NMBS Conference 2014: The DNA of a Champion

Published:  23 June, 2014

The keynote speaker at this year's Conference was Sir Clive Woodward OBE. A former rugby player who won 21 caps for England and twice toured with the British and Irish Lions, he went on to be named England's first full-time head coach, before joining the British Olympic Association and becoming director of sport for Team GB. His keynote speech focused on what it takes to become a champion on a personal level.

The keynote speaker at this year's Conference was Sir Clive Woodward OBE. A former rugby player who won 21 caps for England and twice toured with the British and Irish Lions, he went on to be named England's first full-time head coach, before joining the British Olympic Association and becoming director of sport for Team GB. He has also spent 18 years in the business world.

"I want to focus on people," he began. "How you create champions like those we saw during London 2012."

Sir Clive asked delegates what makes people come up with champion ideas, explaining his time in the sporting world has taught him that "great teams are made up of great individuals".

Sir Clive said four things make up the DNA of a champion: talent, learning, thinking and hard work.

He said that successful people had to have a huge amount of talent, but that this alone would never be enough to ensure success. "The people in this room have a huge amount of talent," he said. "But your competitors also have talent - on its own it's not enough. Talent will get you into a business or a particular role, but it's the starting position, not the finishing one."

While you may have talent, Sir Clive believes you also need 'teachability', to be able to learn and take on knowledge. "You're either a sponge or a rock, but you need to have a thirst for knowledge," he said. "When people first join a business they're often a sponge, but after a while they can become a rock and that can hinder your chance of success."

Sir Clive stressed that it's not just about intellect, but about having a passion for learning and for your subject as well.

When he took over as the England Rugby team's first full-time head coach, one of the first things he did was to give every player a laptop and make them dramatically improve their IT skills, believing that "whoever wins in IT tends to win".

While the media ridiculed his decision at first, the players' improved IT skills enabled them to use state-of-the-art software to examine their tactics and playing techniques, giving them more data on their own skills and their competitors' as well. 

"The data we had gave us facts and figures, and after every game the players had to go away and analyse their performance, then come back and present to me. It made a huge difference - they really started to think about the game and take ownership of what they were doing."

Sir Clive also highlighted the ability to handle pressure as a key indicator of a champion. "A warrior is someone who performs well under pressure. In sport, that's quite straightforward - the key is understanding and defining it. People aren't born able to play under pressure, but it can be taught or coached and it's a vital skill if you're going to become a champion."

Most pressure, he said, comes as a result of time constraints, but Sir Clive believes that if you've practiced and rehearsed how you would deal with a given, pressured situation in advance, you'll be more likely to cope well with that situation when it occurs. If you find yourself in a high pressured situation that you haven't prepared for, however, he said you probably won't make the right choice.

"Winners perform at their best when the pressure is greatest," he said.

Sir Clive believes that you need an obsession for your work in order to become a champion, but that he believes this obsession is more about attention to detail than working crazy hours or sending emails at midnight. He went on to summarise some of the other key attributes he believes people need in order to have the right attitude to be a champion, namely:

  • Someone with incredible 'will'
  • A good team
  • Trust
  • Collaboration
  • Go 'beyond number one'
  • Punctuality
  • Enjoyment
  • Assume nothing
  • Responsibility.

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