How KM helped England learn from history and beat Colombia

Sometimes learning from personal failure is the way to win.

Gareth Southgate in despain after missing the penalty in 1996,
an event which indirectly led to Englands win last night.

Last night England beat Colombia in the Football World Cup quarter final. The game was decided on a penalty shoot-out – a process which England are historically notoriously bad at, during which players take it in turns to shoot for goal, competing one-on-one with the goal-keeper. After the match, the manager Gareth Southgate talked about the importance of the players “owning the process” of taking penalties as -part of the reason for success.

The story of developing that process, and player ownership in the process, has a lot of Knowledge Management in it, including learning from mistakes, analysis of the situation, and plenty of preparation and practice.

Southgate has his own personal and painful history with penalty taking, as a young player missing a crucial penalty for England against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 1996. His feelings were described in this article from the Daily Telegraph.

“I wanted (the penalty) to be firmly struck, but didn’t want to hit it too hard and risk putting it over the bar or wide. In trying to be precise, I hit a soft and badly placed penalty. Kopke saved comfortably. ‘What have I done?’ I put my arms over my head. The thought of the lads on the halfway line made me despair.”

After the 1996 match, the then Prime Minister of the UK, John Major, offered Southgate a consoling hug, but the failure that day made Southgate determined to learn to do better.

At the time, there was no “process” for penalty taking, but Southgate wanted to learn the lessons from the past, and 22 years later as England Manager he wanted there to be a process, and for the players to “own it.” An article in the Guardian quotes him as saying “The depth of knowledge and understanding wasn’t so great (in 1996) and we didn’t have as much information as we do now …. I have had a couple of decades thinking it through”

So Soutgate has taken the following learning approach for his team:

  • He started his team practising for penalties in March, well before the World CUp started
  • He commissioned a study into the failed penalty shoot-outs of previous tournaments where it was discovered that England players took less time over their kicks than any other nation. “They will take their time now”.
  • He has tried new ways of putting the players under pressure by organising competitions in which they jeer and shout at each other, just as the Colombian fans jeered and shouted last night.
  • He has a list of his squad’s penalty-takers in order from 1 to 23, constantly updated with training performance and injury.
  • Collectively, with the team, he has discussed how they would ideally approach a penalty shootout, “making sure there’s a calmness, that we own the process and it’s not decisions made on the spur of the moment. We have to make sure it’s calm, that the right people are on the pitch and it doesn’t become too many voices in the players’ heads”.
The result of this learning was clear to see last night – a cool calm and collected process which won England the match.

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