Recruiting For A Major Sports Tournament

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By Jas Singh

Perhaps the most difficult type of recruitment at all, is one that is known publicly. Coaches having to pick sports teams have an unenviable task – with passionate fans watching them everything is scrutinized heavily. Especially in a major tournament. And even more especially if results don’t go well.

Recently the cricket world cup started. The show piece of the cricketing world and event that only happens every four years. And like every major sporting event there was plenty to talk about even before the event began.

Should Australian captain Michael Clarke have been selected even though his fitness is a major doubt? Should England have given a re-call to their ex-star batsmen Kevin Pietersen? Are the holders India making a mistake leaving out last tournaments man-of-the-series Yuvraj Singh?

I have to be honest, right now I’m not an expert at recruiting in the sporting industry. However, I was surprised when I found that there has been very little research conducted at all by even the largest sports science establishments on major tournament squad selection.

Here though are a few points that could be considered:

1) Form

The principle of form or momentum has been understood for sometime in sports. Put simply, teams and players that perform better today are more likely to perform better tomorrow. In other words a player who scores more goals or makes more interceptions today is likely to perform at a similar level tomorrow.

Form is considered the most important factor in predicting performance and the factor that is given most weighting by bookmakers when they calculate game and player odds. The funny thing is, the actual reason why form is so important is still highly debated – some researchers believe it is because form is an indicator of increased ability, whilst others believe it is due to increased confidence – that people who have performed better in the recent past are more likely to be confident in the next game. And confidence has definitely been shown to increase performance.

But form alone is not enough. Especially in high pressure situations – which major tournaments often are.

2) Past achievement

Nearly every major tournament has a will-he or won’t-he story. Will Tiger be picked for the Ryder Cup? Should England give David Beckham a World Cup spot?

Fans especially love a fairytale ending. Since major tournaments are often so nerve-racking we tend to have an affinity for hero worship and trusting those who have saved us in the past.

However this issue is a much larger grey area for the selectors. For every legendary comeback there is also the criticised emotional decision. This seems to be particularly true for players approaching the end stages of their careers.

Most coaches tend to value previous major tournament experience and so the general trend seems to be a mixture of both newer and more experienced players. There are some players who do seem to perform better in major tournaments than normal seasonal competition (e.g. Germany’s forward Miroslav Klose) but there is very little hard evidence that supports this.

3) Fitness

With major tournaments often being the pinnacle of sports it’s no surprise that players and teams will try and do whatever they can to play. However with often tournaments taking place at the end of intensive club seasons and with usually more competitive games within a shorter period of days, its not surprising that fitness is a massive consideration.

History is littered of major tournaments where the star payer was “rushed through” only to make limited impact. Occasionally the gamble pays off, but often it ends in disaster.

Yet it takes a big call on the behalf of selectors to leave out a big name. Especially if the player themselves believe they are fit to take part which is often the case.

That’s why many national teams now do formal fitness tests for all players before selecting their final squad.

4) “Surprise Factor”

Major tournaments are usually “knock-out” affairs ending with a final between two teams. Because of this they are usually high pressure occasions with often a “cat-and-mouse” approach as both teams try to figure each other out. Often teams can even adopt an outright defensive approach – which can even be boring to watch.

With high profile players and endless competitor data available both teams usually know what to expect. They prepare to nullify their opponents and nowadays even employ an army of data analysts to do this.

However the very best sporting coaches use the element of surprise. They often pick teams that the opponent may not be prepared for – hoping to take advantage during the game.

Whether it is young raw talent or an existing player being used in a different position, choosing a team that is flexible and that can “surprise” opponents can be key to success.

Conclusion

Hiring when the expectations of fans is on your shoulders is a big challenge.

It requires consideration of many factors, and usually everyone else has a strong opinion on what is important. Hiring managers need to have a strong mind and a balanced hiring plan.

Who would you select for the next World Cup?

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