Germany’s World Cup Success

Early last night dear old Dad and I had a bet: he picked Argentina and I favoured Germany. If only the stakes had been higher…

Thinking about how Germany were forced to change and change again – and still win – this morning, I realized that Neuro Linguistic Programming has a deceptively simple way of explaining the components of Germany’s success. Robert Dilts, the NLP teacher and writer, came up with the concept of ‘Neuro-logical Levels’, which help us explore our experience as individuals and groups. There are six levels, let’s take each in turn to look at Germany’s success and what we can learn.

1. Environment

This level is about where we are when we do what we do. No hotels for the German team, oh no. Instead their camp was purpose-built after 25 hotels in different Brazilian locations had been rejected. ‘Campo Bahia’ was constructed on a beautiful coastal spot, near the village of Santo Andre. Construction of the low-rise village was financed by investors to the tune of £25m. No skyscrapers, traffic, lifts or urban racket – just a beautiful retreat with plenty of time and space for players to train, rest and recuperate – together. For more on Campo Bahia, see this Telegraph piece

In my opinion we underestimate the impact of environment on performance. Just look at the rows upon rows of desks that comprise the typical office environment. The priority seems to be ‘utilization’ rather than performance, begging the question ‘what’s the goal here?’ Think about your own performance: where are you when you’re at your best?

2. Behaviour

This level is about actions, or thoughts and deeds – what we do. Hmmm…which team had 64% possession and 5 shots on target? I thought the German team’s resilience was particularly impressive: key player Khedira injured in the warm-up? OK, we’ll adapt. Kramer, his replacement, out with a head injury after a horrific clash? OK, we’ll bring on Schürrle – who set up the stunning winning goal. Key man Schweinsteiger bleeding from a blow to the head? I dare you to watch his legs twitching as he was stitched together at the side of the pitch – and then came back on to complete the match – and not be impressed at the extraordinary resilience he showed. Both teams must have been exhausted during extra time – but Argentina looked it from earlier in the game, with more missed chances and lost possession. When we’re focused on this level we’re describing what we do and how we do it – verbs and adverbs. So think about your behaviour in a situation you’d like to change – what characterizes it? What behaviours would be more effective?

3. Capability

Or skills or competence – you get the idea – how we do what we do. We can take it as read that any team reaching the finals of the World Cup will have bags of capability. The pundits talked about Messi’s out of this world skills but on the night, he didn’t deliver. A 22 year-old substitute however, most certainly did. I’ve watched Götze’s goal several times and his composure and skill are a joy to see. He probably practiced a bit beforehand. For several years. I think this is where the ‘sport team lessons for work teams’ stuff that gets written misses a point: the match is a small part of a player’s working life; they spend most of it training. However we can all benefit by more consciously learning from what we’re doing most of the time, with coaching and feedback.

4. Beliefs

This is about why we do what we do – the underlying values that we hold. Jurgen Klinsmann, who was in charge of the German national team until 2006, deservedly gets credit for starting the rebuilding process ten years ago. It’s no secret that excellence and organization are strong German values, and Klinsmann identified them as vital foundations of individual players and the squad as a whole. Think of something really important to you and the chances are that your beliefs underpin what’s going on. You may have left a job or relationship because your values were being undermined in some way.

5. Identity

Who are we when we’re at our best? This links to the concept of self-actualization: being the best ‘me’ I can be. When we’re doing what we’re passionate about and it all seems to flow. Pele. Given the right environment, skills and practice and shared belief, Germany’s players look like dominating the game for a long time. They are what they do and do what they love. If we try to be someone else the consequences can be disastrous. We’ve all seen someone assume a role for which they turned out to be unsuited. Who are you being when you’re doing what you do?

6. Spirit

Some NLP writers describe this level as ‘spirituality’, some as ‘higher purpose’ and others as where we fit into what’s beyond us, the bigger system or connectedness. Last night’s German team can now identify themselves as world champions. That’s a pretty powerful collective identity. Much has been said and written about how the German squad is a national squad first and individual players second, and that was evident in this tournament. I’ll bet if a German player were asked ‘who are you?’ their answer would include ‘German’ somewhere along with the obvious ‘footballer’ and their own name. How would other players identify themselves, I wonder?

For more on Neuro-logical Levels, Michael Neill has this post

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