Performing through adversity - Red Roses thrive despite funding cuts



Performing through adversity - Red Roses thrive despite funding cuts

The women of British sport have celebrated some incredible performances this summer. None more so than the Red Roses, England’s Women’s Rugby team who recently battled to an impressive silver medal at the World Cup in Ireland, losing out to the powerful Black Ferns from New Zealand. What made this performance even more impressive from England was the news pre – tournament that the funding currently allocated for their professional contracts was going to be focussed elsewhere after the World Cup. Consequently, many of the squad competing in the tournament were doing so with uncertainty surrounding their future, and were potentially facing the prospect of finding a job whilst fitting in training to compete at international level.

Performing through adversity is a vital attribute for any professional athlete. It speaks volumes for the character of the squad that they could perform at such a high level at the World Cup, despite the distractions undoubtedly at play. Given that this is something so inherent in professional sport, how exactly can you prepare to perform though adversity, and what are the hallmarks of teams who do this well?

Here are three key aspects that help teams in sport or business perform through adversity

1. Culture

It has been famously said that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and this has never been more true than today where some organisations find themselves losing key talent and market share to new culture-focused companies. Operating as part of a team with a well-articulated culture provides a unifying sense of purpose, making the victories even sweeter and the tough times easier to deal with

A strong culture, in our view, is less about being clearly distinguishable and united, and more about alignment between what is stated and what is actually lived. This of course may reflect unity on some core elements, but it may also embrace the diversity within a culture too.

Red Roses captain Sarah Hunter gave an emotional interview after the final, during which she highlighted the fact that the squad ‘win together and lose together’ and will ‘stand tall until the end’. This type of language is typical of a strong, positive culture that will enable the squad to bounce back stronger than ever

2. Control the controllables

Having a clear focus on the aspects of performance you can always control (effort, communication, time keeping, to name a few) allows you to eliminate distractions by avoiding spending effort on aspects you cannot influence. That feeling of losing control causes stress and anxiety, which isunhelpful– especially when the outcome is one you cannot change. The Red Roses realised that the contract situation was out of their hands, and so focussed individually and collectively on what they could control to perform optimally at the World Cup.

3. Support network

A key element in the performance environment is a person’s support network. When individuals experience stress and adversity, the ones who thrive draw on their support networks to help deal with situations and supress negatives emotions. The importance of these networks played out for the team during this testing time by using their supportive, social connections externally, with their friends and family outside of rugby, as well as internally within the team. These key people in the players support networks reminded them of the goal they set out to achieve, of ‘winning the World Cup’ and the reasons why, tapping into their intrinsic motivation and drivers. This brought out their drive and dedication towards the goal, allowing them to focus and prioritise energy on their performance.

Key takeaways

Adversity is inevitable. Therefore, it is important not to hide from it, but to embrace it as a challenge and prepare as best you can. To that end, here are some key takeaways you can look to implement personally and as a team to maintain performance through difficult times:

  • Draw on your culture to create a unifying purpose for your team
  • Focus on what you can control – perform well in these areas and don’t let the rest become a distraction
  • Don’t be afraid to rely on your support network, both internally and externally.


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