11 November 2015

What motivating factors are at play when a player considers signing for a club?

by Alex Oliver | Contributor

Given the recent fall out in recent days over ‘advantages gained’ by Rangers use of an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT), Scottish football fans believe that Rangers players gained an advantage through the use of EBTs.

Rangers acted legally - and that’s important to note. I’ll spare further detail as it’s been discussed by many everywhere else.

The way in which many of the media are shouting you would think Rangers were implementing a systemic use of a performance enhancing drug. In fact, they have made that comparison. Parallels have been drawn with Lance Armstrong. Let’s just take a moment to put this in perspective. Performance enhancing drugs cause bodily changes. The changes subsequently help an athlete achieve that marginal gain - so often the difference between success and failure.

Money (extrinsic) is not an effective long-term motivator. Period. Read any psychology textbook on theories surrounding motivation. In short monetary motivation does not produce sustained success.

That’s right, if you want the best, sustained, performances out of people you better intrinsically motivate them. And it is a manager’s job to deliver exactly that. So what do we mean by this? Well we can draw on lots from the work of Carol Dweck. Simply put, some people will seek to improve performance on a task - if they believe they can improve their abilities they have a ‘growth mindset’. This is especially the case in athletes participating at the highest level. They need to continually seek this improvement to maintain competitiveness.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘fixed mindset’, these people believe things such as ability are unchangeable traits. Already we can see this isn’t the typical view of athletes at the highest level.

Since the turn of the millennium Rangers have had some of the best coaches in European football, namely: Dick Advocaat, Alex McLeish and Walter Smith. In fact, at the time, Paul Le Guen was a well regarded manager too - so he too can be used as we bring this discussion forward.

So it certainly cannot be disregarded that several players signed for Rangers because they believed the coaching staff at the time would be the best to bring their game on to a new level. Indeed, this may particularly be the case with the Oranje invasion under Advocaat. Of course, Dick Advocaat is a legend in his own right in Dutch football and is regarded as one of the finest managers to come out of the Netherlands. 

Which young Dutch footballer wouldn’t want to play under him - and in some cases again. Dick, of course, was a manager at youth-level in the national team set-up during the nineties. Arguably, Giovanni Van Bronckhurst demonstrates this more than anyone- and we all know what he went on to achieve in the game. Mikel Arteta could well fit this category under the management of Alex McLeish. Mikel may have felt his opportunities at Barcelona weren’t there and he needed to be somewhere which would help him improve as a footballer. 

And, you could say importantly learn how to deal with the more rough and tumble style of the British game. This is just two of a whole host of players who may well have joined Rangers to add a new dimension to their game in order to better equip them for their careers. On the other hand, moving somewhere to play week-in, week-out because you love the game can also constitute as being intrinsically motivated. 

Ronald De Boer is on record saying regular first team football is why he chose Rangers over Manchester United. He simply wanted to play regular football. That’s right, financial gain was not his reason for signing for Rangers.

Moreover, throughout the last decade Rangers were playing at the highest level in European competition and, naturally, players will be motivated to play at such a level. So yet again for a player wanting to test himself in the Champions League Rangers becomes a viable option. There is also this idea of using Rangers as a stepping stone to play in the English Premier League and yes, you could argue there’s an element of extrinsic motivation in there somewhere, but it is dwarfed by the fact many of these players came to Ibrox early in their careers to improve as footballers. 

In most cases, they have to in order to achieve their ‘dream move’. When you look at the coaches and the facilities you can reach the conclusion that Rangers created an environment conducive of high level performance. Take Auchenhowie, for example, the first dedicated training complex in Scotland- and one of the most technologically advanced, state-of-the-art training grounds in European Football. 

With sports science feeding in, and other means of analysis, Rangers were ahead of their rivals. But not through illicit means. This technology provided feedback to players and coaches, and subsequently enabled players to target areas of performance which needed fine-tuning. This feeds into growth mindset. Players want to improve, they see facilities which will enable this, subsequently they want to sign. 

It would be incredibly naive, and wrong, to suggest players only moved to Rangers for an ‘EBT’. It really could be as simple as they thought their move to Ibrox would improve themselves as a footballer. Lots of money is thrown about in football, no question, but the best footballers in the world are motivated by continually wanting to improve and produce world class performances. At Rangers, consistency and winning is demanded by the fans. 

Players who weren’t motivated to continually seek to improve their game were quickly found out and were did not last long. And as I touched upon earlier- money is not a good motivator for consistent success. Rangers’ successes in the 00s came down to being better equipped- and optimal motivation would have featured prominently. 

In the years rivals were successful, they were better equipped. The best equipped team will subsequently produce better performances. 

Ultimately football is won on the field, and the team who can cope better with whatever is thrown at them will prevail.