What it takes to be a champion, by Sir Clive Woodward

A presentation from rugby coaching legend Sir Clive Woodward was a highlight of the NMBS conference, where I spoke on growing the core. Clive won the rugby world cup with England in 2003, and went on to work for the British Olympic Association. He shared his views on what it takes to be a champion.


1. Hire "sponges", not "rocks"

Sir Clive talked about the sort of people you need in your team if you want to win. He recommended hiring "sponges", who are ready to learn and take on new insights from you. In contrast, "rocks" are resistant to new ideas and change. When he took over the England rugby team one of his first moves was to give all players a laptop to analyse their performance; back in the late 90's this was a revolution. Some players embraced the change, whilst others resisted and called it a gimmick. You can guess which players stayed to win the world cup, and which never played for England again.

2. Analyse your winning ways

A typical reaction to a win, in sport and business, is to celebrate. When you loose you analyse in depth what went wrong, re-playing events blow by blow. Interestingly,  Sir Clive suggested flipping these processes round. When you loose, take everyone out to the pub. When you win, analyse in detail HOW you won. Break down and analyse your "winning moves", then codify these so you can practice them and get even better.

This approach chimes with the idea of discovering and amplifying your strengths, that I posted on here

3. Beyond number 1

Sir Clive was asked how to maintain performance of a winning team. Where to go when you are number 1? He suggested the need to re-frame success, defining new criteria of elite performance. This is very much in line with idea of constant renovation from growing the core. Its also the attitude used by the other sporting legend I've posted on, Sir Alex Ferguson, ex-Coach of Manchester United.

4. Practice under pressure

One of Sir Clive's best known concepts is "T-CUp": thinking correctly under pressure. Winning means being able to execute with excellence when the pressure is really on, as England were able to do in the dying seconds of extra time during the 2003 rugby world cup. One way to cope with this pressure it practice different scenrios over and over again, so that when s**t happens you know instinctively what to do. This is relevant in business, whether its being trained on speaking to large audiences or doing PR crisis scenario planning.

In conclusion, Sir Clives ideas may come from the world of sport, but also have relevance to help you gain and maintain leadership in the brand world.