I recently attended the 5th Annual Innovation Summit hosted in Bryanston Johannesburg. The event happens once a year where you can find incredible minds in fields from neuroscience to leadership, business and marketing to innovation in the digital age to name a few.
In attending this summit my mission was to look for fresh new ideas of how sport in South Africa could be more innovative in all aspects of the game and the business of sport.
In going down memory lane, I remember a good decade ago how we battled to beat the Australians in Rugby and it almost seemed as though they had magical powers on their side. Everything we did as a nation, we came back battered, bruised and with our tails between our legs. South African rugby and moral was at an all-time low. Let’s not dare mention the mighty All Blacks with Jonah Lomu bouncing Springboks off with his one hand often with one or two players clinching desperately to his ankles.
What did these countries have that we didn’t have? Was it the latest technology or unique drills, innovative coaches or did they have a unique winning system that was moulded over time? The short end of the stick, South Africa became complacent in their approach and thinking, compared to other nations and this was our downfall at the time, it bred mediocrity!
Under close inspection the Australians and All Blacks were ahead of their game and quite frankly world class innovators from the junior ranks to their national squad. The innovation of the Australians starts each year with a National talent identification system which assesses young athletes and then enrolls this talent into a well-oiled system that grooms these individuals for future success. Coaches have a pedigree of courses, skills and knowledge from around the world which they plough back into their system. This system has produced many great sportsmen over the years.
When the cuts and bruises from losses became scars, S.A Rugby finally took the bull by the horns and implemented one of South Africa’s great sporting innovators, Jake White.
White started on his journey by researching what his competitors were doing and designed a winning formula by taking an innovative approach. Finally a coach who didn’t believe he was the Holy Grail of coaches and had to do everything himself. He was a coach who surrounded himself with the very best in sports scientists, rehab specialists, dietitians, eye vision specialists, tacticians, strategists and most importantly a captain John Smith with great leadership skills. He was the one orchestrating the collection of talented supports staff to make sure that the Springboks where the fittest, strongest and had less injuries than any other team in the world cup. Such innovation and genius was handsomely rewarded with ultimate victory and glory for a nation.
I have the privilege in working with youth teams and Pro teams and I see shortcomings of coaches. There is too much focus on old school mythologies and too little on being innovative. Coaches want to be the master of everything but ultimately the conqueror of nothing. Good teams need a solid foundation to work from, good administration, good support staff, good leadership and a coach who believed in his players. A great team needs all of the above and continual innovation.