on 3 December 2004
Whether you are a rugby or even a sports fan is irrelevant, this is a fascinating combination of a sporting life and a practical application of management theory and attention to detail. From the point of becoming England coach, he sets out his plan, his methods and his incredible attention to detail in the manner of operating a small business, (he was a very successful salesman for Rank Xerox in the 80's).
Some of his ideas are brilliant, all of his methods are fascinating and I feel there are lots of very valuable lessons to be taken from his book for anyone involved in the management of people. This is more like a contempary management guide than a straight sporting autobigraphy. The methods for getting 'buy-in', the fluid nature of the model he develops, the creation of an elite team in every single area of the rugby business, all combine to offer a fresh approach to the usual, often rather lame life of sporting hero.
I just wish he hadn't fallen out with Donal Lenihan, then perhaps I would have followed a successful Lions team around Australia in 2001.
Put it on your christmas list.
on 12 August 2011
There are several reasons why reading this book should have delivered an epic fail for me. I've never played rugby. I've never watched rugby. I've never read a sports autobiography. So my natural interest levels are starting at absolute zero. Plus, this book is nearly 500 pages long, while life is short. And I have the vague preconception that its author is a fathead. Yet I persevere because a business buddy advised I should give it a try.
I'm glad I took his advice. I've never read a book like this one. I read business books regularly and even run a business book club called BookCamp. Many business books look to the world of sport for inspiration, techniques and analogies between the two worlds. This is the first book I've read in which a sportsman draws lessons on success from business. In fact, Woodward explicitly wrote that Winning! is "intended to be a management book" (221).
That Woodward mentions other management books is unsurprising (164, 183, 309) as he was both a businessman and manager in his time. He talks openly and frequently about the advantages of his having personal experience both business and sport (68). To him, the point of neither is mere participation but success (xiv-xvi). That explains why successful entrepreneurs are also highly competitive, and elite athletes are often successful businessmen (255).
As for this book, Winning! is an easy read. It blends Woodward's personal story and the story of the England Rugby teams triumph is 2003 with training manual like insertions as to how he achieved it all. So there's something for both sides of the brain. Did I write `something'? I meant `everything'! Strewn throughout the chronological narrative are all the diagrams, lists and charts you could ever desire, all set in context like living case-studies.
Let's mention the man himself. Woodward comes out well, keen to lavish praise on payers and background staff aplenty, determined not to criticise or break confidentiality (163), while able to roast himself severely at times (294), and even mock his own alleged vanity (36). He's a man obsessed (26, 154, 294). His instincts are optimistic (175) and meritocratic (39, 57, 143). He believes in fun (116, 136). I find myself won over.
Woodward's central concept in the book is also its title. Winning is not just about putting more points on the scoreboard. It's both an ideal and a sensation that involves performing at the highest level after the best preparation and the most exertion (xiv). It is a way of winning a game (55), a sensation of excellence achieved (84). Woodward speaks of it as a `peak state' of experience, reminding me of Csikszentmihalyi's flow state of optimal experience (155).
Woodward spends much of the space in his book teasing out what he means by his idea of winning. I've shaped it into five categories to help me get my head around the material as a reader and reviewer. It may serve to give you a taste for of the book's conceptual themes.
Winning is total. When Woodward talks about `total winning' he is serious. The concept of `total rugby' was first invented by a bloke called Jim Greenwood (48-49, 102). From what I can tell, it means at least two things. Firstly, there's more to playing a sport than mastering the necessary skills. You also have to bring in weight training, opposition analysis, mental conditioning, diet and nutrition programmes and all the rest. But it also means that players should not be limited to playing as their position demands but can do what they can as attacking, defensive or supporting players. Woodward calls this "the antithesis of safe-play rugby".
It made me think of applications to business and management coaching. How can, say, a company director perform to a standard of excellence when he is overstressed, undertrained, and out of shape? Surely the mind and body form one system of operation? And what about a company structure that actively gives its staff the autonomy to do what they need to get the job done, rather than restrains them by hierarchies and set roles, killing all initiative and internal motivation from the start?
Winning is preparation. This is probably my overwhelming takeaway from Winning! The sheer amount and detail of planning and preparation that went into winning the world cup was staggering. Woodward thought about every single aspect of the game, before, during and after. For example, Woodward made sure that the players' experience from the moment they left their house to the moment they returned was designed to leave them relaxed and focused (198). He lists all kinds of these `Critical Non-Essentials' (196-7) that have the power between them to make or break a game.
As far as the actual game was concerned, Woodward again left nothing to chance. He developed a special plan of `Second- Half Thinking' to give players a mental strategy for that part of each game (267). In fact, come to think of it, a large chunk of Woodward's efforts were devoted to mental preparation as much as knowledge of skills, strategy and rules. A good example of this was his `Correctly Thinking Under Pressure' programme (283) that taught the players how to hold their nerve in the last minutes of each high-pressured game. Which brings me nicely to my next point.
Winning is psychological. `Mindset' is a word often used in Winning! An entire chapter (ch. 12) is devoted to it. Intense mental preparation is seen as being vital (252). Woodward worked with sports psychologist Yehuda Shinar - who has since written a book forwarded by Woodward called Think Like a Winner - to help the team with mental preparation and conditioning (274). He hired a company called Matchpower to create specialised programmes so that players could improve their decision-making under pressure (411). As Woodward puts it, winning happens "between the ears".
Winning is creative. It does not happen in a straight line (xiii); it thinks differently. Woodward equates `safe and conservative' with `predictable and boring' (64). He raves against tradition, set ways to doing things, `inherited thinking' (38). Overcoming such obstacles was one of the main achievements that made winning possible. In business and rugby, there are `no rules' in this sense (51).
