Archive for March, 2015

Conflict part II: Dutch Football

March 16, 2015

soccer-enemy1The excerpt below comes from British football journalist Simon Kuper’s “Soccer Against the Enemy,” in explaining the differences in culture between the British and Dutch with regards to how they treat conflict, and how it impacts the sporting football fortunes of the two nations. The references are dated and I think this was originally published in 1992.

 “We Dutchmen are pigheaded,” summed up Johann Cruyff, the greatest of them all (and the most pigheaded). “Even when we’re on the other side of the world, we’re always telling people how to do things. In that respect, we’re an unpleasant nation.”

Unpleasant perhaps, but successful. Dutch soccer works. It seems that if you let players think for themselves they win soccer matches. Over the last 20 years, no other small nation (and of the large nations, only Germany and Argentina) has won as much as Holland. No one else has played as gloriously. It is precisely because the Dutch talk so much that they can play the way they do. A player has to understand his role.

One Genoa manager tried to make his team play total soccer like Ajax, and failed.  (Player) Vant Schip commented: “To play the Ajax system you have to understand it, and especially talk about it a lot.”

The difference is down to Dutch working-class culture. The Dutch working classes value debate. They are Calvinists (Even Dutch Catholics have strong Calvinist traits) and Calvin told the faithful to ignore priests and to read the Bible themselves. The result is that a 20-year-old Dutch soccer player assumes that he is as likely to have the Truth as his manager.

When Conflict is good: The 5 dysfunctions of a team

March 15, 2015

FiveDysfunctionsWhen I visited the US a few years back, I was interested in Nicole Davis mentioning a number of books the USA Women’s program gave the players to read. They were:

Since these books and authors kept popping up in a lot of sports literature, I thought I’d read them They’re all worth reading). I’ve written about the first 3 books and finally got round to reading 5 Dysfunctions of a team.

Some interesting things about the book:

  • The assertion in the book is that conflict plays a crucial role in the health of a team. People need to have their opinions heard before they can buy in and commit to an idea they don’t necessarily agree with. And if people don’t buy in, then it’s a lot harder to hold them accountable to the goals of the team and the responsibilities they have been given.
  • For the right kind of conflict to occur, people need to have trust. The kind of trust that is needed is trust that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them when voicing an opinion or holding others accountable. A fear of appearing vulnerable is a big inhibitor to a healthy team
  • The book is written in the negative. It gets confusing in that it first presents these ideas in the negative before explaining how the concepts can be used in the positive.


Certainly it all makes sense, and since reading it, I have made an effort to get teams I am involved with to have more open discussion and let the whole group hear when someone disagrees with something. Before I tended to think of conflict as a bad thing and it was part of the coach’s job to make sure people always got along and diffuse arguments where possible. Now I think it’s about encouraging the right kind of arguments.

It’s the kind of conflict that Abraham Lincoln used in his Team of Rivals cabinet and the Dutch have been using to be a football powerhouse for decades.

Having an opinion, engaging is healthy debate and being open with conflict are all part of western liberal democratic thinking. I’m not sure it works so well in countries where the culture is hierarchical, to get along and not cause conflicts with your team and superiors. Are these cultures susceptible to groupthink and the lack of innovation, creativity and commitment that more conflict-comfortable enjoy? Or is there another way?

I remember a few years ago I joined a volleyball club in South Australia to learn how their men’s team had been consistently successful for so long with varying pools of talent. I expected to learn a system that could re-applied but was surprised to find there wasn’t a clear system they had used over the years. In fact the players and coaches argued over just about everything, but it was out of that conflict that created a culture with a high volleyball IQ and buy-in for whichever system they used at the time.