Business Lessons from the Pitch: Philosophy, Culture, and Action



In business, like sport, every club or company has different levels of resources. Some have the resources to simply buy talent. Some have a unique ability develop it internally.

Borrusia Dortmund (Germany) and Ajax (the Netherlands) are two world-renowned clubs with storied histories of success, but they are probably more famous for the number of big-name players that have come through their player development programs. As icing on the developmental cake, there are quite a few club and national team captains among their ranks as well.

Dortmund and Ajax consistently develop talent, turn out competitive squads, and realize outsized returns on the investments made in their development programs because they have strong organizational philosophies, and their organizational behavior and cultures embody and reinforce those values.

In a recent article published by BBC Sport, the writers interviewed several Dortmund staff.

Several key player evaluation characteristics emerged:

· Speed

o As the saying goes, “you cannot teach speed,”, so it is the first thing they look for in youth players. Coaches are entrusted to teach the technical and strategic aspects of the game.

· They recruit locally first

o This reduces the need for cultural and geographic adaptation that can complicate a player’s integration into the club. They create an exception only when there are exceptionally talented players or unique club needs.

· Maturity and mindset

o The club has no time for babysitting a player who is not committed to the team, the game, and their own individual improvement. Focus and discipline are two highly-valued qualities in recruits.

· Total Development

o Coaching and training go beyond just on-field performances. As youth players, they may have sporting obligations for both club and country, on top of academic obligations, and of course there are the everyday challenges of being a teenager. All of these are magnified by the added element of being tagged as future stars of the game. The club provides support across all dimensions of development – personal and professional – to ensure they can handle the entire workload.

Ajax, similarly, boils their player recruitment philosophy down to two components: “they have to be coachable and want to learn.”

Ajax prioritizes winning only at the top level. The youth teams are primarily focused on player development. “Everybody at Ajax has one goal: to make a young player into a great footballer.” Losses test a player’s mental fortitude and resiliency. Everything is viewed as a learning opportunity.

At the youth-level strength and conditioning is programmed to develop the full spectrum of athletic skills – not just for soccer. As players progress, they add yoga and more soccer-specific training, but the purpose remains to create the best all-around athlete. Then, it’s up to the coaches turn those athletes into players.

Consistency is also key – all of the teams in the Ajax system, from the first-team all the way down to the youth teams, play the same style. This makes developmental benchmarking very easy, and also allows talented players to rise quickly through the ranks.

What do these soccer clubs and their player development programs have to do with your business?

Well, can you pinpoint the key qualities that define your company’s culture and staff? What is the philosophy that underpins and informs that culture, and do the actions of the company accurately reflect those values? Do the organizational structure and staff development programs reflect those values?

The interviews of Dortmund and Ajax staff illustrate how broadly and deeply the clubs’ philosophies and cultures run. Their actions are all directed at those specific club goals, and it is this combination that fuels their consistent results.

Dortmund look for speed, discipline, and focus. Ajax look for coachability and willingness to learn. Their goal is to create top-level soccer talent, and they do it consistently because the entire organization understands that objective, and their role in the process.

How are you creating this type of consistent, high-level performance in your work or life?

References:

https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/51471587

https://www.fourfourtwo.com/features/inside-ajax-how-become-worlds-greatest-talent-factory

http://generationadidasinternational.com/afcajax-youth-development-philosophy-arnold-muhren

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog/espn-fc-united/68/post/3757094/for-most-clubs-losing-top-talent-is-a-killer-for-ajax-its-their-business-model

https://www.bundesliga.com/en/bundesliga/news/why-do-borussia-dortmund-attract-soccer-s-best-young-players-sancho-pulisic-haaland-9402

https://www.planetfootball.com/quick-reads/the-incredible-xi-of-ajax-academy-graduates-still-playing-elsewhere/

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