As a business trainer, I note that Woodward employs de Bono's notion of `lateral thinking' several times (81, 163, 194, 215). To me, this spirit of unorthodoxy is most evident in the ways Woodward prepared his team for tournaments, using, at different times, aerobics (99), music (100), laptops (2230, Royal Marines (233), wrestling, judo and breathing (306), and vision training (326). Little wonder the guy liked quoting Hannibal (167), as do I. Hurrah!
Winning is ruthless. This is partly related to creatively and partly something else. If you are creative, it means you are ruthless is tearing down old ways of thinking and behaving. But it also means that you'll do whatever it takes to win. For all Woodward's lofty ideals about the nature of winning, finally, it means beating your opponents, and cutting out whatever niceties are holding you back. He quotes Sun Tzu - that war guru beloved of aggressive businessmen everywhere - favourably (183).
Woodward is therefore not a `play for the sake of playing' man; this is the amateurism and the disastrous `Corinthian spirit' that he starts the book by condemning. It interested me that the Australian Press compared him with Douglas Jardine (352), perhaps the only other sportsman whose life I'd care to study. He too, in the field of sport - in this case cricket - did what was necessary rather than what was nice, conventional and expected, in order to win. Just right.
Other nuggets of wisdom that struck with me include:
* Woodward's three-step process of think-plan-do (95)
* Woodward's tripartite strategy of playing to your strengths, making it enjoyable, and doing things differently (96, 114), which seems to me to be the essence of all true cosmic wisdom
* The `Success from Setback and Build on Success' motivation tool (258)
* Differentiating push from pull strategies (190), as well as energy sappers from energisers (263)
* All the cool diagrams (154, 211, 263, 265, 307-15, 391, 417-9) for which I am a complete sucker
Yes, there are plenty of sports autobiographies, and yes, there are plenty of business books. But I can't think of any other that combines the two in this way. Even the offerings of Tim Gallwey and John Whitmore, as worthy as they are, don't come close. They start with a coaching method that can be applied to both business and sport, whereas Woodward draws directly from business to sport using whatever works. In this sense, Winning! is the only book of its kind in the stadium.
Interesting pictures. A thorough index. Inclusion of official documents for completeness. My only problem - now the Aussie's know all his secrets...
on 31 August 2005
Since the Lions tour, Woodward's stock has plummeted, so is this guide to elite management still worth reading?
I would say, Yes, and you can actually begin to see why his approach worked with England and not with the Lions.
The basic thesis is that English rugby for decades could not think 'outside the box' and, with his business background, Woodward helped them to do this. That, combined with a relentlesss commitment to innovation, means that England were given every chance of winning the 2003 World Cup.
It's written for the cross-over business/ sports market, but is pretty accessible even if you have little interest in the other of these two areas. As a result, there's less player assessment than a rugby fan might hope for (though, reading between the lines, there are a few titbits: Woodward feels Phil de Glanville and maybe even Jeremy Guscott (hard to be sure on this), for example, held back the team.)
What's impressive about Woodward is his drive to try any route (eye coaching, training with the marines, redecorating the changing rooms) to give England the edge and his commitment to innovating, rather than just simply copying what the All Blacks were doing. A good example is changing shirts at half-time. It's still, let's face it, a pretty wacky idea, but it not only worked, but has been copied across the world.
He is also prepared to rethink the whole sport: instead of 'backs' and 'forwards', the game should be divided into 'attack' and 'defence'. And why not get a specialist kicking coach?
It's obvious now, but it wasn't before Woodward. And I would be very interested to see how he gets on in football (which he reveals is his first and true love). I feel certain he would get a specialist 'heading' coach, a 'taking penalties' coach, a 'corners' coach etc. And, frankly, I bet football teams would benefit as a result. Football's got all this money: why on earth aren't they doing this kind of coaching?
The key thing is, his approach takes time, so it will work in a football club, but not with an international team, unless they change the structure of the game.
It's noteworthy how much England cricket has learnt from the way Woodward structured the rugby team, and we seem to be getting the benefits of that now.
Woodward is far from perfect. He's a bit zealous in proclaiming the usefulness of some of his odder innovations, but at least he tries things out. And he was a crucial part in getting England to win the World Cup in 2003.
A very good book, that has made me think about what I could do consistently to improve my own performance at work, as well as leaving me with the warm glow of reliving the World Cup triumph.
on 25 July 2011
I was directed to read this book from a school PE teacher. I was undertaking another year as a football coach, and I asked said teacher if he fancied becoming my assistant for the new football season. He was unable to but we got speaking about coaching in general and the book 'Winning' was recommended to me.
Throwing myself into the book, I removed all divides that may have existed in terms of the shape of ball we were largely reading about, and focused on what the messages were.
To my surprise the book was a great journey of time, of struggles and change, which ultimately led to success.
The book is a combination of memoir and coaching guide. Sir Clive begins by talking about his love of football and being half decent to the point he was scouted but not allowed to participate before being sent to boarding school where rugby was the main sport. He eventually puts his disappointment behind him and learns to love Rugby. The book charts Sir Clive's introduction to the sport, his desire to win whilst a player and then coach, and the difficulties and prejudices he faced over a twenty odd year career.
As a coach, I wanted to see what steps and changes he made to make England rugby move from a top ten world team, to be ranked number 1 and bookies favourite to win the world cup in 2003, and actually winning the cup on Australian soil. The book is a warts and all inside account of the old school amatuer structures he was up against in an era where Rugby was moving to professional status. Sir Clive talks about change, change management, psychology and working with some of the best coaches in the world to make England rugby a world force.
If you are serious about coaching, no matter what sport you play, reading 'Winning' by Sir Clive Woodward would be a good place to start.