Never blame the player

by | Jul 22, 2021

Any coverage of elite sport seeks to capture the ‘response’.

The immediate aftermath of the error. Something happens, a mistake, the consequence putting the outcome at risk, or at worst, losing the game.

The camera turns to the coach, hoping to capture a clipboard fling, a drink bottle hurl, or a double-fisted desk thump.

It then turns back to the head-in-hands protagonist, the consequence of their error now bearing down on them.

The demeanour of player and coach is mirrored by the response of the fans.

The jumper the player wears always feels heavy, but at this moment, it threatens to bury them.



Never blame the player

I spent 30 years in coaches boxes. I have felt all of this frustration, the immediate anger towards the player who has made the error pulses through you as though it was some form of deliberate action to cause you pain. It is such nonsense.

We seek out blame, knowing it will find friends easily. You will not need to go searching, there will be a cheer squad of finger-pointers in support of your attribution.

We seek to personalise our pain, give it a name, in our effort to reduce it.

These are conditioned responses. Human nature. Instinct overwhelming logic.

“The best players are better than human nature” the great Ron Barassi once told me. 

I heard the very impressive England Manager Gareth Southgate speak of the need to “reduce the weight of the shirt”. As a former representative player, he understood the honour of representing his country is diluted by out-of-control expectations that come with it. He also understood this impacted performance. A vicious circle. Cause and effect.

In these moments, by responding in this way, we have just added kilos to the load the player is carrying. We talk of errors as an opportunity to learn, but in these moments we behave like spoilt children.

Hence the formula for leaders:

Situation Happens (SH) x Response (R) = Outcome (O)

Your R is most important when the SH is most challenging, and often it’s when leadership gets personal when your behaviours are being questioned.

Leadership isn’t what you preach; it is what you practice, and often underestimated, what you permit.

As leaders we must become experts in cause and effect.

Any strategy you seek to execute will require a behaviour, the collective behaviours forming the rich ‘soup’ we call culture.

In my experience, as tricky as strategy often is, it is easy when compared with human behaviour.

You can only push people to the level of trust you have with them, the depth and strength of your human connection. As leaders, this responsibility sits with us and it takes work.

Blame is a trust killer.

Remember, the highest level of performance requires the deepest level of trust.

If human behaviour is not meeting expectations, ask the bigger questions, knowing we are the reason the player is out on the field in the first place.

Our processes. Our decision. Our responsibility.

Start by looking into the mirror, then look under the bonnet.



“You’re entitled to your own opinion if you keep your opinion to yourself. If you decide to say it out loud, then I think you have a responsibility to be open to changing your mind in the face of better logic or stronger data. I think if you’re willing to voice an opinion, you should also be willing to change that opinion.”

Adam Grant on rethinking your position


When people say “I’d like to think about it”, when asked for a view or opinion on an issue you are discussing or debating and there is a fair-minded expectation of a contribution to a decision making position, a reasonable next question is:

“How are you going to think about it?”

If thinking about is confined to time in the car, or standing in the shower, that is not enough.

If a pencil is not scratching paper, marker not sliding along a whiteboard, or fingers aren’t tapping a keyboard, real thinking hasn’t happened.

The very process of writing “In the Arena” brings clarity of thinking; for me.

The brain buzzes with a million thoughts, some connect, and when they do, write them down in a safe system so you can come back to them, add layers, build on your thinking, create your own wisdom.

I am using the software Roam Research to record my thoughts and to write.

Then share it, voice it, be generous, and as per the Adam Grant quote above, have the courage to have your mind changed.

…and a timeless song lyric:

“Skinny Love”

Always loved the Bon Iver original, but the Birdy cover adds its own flavour.

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
And in the morning, I’ll be with you
But it will be a different kind
‘Cause I’ll be holding all the tickets
And you’ll be owning all the fines

Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


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