If you want to get results, look at what’s going on “off the field”

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 thinking about what happens “off the field.”

Until now, the sports world has focused on what happens on the playing field above all else. Especially in sports that use a ball, the focus has always been “on the ball.” In other words, attention has always been paid to the movements of the player with the ball.

But recently, more attention is being paid “off the ball,” on the movements of the players who don’t have the ball.

In ball sports, all of the players play use only one ball at any given time. Because there are more players who don’t have the ball during the game than do, it is easy to understand the significant impact that these players have on the game in the way they organically and effectively move.

In soccer, for example, if your team was closing in on your opponent’s goal, there would likely be very few spectators watching what your goalkeeper was up to. But in situations such as this, your goalkeeper is giving some very important instructions. And it’s because the goalkeeper is providing such instructions that, should your team inadvertently lose control of the ball, the opposing team’s attack can be delayed.

In rugby as well, the position of fullback, which stands furthest behind his teammates, represents the last line of defense. As such, fullbacks rarely touch the ball or tackle an opponent during a match. But when the opposing team attempts to attack, it is the fullback who must think ahead and move with precision to protect the wide-open areas in his own territory to nip the opponent’s attack in the bud.

It is no exaggeration to say that it is the “off-the-ball” action that determines the course of a game in sports.

This concept has become so widespread that in the world of soccer and rugby, off-the-ball contributions have come to influence the negotiation of players’ contracts and annual salaries. It is not only the players who score that are highly evaluated; the players who are able to set up an environment that creates scoring opportunities are also beginning to gain recognition.

And the thinking regarding the direct link between off-the-ball tendencies and winning is further evolving.

Looking “off the field” for what’s needed to become stronger

Much attention is now being paid to what’s happening “off the field.”

Even top athletes engage in their sport for only a few hours out of the 24 hours there are in a day. The rest of the time is spent eating, sleeping, physically and mentally conditioning, and relaxing.

That’s why the way that players spend their time “off the field,” away from the game, is so important in improving their performance.

After training to the limit and employing cutting-edge technology to develop tactics and strategies, it is now becoming more important to pay attention to, and make the most of, the time spent off the field.

In fact, when I was the coach of the Japan national U20 rugby team, during road trips and training camps, I placed importance on how we used our off-the-field time, during such activities as eating, sleeping, resting, and recreation.

Take smartphones, for example. In their free time, young players can’t seem to put them down. But when they’re absorbed in their phones, they have limited time to interact with their teammates. That’s why I decided to prohibit the use of smartphones in the public areas where everyone gathered, such as meeting rooms and the cafeteria. Instead, I encouraged everyone to talk to each other.

I told them, “Speaking to someone you don’t know very well may be stressful at first, but once you work up the nerve and start talking to them, you’re sure to become good teammates. Let’s give it a try!”

The bonds that are strengthened off the field will pay dividends in communication that takes place on the field when the time comes. I told the players that their off-the-field behavior would significantly impact the outcomes of their matches. As a result, in the reports we received after road trips and training camps, the players summarized their impressions as follows.

“I‘m convinced that if we do what we need to off the field, that things will go well in our matches.”

“I felt that the reason why we were able to develop as well as we did on the field was because we had our act together off the field.”

And it’s not just the Japan national U20 rugby team. The All Blacks of New Zealand, a rugby powerhouse, also attach importance to what they do off the field as well as on it.

“Better people make better All Blacks.”

They believe that if you grow as a person, you grow as a team.

The stronger a team becomes in any sport around the world, the more importance they place on the off-the-field activities that are not directly related to the game. And it’s exactly the same for corporate management, organizational management, and team management. In order to achieve tangible results, it is necessary to pay attention not only to on-the-field activities, but also to what happens off the field.

And it’s also important to pay attention to the organizational culture that forms the foundation for both on- and off-the-field activities.

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.