Why do teams win? What do we learn from winning teams?

Just attended 6 Gaelic Football and Hurling finals over the last 10 days or so. Five of the teams I supported were successful – so an unusually high success rate! And of course we are often told we learn more from the games we lose (and mistakes we make) than from winning games. But I was thinking – what did we learn from winning these games?

Firstly – winning beats losing. There is no ‘could have, should have, would have’ chat after the game. And, in general, the things that went wrong are put to one side and the focus tends to be on what went right.

Why did five of these teams win?

The first team was well coached, had set achievable targets for itself early in the season, had sorted out its defence and had realistic expectations of its own players (and their abilities). The coaches were meticulous in their preparation – including their analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. On the day the team made a fast start and played with hunger and determination throughout the match.

The second team to win consisted of a teams of winners. They had lots of ability and had been undefeated in Championship matches for a number of  years. The opposition played well but may have lacked some vital element of self belief. The opposition started well and had opportunities to establish a decent lead – but squandered these.  The winning team started poorly but never appeared to doubt their own ability to close out the deal. And they did so comprehensively in the end.

The third team won by one point in extra time. They played a good game – against another team of approx. equal ability and drive/ hunger. Match came down to a couple of missed opportunities for one team and a couple of opportunities taken by the other team. Would not be difficult to summarise by saying ‘they got the breaks’.

The fourth team won because they had more ability, more experience and generally shut out the up and coming opposition. Their pre-match preparation was good and after a slow start for 5-10 minutes they gradually assumed control in the match.  As the match progressed they began to exploit some weaknesses in the opposition team.

The fifth team was too strong for the opposition and won out easily.  They were faster, stronger, more skillful and, in particular, had more consistently good players across the park that the opposition.  

The sixth team lost.  This team was probably expected to win – just about.  They led well at half time.  Something happened after half time – a real momentum swing.  They seemed to lose their way for 15 minutes of the second half.  Over the game they conceded three goals – and, as many say, goals win matches.  The winning team exploited the momentum swing and just about held out in the end.

So what did I learn from watching six finals?

  • Winning and losing teams learned lots about themselves and the opposition in each game
  • Individual ability of team members makes huge difference
  • Attitude is very important
  • Experience is an asset
  • Good preparation (ambition/ focus, training, tactics, knowledge of the opposition) can make a major difference
  • Luck makes a difference in tight matches
  • Understanding limitations of your own team is important in setting out to win a match
  • Winning teams believe in themselves and their ability to win – even when faced by adversity
  • In many matches the top players on either side neutralise each other – the battle often gets decided by the weaker players – the team with the stronger weaker players usually exploits this advantage to win
  • Beware of momentum swings – over the 6 games there were plenty of changes in momentum – when teams trailing were afforded the opportunity to change things around.  The challenge having survived to the momentum swing opportunity is to take it and kick on.  Really only saw this happen in the sixth final.

Interestingly no real reference to individual leadership, per se, in these match wins.  Yes – good players were required to perform – but impact of individual leadership not as great as people may expect.

Certainly analysis is applicable to lots of work and life situations – why do teams succeed/ fail? Perhaps the importance of strong weaker players is overlooked in many situations – as also is having realistic expectations of the team. Other factors such as preparation and common goals/ sense of purpose were as expected.