Until recently, sport was regarded by highly intellectual individuals as a barbaric display of machismo with no real value to society. Even to this day, there are very few in the world academia who see any real value in sports. The average American however, has developed an obsession with these various pastimes, with soccer recently becoming forefront of the obsession for many of us. Once ESPN came about in the late 1970s, sports were seen in a different light by the fan and our consumer society in the USA. Sport was no longer seen as a pastime or a senseless display of human activity. It is now seen a business with a huge profit potential for corporations who could capitalize on the growth potential of the most popular American sports. With this new access to sports via television and a new channel that allowed for 24/7 access to America’s favorite sports the pressure to win and succeed grew substantially. TV channels began to emerge in the 1990s strictly dedicated to a region's sports team. TV contracts for individual leagues grew substantially. The Super Bowl’s ad price has increased to 4.5 million dollars for a 30 second ad, and major corporations now bid to sponsor the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League. With new profit potentials in sport there is now a huge upside to having an extremely good product on the field.
Furthermore as we will see later in this lengthy post, where there is potential for individual success driven by profit and rewards, science comes to the forefront. Teams in every sport (including soccer) began to invest heavily into statistics, tracking every aspect of the sport, trying to find a way they could gain an inch on the competition. Tactics are studied and tracked and player performance is tracked to the extent that their every movement and involvement in the play is recorded. Science has taken over soccer in the past twenty years as American and European businessmen have become more involved in the global game. The sports scientist is now an essential component of every major club. Nutritionists now are being employed by clubs to control their players eating habits. Club bought beds are now being brought into hotels on away trips to ensure players get the proper rest before games. Even the athletes’ genetics and bone structures are being tested to see what their growth potential will be. Science has taken over the elite levels of football as the success driven owners and managers of the club seek anything that is factual, statistically or scientifically backed that will help take their squad to the next level.
The focus on statistics and science in sports has not always had a positive effect. Centuries of tracking statistics in baseball has led to the game almost being too dull to take at times. The natural energy and expression has been taken out of the sport by the constant need for a strategy in every controllable scenario. Rarely is the batter’s hitting percentage against right handed pitchers ever ignored by a manager who is about to make a pitching change. I am sure with every home run that is hit, there is someone somewhere with a clipboard that is furious with the pitcher’s pitch of choice given the batters strengths. Hockey has began to see its raw energy and expression taken out of the sport as statistics have deemed the old school goon enforcer a thing of the past. Soccer is really in its infancy of its scientific revolution as big money has only come into the game in the past twenty years. Nonetheless, the sport may be destined for similar outcomes as the old school players are now being swapped for products of new age thinking.
I attempt to leave my personal opinions out of the articles I write. I try to approach the ideas from a broad spectrum in order to address the entirety of the topic. However, soccer to me has always been something much more complex than what science and statistics can demonstrate. Science only scratches the exterior surface of the complexity of a squad of players trying to achieve a set outcome. There is so much focus on tactics, statistics, strategies, and formations by the heavy success orientated coaches and chairmen that the difficulty of aligning all 11 players thoughts and ideas are often ignored.. Players may all come from different backgrounds, life conditions, and may not even speak the same language. A coach's job of harmonizing all of these personalities is insurmountable at times. Thus, why we see so many managers thrown to the wayside by the impatient onlooking chairman of the clubs who see their investments in statistics and science not immediately paying off.
Soccer is an extremely personal sport, where egos, respect, principles, values, purpose, and relationships all come into play. Science ignores the fact that there are people behind the statistics. Players are not machines that can controlled by pressing buttons or implementing tactics like in the game Football Manager. Not that there is not value in statistics, I wrote about how statistics are used in clubs very recently. From my playing experience, a huge portion of success in this sport comes from the depth supplied by the psychological aspect of the individual and the group dynamic.
So what does clinical research say in regards to the psychological development of humans? To paint with broad strokes, research done by Dr. Clare W Graves uncovered eight stages of psychological maturity that humans have developed over the course of history. For example, 40,000 years ago the first major stage of psychological evolution emerged from the human survivalist that roamed the Earth individually. This happened because there was a need for humans to band together in larger groups called tribes in order to find safety in a very dangerous world. The table below describes the 8 stages of consciousness that have been discovered thus far by researchers. You may be able to pin point which stage you currently may be at, and where some of your players, friends, teammates, and coaches may fall on the scale.
