The Leicester City Effect

Last week I spoke at the Science and Football Conference at the home of English Football, St Georges Park. At the time Leicester City were all but crowned champions and much of the discussion in and around the conference was about their amazing season. Since being crowned champions we have all fallen in love with the story and every man and his dog has been trying to figure out the secret of their success. I've listened to countless radio shows and watched numerous TV interviews where 'experts' have discussed the 'secret to their success'. I dread to think how many column inches have been given up to discussions about cryotherapy chambers and beetroot juice!

And this is the problem with modern professional sports like football

Sport science can sometimes end up being driven by sound bites and the cool things we think the successfull clubs may be doing. The presentation I delivered last week centred around 'Marshmallow Coaching' in high performance sport and it struck me that there will be lots of people looking at the success Leiceter City FC have had this year, reading articles about supplements, training gadgets and big fridges and falling into the trap of becoming a marshmallow coach!

What's a 'Marshamallow Coach'? Well it's a coach that becomes easily distracted by the promise of a 'quick fix' or 'reward' instead of sticking to their plan (which is usually a good plan by the way!) and holding out for the big pay off later down the line. They read the latest article on how a similar team has created success (normally through drinking a funky coloured juice or using a really expensive piece of training kit) and they want to put that intervention in place immediately.

The big problem with taking the marshmallow approach of 'instant graftification' is that it disrupts continuity and CONTINIUTY is a key ingredient for sucess, particulalry in sports like professional football that are so volatile and results driven. But continuity isn't sexy. In fact it's pretty dull. We want purple juice and spiritual healers!

I don't know what the secret to Leicester City's success was this season but I can gaurantee it wasn't achieved through marshmallow coaching. They may or may not have used some or all of the training interventions that have been discussed Ad nauseum this week in the popular press, but I'll take an educated guess and suggest that they were using the same interventions last season when they were almost dumped out of the Premiership (we didn't have people clammering to get an insight into their training stategies then, did we?!).

What I imagine the Leicester City sport science and medicine team did this season was stick to a bigger plan that tackled many of the simple things that they felt were important for success. They worried about the 98% rather than chasing the 2% marginal gains (which by the way is one of the most overused terms in sport and only works for a few very special organisations - check this article by Alasdair Lane on why it doesn't always work in football).

So here's the take home message. Forget what you're reading in the popular press, it may or may not be true. I'm not having a pop at Leicester City FC, it's a great story and an amazing achievement but I urge you to turn your bullshit detector up to full when you read anything in the popular press that hints at the 'secret to their success'. There's always more to it. It may or may not have worked for Leicester City. It probably won't work for your club! Stop stuffing your face with marshmallows, take the long-term approach to success and delay your gratification for a bigger pay off later down the line.

Figure out why the basics that give the biggest returns aren't being done and then find the solution.

Well done Leicester City FC