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Setting the right culture is the key to success in any sports environment


The culture in any workplace is the key to success, or often the cause of failure.

Creating a positive workplace can bring out the best in everyone, including those with limited abilities, and in some cases can take people beyond their own expectations. In contrast, without the right environment, no matter how much talent there is, success rarely follows.

Sports are no different. The most successful teams are often those that evolve in a healthy environment. Leadership is of course the key.

The Geelong Cats in 2006 had a season full of disappointments and coach Mark Thompson was nearly sacked. However, a major culture shift this season set the tone for the Cats to create an environment that still places them among the top teams year after year, some 15 years later.

Players began to take responsibility, the right leaders were chosen and an environment where everyone was held accountable to high standards built trust within the club.

Thompson, Bryan Cook (CEO), Frank Costa (Chair) and Tom Harley (Captain) set the tone. They are all gone but the culture – which brought success – continues.

The Cats appeared in four Grand Finals from 2007 to 2011, winning three. Since then, they’ve finished in the top four multiple times and only missed the finals once, an incredible feat in an era of salary caps and drafts.

Richmond Football Club appointed Peggy O’Neal as President in 2013. After three decades of failures and disappointments, O’Neal took her wealth of experience in the corporate world and brought it to Punt Road.

Richmond has become the powerhouse of modern times, three prime ministers from 2017 to 2020 and more than 100,000 members.

Shane Edwards and Jack Graham (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

It all came from creating a culture that fostered success and refused to accept failure.

In football, the Western Sydney Wanderers had an outstanding culture under Tony Popovic. A proven leader of the Golden Generation, Popovic led the club to three Grand Finals in his first four seasons, a premiership plaque and an Asian Champions League title. The results said it all.

Popovic had outstanding leaders like Shinji Ono, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Mark Bridge and Michael Beauchamp who were seasoned professionals who set the tone for their teammates.

Popovic also ensured that the players were empowered to play their part, while understanding the role they had to play in a team environment.

Once Popovic left, the lack of success at the Wanderers was the source of much frustration for the red and black fans. Without stable leadership at the training or game level, it has led to individualism, with everyone pulling in different directions.

Disrupting a good culture can also have disastrous effects. Questioning the way things are done can be healthy, but changing something for no good reason can cause irreparable damage.

Take for example the A-League Women team from Brisbane Roar. They had a great culture last season under former manager Jake Goodship.

It was an environment that the players loved. Senior players have thrived in their leadership roles while younger players have thrived. People like Jamilla Rankin and Wini Heatley have found their footing, learning from the best and having fun working in a professional environment.

Everyone worked for each other and was treated with the same level of respect. There was a team mentality. Players even socialized with fans, highlighting the tight-knit environment they had.

It’s easy to sell an environment like this to players and inspire them to do their best.

Brisbane came runners-up in 2020-21, losing just one game in the season away leg, before retiring in the semi-finals to eventual champions Melbourne Victory.

Fast forward to this season, Goodship has been mysteriously moved and Garrath McPherson has taken over.

A win in six games and Roar’s hopes for the final are quickly fading. While fans can point to missed chances in front of goal, the reality is that Brisbane don’t look like the same team.

Changing a positive environment has clearly had an impact. The spirit of the Roar teams of recent seasons is not there. Even the fans seem disengaged.

Matildas are another example. Alen Stajcic had them seated at world No. 4. Players were made accountable for their performance and held to professional standards.

When he was sacked in 2019, it led to a downward spiral that Tony Gustavsson is desperately trying to fix.

Setting the right culture is the key to success in any sports environment

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Matildas’ problems go far beyond the field and the locker room. There is an unpleasant element in women’s football which has had a major impact on the culture, which has had a negative impact on the team and the coaching staff. Bad behavior has been ignored and those working to address it have been silenced.

There is clearly a lack of leadership and trust in the national structure. With 2023 fast approaching, the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Sydney FC, on the other hand, has an exceptional culture throughout the club. CEO Danny Townsend set the standard. He is one of Australian rules football’s most engaging CEOs.

A person who is always ready to talk to everyone from businesses to fans, Townsend creates an open environment where everyone is treated with respect and given the opportunity to contribute. To be successful, every piece of the puzzle must fit together. There must be an alignment from top to bottom.

Townsend’s philosophy extends to the coaching level: Graham Arnold and Steve Corica on the men’s side, and Ante Juric on the women’s side, followed the values ​​and principles of the club.

On the pitch, Sydney FC have had exceptional leaders like Teresa Polias, Alex Brosque and Alex Wilkinson who have helped keep this culture positive.

Between the men’s and women’s teams, they have played in ten Grand Finals over the past seven seasons, a remarkable feat.

Culture is something that cannot be underestimated. Setting up the right environment and having the right leaders to maintain it is always the difference between success and failure.




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