There has been something of an uproar following the South African Sports Minister’s rant after Bafana Bafana crashed out of the 2014 African Nations Championship. The following was reported in the Independent Online on 20 January:
“What I saw was not a problem of coaching, it was a bunch of losers,” (Fikile) Mbalulatold a packed media conference in Cape Town on Monday.
“Their performance was not even lacklustre, it was useless. We must go to the drawing board. That mediocrity that was displayed yesterday… we must never wake up to that again.”
Much of the uproar has been about the fact that this was not motivating for the team; that to make these comments would crush the team and make them feel bad. No matter what your personal feelings are about their 3-1 loss to Nigeria, there are some important principles that are at play here.
- Nobody benefits from having smoke blown up their fundamental or any other orifice. We don’t do anyone any favours when we sugar-coat the truth.
- When highly paid professionals (in any field) are charged with serious deliverables they are accountable for their results – and should be held to account in a suitably stringent manner.
- Being at the top of any game is not for sissies. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
- Self-esteem is not developed through undeserved praise. Self-esteem is built through overcoming challenges – through beating the odds.
When there is something to be said to a highly paid, senior team of professionals, say it! Don’t beat around the bush, don’t accept excuses and don’t sugar-coat the pill. Choose where you say it, though – Fikile Mbalula should have ranted at the team in the locker room, and not at a news conference.
According to Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the most successful coaches in sports history, nothing is better than hearing: “Well done.” He says, “Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.” At the same time, giving clear criticism is important when your team members don’t meet expectations. In fact, Ferguson was famous for his hair dryer treatment. When he was angry with his players, he shouted at them with such ferocity that it was like having a hair dryer blown in your face.
I don’t think we should get all precious about the negative effects of a serious dressing down. We can all remember times when we got and deserved one – and for most of us, we took care not to repeat the transgression. We need to hold our business leaders accountable for their performance and behaviour; we need to hold our politicians accountable for their performance and their behaviour; and we need to do the same with our sports stars. Sometimes anger is appropriate and effective – but I don’t think it is for public consumption.