What It Takes To Win

What It Takes To Win: Identifying Success Factors

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Our latest research paper, What It Takes To Win: A Winning Formula For Elite Teams, discusses a model that helps sports organizations find clarity and generate strategy around the factors that create competitive advantage in their context. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the framework and discussing how organizations can use it to lay the foundations for sustainable success.

Click here to download the paper for free.


Within every successful organization is the knowledge and understanding of how to succeed. However, in elite sports, it remains unusual for organizations to possess the focus, dedication and discipline to truly understand what constitutes ‘winning’ in their own unique context.

One of the major impediments to the codification and understanding of success factors in sport is organizational reliance on a small group of individuals. Many sports organizations with great strategies and plans for their development pathways and academies follow a different approach to the first team, where the philosophy is dictated by whichever head coach happens to be in charge at the time. This prevents alignment, increases key person risk, and obstructs all aspects of the organization from benefitting from a consistent vision that is geared towards maximizing its key competencies.

Developed by Dave Reddin, Sportsology consultant and former Head of Team Strategy & Performance at the Football Association, What It Takes To Win (WITTW) is a methodology to help organizations create clarity and alignment around the factors that generate competitive advantage. In simple terms, WITTW enables the determination and deconstruction of the performance-related elements that need to be present for a defined level of success to be achieved.

Understanding Contributions to Success

Despite the mountains of data and analytics that are available, team sports cannot be sensibly evaluated in a purely deterministic way – there’s too much that is important but difficult to measure. However, not being able to measure something is no excuse for not analyzing and interrogating it. WITTW is not an attempt to turn players and coaches into automatons, or to create an algorithm for winning. WITTW for team sports is a process aimed at blending evidence and experience, expertise and creativity, and accepting the role of data where it can illuminate the key WITTW factors and standards; this then contributes to an improved level of performance.

The outcome of the WITTW process must be holistic and proportional to identify the individual factors that are most influential in creating success over time. Each of these factors is then presented in terms of its relative importance to the overall result as not all things are equal. By following the model and evaluating information from all elements of the organization (i.e. talent identification, culture, operations, technology and communication), teams can establish a clear representation of where resources need to be directed in order for the desired outcomes to be achieved. 

Arriving at this set of factors involves the consideration of the situation in which the team operates and an evaluation of the unique challenges and opportunities that exist. This understanding of context is critical to the creation of a successful model and strategy, as is a detailed definition of the standards required to win.

Evidence and Experience

Some, but not all, factors lend themselves to the use of data to define the required standard, but this will only ever be part of the answer. Much more important is a practical and detailed description of the standard in a way that makes the narrative easy to understand. For example, it’s relatively straightforward to find data to define standards required to convert third downs, or set plays to goals. What is more difficult – and more important – is to define what needs to exist to reach that outcome, such as frameworks, play options, movement patterns, teaching modalities, and time dedicated to practice each week.

That information can only come from the development of a WITTW model capable of dealing efficiently with a comprehensive and diverse information set. To achieve the most effective outcome, it’s crucial to embrace complexity and ambiguity and do the best job of making sense of it, while acknowledging that complete knowledge is impossible.

A diverse set of information sources, both objective and subjective, are instrumental to the WITTW process. Contextual data and ‘market information’ are important, but the value of narrative-based experiences from inside and outside an organization should not be undervalued, nor should the expert opinion of a trusted but diverse group of people. The key is to create an environment from which a range of expertise can inform decision making.

Of course, in one sense there is no such thing as too much information, but conversely a wealth of data can create extra layers of complexity without delivering additional value. The Pareto principle – that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes – can be a useful guide in such situations. This is not ‘satisficing’ in the classic sense, but simply understanding that there are limits on time and whether there are genuine benefits to extending that time searching for optimal answers that may not exist.  

Notwithstanding, there is a clear requirement to conduct a comprehensive process of evaluation, but also the need to ensure that this is combined with an open-minded creativity to look for solutions from unexpected sources. The role of expertise is critical in the final analysis, but this cannot be narrow expertise. The expertise that is required sees the bigger picture, drawing evidence from as wide a field as possible and having broad enough experiences to inform sensible, clear decisions on what matters most.

Image: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

Interested in reading more about What It Takes To Win? Our research team’s latest paper, What It Takes To Win: A Winning Formula for Elite Teams, is available to download now.