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G-o-a-t-s and Scapegoats

Goats and scapegoats have been in the news this week. The GOAT – greatest-of-all-time-tennis-player, Novak Djokovic, has had quite enough attention. I’m more interested in the scapegoats.


If there’s one place I would like to have been an invisible fly on the wall (or in the huddle!) this week, it was in the circle where Gareth Southgate spoke to his team after England lost the final of Euro 2020 on penalties. I was so curious to know what he said to his team at that difficult time. The match commentators repeatedly reminded us that the tired country ‘needed a boost after the last Covid-ridden months’. At the end of the last vital penalty shoot-out, three black men, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho all failed to ‘get the ball in the back of the net’. The three distraught young men and the exhausted members of the team had ‘failed’ to do what they were there for and bring the Euro trophy home. How were they and the team going to handle the defeat? How were their supporters throughout the country going to handle the defeat?


Sure enough, when I arrived in one of our local shops the next morning, there were two men talking about the football and the missed penalties. The racist undertones were clear. If they’d chosen white players, we might have won. Someone had to take the blame – play the race card!


Watching the coverage made me ask me how many groups I know where people handle failure successfully rather than scapegoating? Who is modelling that process for all of us? Definitely not the government who this week deprived underprivileged countries by cutting the aid budget. At this time of pandemic uncertainty, huddling in our bubbles and ‘safeguarding’ against ‘the other’ has become a way of life, how can we all learn to build cohesive groups where blame is not a way of life? Who is teaching groups how to deal with failure? Gareth Southgate, of course!


Since I couldn’t listen to the post-match briefing, I had to content myself with listening to his post-match press conference. Reporters obligingly asked him, ‘What did you say?’


So here's what I learned there about Southgate’s rules for handling group failure:


1. Name the feelings in the group honestly – ‘desolation and desperation’ were theirs.

2. Recognise team members’ commitment: ‘They’ve given everything they could’.

3. Know and name the value of individual contributions to the group.

4. Understand that failure breeds loneliness. He repeated: ‘none of them is on their own’- especially the distraught Bukayo Saka.

5. Remind everyone of their achievements individually and previously.

6. Describe the popularity of players despite challenges.

7. Acknowledge honestly that there are lessons to be learnt.

8. Know the time for analysis and lesson-learning will come – but not in the low after defeat!

9. Quote other witnesses to success, ‘The Duke of Cambridge had thanked and praised the team.’

10. Own and emphasise your own responsibility for choices and take pride in each of the team members.


Maybe Gareth Southgate is a different kind of GOAT – greatest of all-time team-builder! Here’s to more of us competing for the title!

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