Why Some Clubs Always Lose

It is an axiom of sport that at the end only one team wins.  Be it a league or a tournament, the axiom holds.  Even if you expand the definition of winning to include various levels of not winning, in any given period of time the (vast) majority of teams do not win.  The more you expand the time period, the smaller the group of ‘winners’ becomes.  Many teams can win for a season.  A few clubs can win for a couple of seasons.  Hardly any clubs can win over time.

Differentiating between these levels of success is easy.  Clubs that win over time are ones that can successfully work with concurrent short and medium (and more than likely long) term goals.  They have a strong plan for the current season, and keep an eye on future seasons.  Let’s call team A-Type Clubs[1].  Clubs that win for a couple of seasons are probably ones that can work with short (and perhaps medium) term goals.  They have strong plan for the current season(s) and keep a team together for that time, but perhaps don’t have the resources to maintain that level over time.  Let’s call the B-Type Clubs[2].  Teams that win for a season are lucky.  They luck out on a good coach, or a couple of players have a great season, or they get a good draw.  Let’s call them I-Type Clubs[3].  Other clubs never win.  They are like I-Type Clubs in every measurable way, but without luck.

Every single experience I have had, every single story I have heard, every single book/article I have read, fits into that template.  And yet somehow otherwise intelligent people are surprised when something different happens.

Midway through the 2011 season, the Melbourne Football Club lost a match by 186 points (i.e. very, very badly).  According to the template, an A-Type would almost certainly never suffer such a loss, but if it did would instantly know how it fit in with the club’s expectations and plans and would already have a plan in place for just such a situation.  A B-Type Club would look at the result, compare it to current expectations, probably get a bit antsy, but ultimately understand that a single result, no matter how bad, is exactly that… a single result.  They would make the adjustments in their systems that deemed were necessary, but would refrain from knee jerk reactions.  An I-Type Club would completely freak out, following the well known and always successful strategy of ‘what we are doing is not working therefore we must change what we are doing’[4].

The day after the Melbourne Football Club lost by 186 points they called an emergency board meeting and sacked the coach.  This is fairly typical I-Type Club behavior and as such doesn’t really merit any comment other than a raised eyebrow.  What makes this case special and noteworthy are the events of the previous.  In the aftermath of the occasion it was reported at least twice (here and here) that after learning of some dissatisfaction within the club, the board summoned players to two separate meetings to air their points of view.  In effect, the board instigated a crisis or at least brought it to a head.  This in itself is not a problem.  From the media reports it was probably about time.  The thing that boggles my mind is that having created a crisis the board was taken completely stunned that on field performance in the following match was affected.  Why are clubs ALWAYS surprised that off field events effect on field performance?  In addition to being surprised by a 100% predictable event, they then compounded that result by making a panic reaction.

Maybe the bigger question is why I am surprised.

Some clubs will just never win.

Cut to October 2012… It turns out that the sacked coach had in previous years been instructed by his superiors to deliberately lose matches.  Obviously losing matches negatively affected his standing in the football community, particularly as at least one of those matches brought specific attention to his ability to coach during a match.  And equally obviously, losing negatively affects every single person in the club, ESPECIALLY the players.  Losing creates a culture of losing.  So when the inevitably consequences of creating a losing culture reach their crushing conclusion (for example, losing a match by 186 points) the coach got fired.

So to summarise, having been threatened with the sack for not losing, the coach was then sacked for losing, while the football director remained in place and the CEO received a new contract.

Some clubs will just never win.


[1] A-Type as in the highest level

[2] B-Type as in the second highest level

[3] I-Type as in ‘I’ for idiot

[4] Every day in hundreds of clubs, in dozens of sports, in innumerable countries, management and coaches are changing things because ‘they have to change something’.  They are not being successful.

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13 thoughts on “Why Some Clubs Always Lose

  1. Jon Dunstan

    Great article Mark, would love to hear more about A-type clubs and what we can do to try and make sure our clubs become/stay in that category.

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    1. markleb Post author

      Those kind of clubs are easy to find out about. As must as I hate to say, the Collingwood book is actually a pretty good start.
      Often those A-Type qualities come from the coach, which is another reason success is so fleeting. Alex Ferguson and Manchester United is probably a pretty good example of club that was driven to be a good club by a great coach.

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  2. Hugh Nguyen

    Wow, after reading those 2 articles that situation is screwed! While Dean Bailey was in Adelaide, I saw his son Darcy play volleyball for Brighton Primary at a state schools cup competition. He later played for the U15 vic team when they moved over.

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      1. markleb Post author

        I have no clue if Dean Bailey is a decent bloke, or even a good coach. The point is the way the club acts and the types of beahviours and activities that seemingly intelligent and otherwise successful people do or expect from others that just don’t work. To paraphrase what Gary Pert said in the Collingwood book I posted about, ‘Cultute isn’t a thing, it’s how you act every day’.

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  3. Andrew

    Thanks for an interesting article Mark.

    I’m curious as to how that filters down to less professional and amateur sporting clubs – like our volleyball clubs in Australia. Certainly at my club we usually figure in the top teams of our league, but haven’t gotten a gold medal in all of the time I’ve been with the club. Lots of silvers – usually against the same opposition.

    I think we’re “building” a culture at our club, or maybe “re-building” is a better term. Management and organisation is still a struggle at times.

    Good luck with the the new season!

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  4. Alessandro

    Thanks!

    I do not know if these videos are relevant, but I do believe they provide a broader view of what winning is.
    John Wooden about the difference between winning an succeeding: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MM-psvqiG8.
    Julio Velasco about the 3 types of victory (defeating an opponent only being the 3rd one) and how to build a winning mentality (which one obviously only can have if he actually wins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDXYVt0pZnM&feature=related

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      1. markleb Post author

        It’s certainly a band of some sort. In Italy there’s a lot of karaoke at parties and functions. I expect he broke into song just after the clip finished 😀

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