable.  System plus inspiration … Process plus emotion…


  1. Interesting post. Do you think Matey Kaziyski could have been that person? I was surprised they went so far without him, to be honest.


    1. Actually I think of Bulgaria more as a team that were more inspiration than system. Especially after the turbulent season they had. Kaziyski would definitely have made them a better team, but maybe they played the way they played because he wasn’t there.


  2. Alternatively, you could just go 2-0 down with a settled team, then change your lineup and find your inspiration in a former middle blocker playing opposite


  3. This post is the same as a conversation I often have at work, particularly at the end of an Olympic cycle when there are a lot of conversations about the ‘structure moving forward’. My argument is that the structure isn’t the important thing, its the people. You can have success with great people but an average structure, with great people and a great structure, but the structure without the people won’t achieve anything.


    1. I agree but I’m always a little bit wary of the ‘getting the right people on the bus’ theory that is different, but similar.


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