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Posted: September 25, 2009

The two-week turnaround of a pro sports team

How fast can you make changes in your business?

TC North

The head coach of a professional soccer team that was in a horrible slump said to me, "We have two weeks to turn this team around and have a shot at the playoffs. What can you do?"

Being a high-performance mental training consultant, my initial thought was: probably nothing - there wasn't enough time. But the challenge was intriguing, so I replied, "I don't know if I can do anything, but I'll spend some time with your players and staff to see what we might do."

There was good camaraderie among players, but a palpable, collective negativity just below the surface. During practice, I noticed that the head coach would criticize the players, but he didn't teach them how to correct their mistakes.

So I asked players what they thought of the coach's style. Oh my gosh, I was so naïve! The coach could cut the players at any time for any reason and he had hired me, so they weren't going to be forthcoming with me - they all had wonderful things to say about the coach's style.

Some of you may remember Sgt. Schultz on "Hogan's Heroes," who made famous the line "I know nothing!" That's how I felt - nothing in my experience would work in the time frame we had. What to do?

In a flash of creativity (a euphemism for desperation), my co-consultant, Sandra Gaskill, and I decided to find out whom the players most respected and trusted on the team and see if we could work through them. To identify these leaders, we asked individual players, "Who are the five most respected people on this team? Whom do you and the other players listen to and trust?" Almost everyone gave us the same five names.

We gathered the five leaders and explained the situation: We could see there were major issues, and the coaches had asked us to help turn the team around.

We knew we were outsiders, and the only way to help the team play more to its potential was to get the help of the five leaders. The leaders wanted to play up to their potential, so it was an easy sell. They were happy to work with us once the coaches promised no repercussions, no matter what.

That weekend, the five leaders, the rest of the athletes and the consulting team met without coaches or staff. To let the team know that these five guys were in the lead - focused on improving performance as a team and not afraid of repercussions - the leaders initially facilitated the initial discussion and then turned it over to the consultants.

The team quickly identified several major issues that had caused the players extreme resentment toward the coaches (the underlying negativity), as well as the reason they were underperforming on the field (athletes need a positive motivating focus to play their best).

With the permission of all the athletes, the consulting team met with the coaches in a separate room and outlined the issues. The coaches were surprised by the issues, but absolutely willing to make the changes requested. The coaches then joined the players, apologized to them for what the they had unintentionally done to create the situation, and the coaches made specific commitments to resolve the issues, which they did.

In the next practice, there was a demonstrable difference in the positive energy and physical effort of the team. From that practice on, the team had great practices and played better in games than they had all season. The two-week turnaround was a success. They made the playoffs!

If a slumping professional sports team can turn around in two weeks through a focused intervention, how fast could you make changes in your business? The key to the speed and success of this turnaround was leveraging the relationship of the most influential players. How could you leverage your efforts?

Whether you're a "CEO, executive, manager, or solopreneur," I'll bet you want to play up to your potential. Have the courage to make one important change quickly, and then reinforce and reward the change to sustain it.

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Dr. TC North is co-author of the Amazon bestseller Fearless Leaders. For 28 years, he has been a high-performance executive coach and speaker who helps individuals and organizations identify and attain their visions and dreams. He also has coached professional and Olympic athletes in the art of creating thoughts and emotions that maximize success. He’s a professional speaker on “Fearless Leaders” and “Master Fear.” Dr. North’s work has been featured on TV and radio and in business and scientific journals. Learn more at Contact Dr. North at 303-665-8920 or, or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.





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