The ability to recover that led the JT Marvelous women’s volleyball team to two consecutive V.League titles

In February this year, Rakuten People & Culture Lab advisor Ryuji Nakatake published Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits. “Winning Culture” is one of the Lab’s research themes and we have often discussed the common essence of winning teams around the world, including Spanish professional soccer club FC Barcelona.

But how do you create a strong organizational culture with a winning habit? Mr. Nakatake is currently publishing a series of articles entitled “Ryuji Nakatake’s Winning Culture” on Diamond Online. In this column, we present an article about the JT Marvelous women’s volleyball team’s ability to recover.

On February 21, JT Marvelous emerged victorious in the V.League women’s volleyball finals, beating the Toray Arrows to win their second straight championship.

I have been supporting JT Marvelous for the past few years and was delighted by their accomplishment. At the same time, I am convinced that JT Marvelous has a decidedly “winning culture.”

What is the “winning culture” that dwells in JT Marvelous? There are many factors, but one of the biggest is the team’s ability to recover.

Do you have the ability to recover? And what, exactly, is the ability to recover in the first place? In this article, I would like to deepen the discussion on this ability, which is also a crucial component in realizing a winning culture.

This season, amid the coronavirus pandemic, circumstances were such that even in the world of volleyball, none of the teams were able to practice sufficiently. But even so, JT Marvelous won the championship following a close game.

In the V.League, the semifinals and final matches are held on consecutive days.

In their semifinal match, JT Marvelous played a full set. Although they won their first two games, they gave up the next two and, despite the momentum that their opponents had succeeded in generating, managed to win the fifth and final game to advance to the final round.

Despite the fraught circumstances they endured, JT Marvelous managed to secure their ticket to the finals. It was a hard-fought battle that had required them to recover as their team crumbled and then face the challenge of the final match the following day.

The Toray Arrows, who they would play in the final round, was the mightiest of opponents, having gone undefeated during the season. Not only had they won all of their matches, they won their semifinal match in three straight sets to advance to the finals. Compared with JT Marvelous, who only just managed to make it to the final round, the differences, both physical and mental, were striking.

Such was the situation when JT Marvelous faced the Toray Arrows for the title. But while watching the action, the impression I had of JT Marvelous was that of a mature team.

In the world of sports, when it comes to the finals, no team is able to play as planned. It is for this reason that the ability to recover plays such an important role.

It’s often said that when things don’t go your way, believe in what you’ve done. And that is precisely what JT Marvelous did.

Through my communications with JT Marvelous Head coach Tomoko Yoshihara and Captain Mako Kobata during the season, I sensed they both possessed a mental resilience. It was a resilience that seemed to say, “We believe in what we’ve done and if we can win against ourselves, we have the strength to win no matter what.”

Accepting the fact that things don’t go as planned

Recently, the ability to recover is also being called “resilience” and is the focus of research overseas in such fields as human resource development and self-awareness.

In the business world as well, for those in leadership roles, the higher the position, the more often things do not proceed as planned. Such people frequently find themselves encountering challenges and obstacles.

When things don’t go as you had wanted them to, or you find yourself off your game, how you manage to recover and get back on track represents an important theme for both leaders and teams. What is important is to accept the fluctuation of things not going according to plan. This is the essence of the ability to recover. In other words, this is one of the factors of a winning culture.

Personally, I don’t know much about volleyball. But even so, when I watched the match, what impressed me about JT Marvelous’s strength was the team’s ability to switch gears after making a mistake.

Of course, after you make a mistake, you need to correct it. But when you do, it’s important not to worry yourself over it. You must quickly put it behind you and move on.

We tend to focus most of our attention on regrets in the past and fears in the future. That, however, wasn’t the case with JT Marvelous.

At a critical juncture in one of their semifinal games, an incident occurred in which JT Marvelous had scored a point only to have it not count. The normal reaction to such an event would be anger and frustration.

But the players on the court immediately put the matter behind them and told each other, “We’ll get the next one!”

They promptly recovered, focusing their attention only on what they were able to control.

Instead of focusing their attention on others or the past, on things that weren’t going as anticipated, they turned their focus on themselves and tried to address the conditions that were within their control. Accordingly, they were able to take everything that happened externally in their stride and focus on enhancing the precision of their play.

This is true strength. Why? Because it requires courage. It requires the throwing away of all excuses and looking forward. And, as it turned out, “courage” was something that the JT Marvelous players could be heard calling to one another on the court.

It’s at times when things don’t go our way that we are most likely to blame others. We tend to fixate on external factors, things that are outside of our control.

But when the stakes are high, it is essential that we focus on only what we, ourselves, can control. That, with certainty, is what is inside of us. It has nothing to do with the past, or the future, but rather how we can recover now, in this moment. Because it is a given that things will go awry, your attitude when it comes to how you recover holds the key to victory.

I’m sure this is true not only in the world of sports, but also in the business world and in personal life.

The ability to recover after accepting the reality of things not going the way we had wanted them to is an essential component of a winning culture. Watching JT Marvelous’s victory, I realized anew just how important this ability is. In my latest book, Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits, I share a range of other approaches of realizing and changing organizational culture to create a winning team.

How would you like to develop the ability to recover?

This article is an English translation of an article from the serialized DIAMOND Online series Ryuji Nakatake’s Winning Culture, printed with permission by DIAMOND, Inc.

The original article (in Japanese) can be viewed here.