Each individual stage was the dominant view of the world at that time in history. As our species has evolved and become more sophisticated, we have seen more and more of the population of the world reach higher stages. Various levels are still dominant in different areas of the globe and even here in the USA. When reading the research a lightbulb went off. I now could intuitively understand, and even explain to others, why certain people responded positively or were switched off by different coaching styles, personalities, or actions. The diagram below describes each of the levels in more detail.
Success based organizations or people, seeking profits and strategic expression for rewards may find this hard to grasp as a lot of these ideas and concepts deal with intangible objects that cannot be tracked by statistics or seen. The unseen energy of the tribe that I discussed previously in something that is not seen, but felt. The principles and values developed by a team are sometimes based on cultural traditions or century old religious books which the atheist businessmen who wants the newest ideas and technology may find outdated or primitive. Nonetheless the psychological development of humans throughout our existence as a species ties directly into the concepts of a successful team and is the missing piece to the complex jigsaw puzzle of building a successful squad. I wrote a few weeks back about my transition from the strategic success expressive orange stage, to the sacrificial for relationships and community green stage that lead my successful senior collegiate season.
As a coach who was seeking to not only be successful in wins, but develop great people I found that realizing how the players think has made communicating and motivating players that much easier. Had I known about these concepts and theories prior to a year ago, I would have been much more successful as a young coach relating to players from different backgrounds and life conditions. I now have the ability to supply logic to my actions as a coach when dealing with players, and I have started to understood the depth of the people I deal with everyday.
My experience coaching at Franklin and Marshall College, a very good Division III program in my hometown of Lancaster, PA would have benefitted greatly from understanding this framework. The ability to flex to player's’ psychological level of maturity while subtly promoting growth to the next stage would have helped me connect more especially to some of the sophisticated players on the squad. Looking back, interacting with players from more affluent backgrounds than my own was challenging for me. Certain jokes I would make or comments I would add during conversations were not received well and now I understand why. Those players had already evolved their thinking to a level (Green) where they were very sensitive to jokes or comments they deemed offensive or degrading. This was very different from the culture I was used to when I played in college, where the thought process and worldviews of my old teammates were more success driven. I eventually learned to adjust intuitively, but had I known the results of their Vital Signs testing, the confusing aspect of my first interactions with the players would have been eliminated.
So after all of this studying and investment in myself in order to become a better soccer coach, we brought our Vital Signs testing to two college soccer programs and to great success tested their entire teams this past spring. Both situations unveiled the depth of their team’s current state of mind. We were able to give information about the individual player’s worldview, as well as the entire group. This allowed the coach to cater their communication to meet the individual's hot buttons, and talk to the entire group strategically in order to motivate them in sessions and team talks. We then were able to walk the teams through their evolutionary journey, addressing areas of the psychological spectrum where there were gaps, whether it be principles (Blue), tribal bond (Purple), drive for success (Orange), or the Green glue of the relationships on the squad. Each team and individual is unique and therefore have different gaps to address. We will continue working with Lebanon Valley College and Lock Haven University this summer and into next fall.
After our two pilot programs we were ready to launch our consulting firm BTG Projects. My attempt to conquer the last remaining frontier of soccer will be a huge task, and I am continuing to study every day in order to gain new insight into what was uncovered by Graves’ research. This work has been used to solve issues in apartheid South Africa, explain war and politics, drug usage, gang culture in inner cities, and much more. I never thought I would be entering the world of sport psychology, but after learning about Graves’ research and applying the findings to the sport I love so much, I now see a clear way forward in the field career wise. If you would like to read more into the theory I would highly suggest reading Spiral Dynamics by Christopher Cowan and Donald Beck or Boomeritis by Ken Wilber. If your team, club, or college program would be interested in taking our Vital Signs testing please check out our website at www.BTGprojects.org