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Being on furlough: What can we learn from elite team sports?

Insight

Having experienced being furloughed, I believe a lot of comparisons can be made and lessons learned from being on the bench in elite team sports. The purpose of this blog is to share top tips to help people on furlough to better manage their personal situation, promote a squad mentality within their team and hit the ground running when they are back working. To write this blog, I have teamed up with Karen Bardsley of the England Football Team. Karen has over 80 caps for her country and has played at three World Cups and at the 2012 Olympic Games for Team GB. I had the privilege of supporting Karen and the England Women’s Team at two major tournaments in developing a strong squad mentality and a culture of togetherness.

At Lane4, we recognise that a squad mentality is important in order to handle this period well. Just as it does to win a World Cup medal, whether you are ‘on the pitch’ still working or ‘on the bench’ being furloughed, it takes a whole squad pulling together to be successful (whatever success looks like for your organisation). Reflecting together, Karen and I agreed that a big threat to togetherness when away at a major tournament is the dynamic between those starting and those on the bench. Players rationally recognise that only 11 out of 23 in a squad can start each match, but nonetheless they do not always think rationally – especially when they care and are passionate about what they do. Indeed, Karen and I have both experienced that when a team does not manage this dynamic well, it erodes team togetherness and ultimately leads to underperformance.

Below are our six top tips for those who are furloughed and playing their role ‘on the bench’. What have Karen and I learned from successful teams about how you can best be a positive influence on team performance and set yourself up for being at your best when called upon?

Tip 1: Care for your self-belief

Being on the bench, especially for multiple games, can have an impact on your self-belief. You can find yourself questioningWhy am I not good enough to start? What do other players have that I don’t? Do the staff and manager believe in me? This in turn may lead to a lack of confidence in your own ability and cause you to look for evidence that you are not good enough. It is crucial to proactively work on your self-belief during such periods. There are many reasons why you may not be starting, and not starting does not mean you are a bad player or don’t have lots of strengths and qualities that help the team. Actively remind yourself of your strengths and qualities, and what you have achieved, which will help to reinforce your self-belief. Right now, it’s more important than ever to take a step back, remind yourself of what makes you great and stay positive about the future.

Tip 2: Be comfortable with your feelings

Learning you are on the bench often triggers many different thoughts and emotions. However much you may rationally understand the decision, your emotive brain will likely kick in at some point... How is this fair? How does this look to others? Why was I not chosen? What does this mean for my future in the squad? Avoiding or hiding emotions is harmful and can negatively impact on your personal state and wellbeing. It can also lead to actions which negatively impact on team dynamics. It is important to acknowledge and accept your emotions. Once the emotion is acknowledged, you can then think, act and make more rational decisions about how best to manage yourself. It will also enable more rational conversations with others as and when appropriate.

Tip 3: Take accountability for your preparation

You can be called on at any point when you are on the bench. The same is true when on furlough, with companies being able to call people back at any point. To help you perform at your best when called upon, it is important to prepare as if you are starting and keep match fit. Stay updated on the game plan, keep connected with teammates and stay mentally switched on to the potential of being called on at any minute. Leaders can do a lot to support this, but ultimately you are accountable for being prepared and feeling connected. Actively look to attend development sessions, continue to be curious and keep up to date on the latest information. It is up to you to ensure this happens.

Tip 4: Take pride in supporting others

However much we want to achieve as individuals, the success of any team is what you achieve as a collective. To win at the elite level, you need everyone in the squad supporting each other and pulling in the same direction. This starts by having a clear and compelling outcome goal. At certain points, it is important to keep connecting back to this goal as a reminder to everyone that whether you are on the pitch or on the bench, we are all working together in the pursuit of a collective goal. Linked to this, if we really challenged ourselves, I imagine we can all remember a time we didn’t fully support a teammate for whatever reason. Great team players take pride in helping their teammates in whatever way they can – whether this is helping in practice, giving honest feedback or providing encouragement. Take pride in helping to set your teammates up for success. Your input or contribution could make all the difference. In addition, when the shoe is on the other foot, you may hugely benefit from this person’s support. People will remember how you act/behave during this period.

Tip 5: Leverage your support network

However good you are at accepting and managing your emotions, you will undoubtedly experience moments in which you need or would hugely benefit from support. This could be in the form of someone to energise you when you’re down, a confidant to share true feelings and emotions with, or a person who will challenge you about displaying any behaviours which are not in the best interest of the team. Proactively using your support network and leveraging the help of others will help hugely in your management of the whole situation as well as setting you up to bounce forward brilliantly. Trying to manage everything on your own is difficult, so maximise the power of the people around you. This will also help to prevent you from becoming distant from others, which can cause negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours to persist or even worsen.

Tip 6: Control the controllables

Crucially, all the top tips above are within your control. Focusing on factors outside of your control, including the decision to put you on the bench or what the media focuses on, can generate further negative emotion and is ultimately wasted energy. Take the time to get clear on what is in vs. outside of your control and maximise your time and attention on the activities which will make a real difference to you and the team.

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