When I am not consulting my other passion is coaching rugby. I am the women’s rugby coach at Penn State and also the USA Women’s National Team coach. I have consulted a lot with sports programs in helping them become high performing teams and have worked a lot in coach development.
So the question that interests me within sport is why there is such little innovation and difference in the tactics. If you look at any sport, whether it is soccer, football, rugby or any field invasion sport (as they call it) you see teams playing pretty much the same way. In fact innovation is so rare in sport that you can spot the new ideas very easily (Moneyball for baseball, Wildcat offense for football).
So why is there a lack of innovation in sport? It is actually the same challenge in most conservative industries and business – a risk adverse attitude. Innovation requires being open to failure, and in sport that is not tolerated. To be willing to do something different than your competitors you need to embrace the risk. Coaches are naturally conservative people, and especially in American sport where coach education is primarily based on the apprenticeship model – work as an assistant, then become a head coach – which does not allow for new ideas and approaches.
One of the other main drivers in sport is the concern about embarrassment. If I do something very radical and lose then I take the responsibility. If I do the same thing and fail, I can deflect the blame to others. There is an interesting study on penalties in soccer and how embarrassment prevents kickers from doing the most logical kick (kicking it straight!).
Is it possible to create and innovation process with sport? Taking the problem through testing to launch?