03 August 2015

Mark Warburton just gets 'it'


by Alex Oliver | Contributor

Mark Warburton just gets it.

I’m writing this with a big smile on my face, the positive vibes amongst the support are as high as I’ve seen them in ages. This is the break we as fans deserve for all the shit we’ve been through. Apologies for the colourful language, but it’s the only way to sum up the previous four years.

I have touched on culture change in previous blogs (you can read them: here and another one: here); Mark Warburton is getting this right to a T. Of course effective change doesn’t take place at the drop of a (magic) hat, but the transformation we’ve undertaken in under two months is staggering.

At a basic level Warburton has transformed Rangers from a high performance team to a high performing team. The over-riding reason for this can probably be attributed to his football philosophy. But having a philosophy alone is not enough; people need to buy into it for it to work. This predominantly applies to the players, but as we have seen with the relative overhaul in the squad this has been less of a sticking point. 

The spine of the side is mainly what Warburton has brought in, thus almost certainly buy into what Warburton is trying to achieve here. Of the players that remain, Kenny Miller to me sticks out more than anyone to be the one conveying the messages passed down from the management aka a cultural architect. So here, we’ve already got the team functioning in an effective manner. Although we are not quite there yet the early signs are absolutely positive. When this team clicks, we will be capable of matching anyone.

The environment, of course, is changing but it takes more than a swish of a wand. The right training environment does develop anyone’s ability in a given domain. Subsequently, creating an optimal training environment will in time produce high performing players, and if the team training is right will produce a high performing team. 

It’s been documented that Warburton is in the Auchenhowie training complex at 6 a.m. every morning. Sipping a cup of coffee at his desk, Warburton is already planning for the training and games ahead. As the old saying goes, ‘you get out what you put in’, with the coaching staff putting this much planning and preparation into performance, you would expect it to be contusive of favourable outcomes. The early evidence suggests that this is indeed the case. The training environment is hidden away, so I can’t really comment on it in further detail, but from the outside looking in it appears to be working.

In order to make such an environment work, high quality coaches are required. I’m fairly confident we possess two excellent coaches in Mark Warburton and Davie Weir. But for the purposes of this blog to keep it reasonably short and sweet, we can look to Warburton as a coach. There are many key skills identified in sports psychology literature pertaining to effective coaching. I plan to create a profile of Mark Warburton at a later date which will explore these and elaborate on them in further detail.

Communication involves the likes of knowing your player; the construction of a solid working relationship and allows a player and coach to know what each expects from one and other. Several players have mentioned that Warburton has spoken to players individually, the manager exploring what each player wanted, and what player aimed to achieve. It seems really basic stuff, which it is! However, it’s something which is required if we’re going to have everyone in the team pulling in the same direction; something which did not appear to happen in recent years. And in order to get people pulling in the same direction – embedding such philosophies – it is almost certain that Warburton will have set a series of targets for players, individually, and the team to achieve. The assessment of these will be on-going and under constant review.

This leads us towards goal setting. Goal setting is a powerful and frequently used motivational tool which possesses a lot of empirical support. When it comes to what uses they have for Rangers, there are undoubtedly several. More immediate term goals are likely to be centred on achieving the new style of football to a set standard – passing completion and chance conversion, for example. These act as a stepping stone and a staged progress to a long-term goal (a change in football philosophy) but should offer some challenge to the team too. A team is likely to have public goals e.g. win the league, but will also have goals which are kept privately within a team.

With the league season just about to get underway and two positive cup results in the bag fans are upbeat for the season ahead. From my perspective as a fan, I’m buzzing. From my perspective as a psychologist, I’m buzzing. Warburton knows how a team environment works, he knows how to get the best out of players, he knows what the fans want, and he knows what skills he needs to manage. But most of all, Mark Warburton knows what it means to manage the club.

In short, Mr. Warburton just gets it.

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