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FC Barcelona: Walking the Talk

PDP Lead Researcher, James Vaughan examines the core values of FC Barcelona after a recent seminar with Joan Vila Bosch in New Zealand. James discusses intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in a player development context as well as challenging the now corporate juggernaut that is professional football.

 

*This is the first in a series of articles based on notes taken at a day long seminar with Joan Vila Bosch, director of methodology at FC Barcelona. This series is not a definitive guide to the seminar itself or FC Barcelona’s philosophy – it’s my interpretation linked to some exciting research.

Walking the talk is easy, but walking your own talk is the hardest thing:
Joan’s first message was simple, our job is to grow football and share ideas: “FC Barcelona have one idea, not ‘the idea’, and we are happy to share it.” According to Joan, FC Barcelona’s idea has evolved over 40 years and only came to fruition in the last 10 years. It’s an idea that many minds have shaped – Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola to name a few – FCB call this idea Our Game. We’ll call it ‘FCB’s Game’.

As well as bringing traditional definitions of success (titles, trophies etc.) the evolution of FCB’s Game has created an academy that has produced more professional players than any other – arguably the greatest achievement from our perspective.

Joan Vila Bosch is one of the heads of FCB’s department of methodology, a department created five years ago at the request of Pep Guardiola. The new department has four main objectives:

  1. Maintain and develop the club’s philosophy and style of play.
  2. Plan training programmes for Junior and Youth teams
  3. Provide continuous Coach Education within the club.
  4. Share and promote FCB internationally.

However, Joan says the ultimate goal is to unite science and football. To do this the department is using ecological psychology, dynamic systems and complexity theories to understand and optimise player and coach development.

Joan highlighted two major considerations that underpin this approach:

  1. He said, “Football is a complex game, so training must represent this.”
  2. And he presented a slide saying: “If they [the players, coaches, staff] don’t have the emotion and connection to what they are doing they won’t have the drive” (Gaudi).

These two considerations can be understood using (1) Non-Linear Pedagogy (NLP) and (2) the Self-Determined theory of motivation (SDT).

NLP (previously discussed by Mark Upton) recognises that every player’s development is a unique, highly individualised, uncertain and complex journey involving many types of systems and even more varied constraints: barriers, challenges, forks in the road, personal choices and social constraints etc.
SDT (as discussed in previous PDP articles) recognises that human beings only thrive when they experience feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness (ACR). A growing body of research suggests that these basic psychological needs may represent three evolved and universal human needs (or put another way three constraints upon the many human systems).

The link between NPL and SDT is highlighted in a new skill acquisition book (thanks to Sean Douglas for the recommendation). Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction (Chow, Davids, Button, & Renshaw, 2016).

Chapter 12 explains the NPL – SDT link, below is a brief summary.
“What is particularly attractive about aligning SDT with NLP is that it is underpinned by a theory of organismic needs. Individual needs can be seen as constraints to be considered within an NLP framework and people will act in order to meet these basic needs (Deci & Ryan, 2000). It could be argued that any skill acquisition process needs to satisfy these goals in order to be effective…Both models refer to organismic dimensions; that is to say, in NLP, skill fits the body rather than the body fitting the skill and self-determined behaviour is that which reflects the needs of the individual (Araújo & Davids, 2011; Deci & Ryan, 2002)”

Check out the book.

In my humble opinion SDT is the guiding light on the non-linear Player Development Journey, a light that maintains players’ emotional connection with what they are doing – playing football. SDT tells us that if players are in environments, and have relationships (peer-peer and coach-athlete) that fill these basic psychological needs, the motivation is in place for them to a) reach their potential b) experience psychological wellbeing and c) develop into good people and creative football players. This is why FC Barcelona have such an emphasis on emotional connection and club identity which is characterised by intrinsic values.

FBC Identity is everything – Deeper into SDT
“If they don’t have the emotion and connection to what they are doing they won’t have the drive” (Gaudi).
In Joan’s words the club’s values provide the compass for what they do, and how they do it.
This is crucial because our experiences of autonomy, competence and relatedness are shaped by our values and in many ways our values are the key to our motivation. Unfortunately, not all values are created equal when it comes to motivation: ego-fuelling extrinsic values like power, money, social status (the dominant values in Western society according to much research, including my own) promote controlling behaviours – shaming, blaming, gossiping, judging – that crush feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness. This leads to burn out, anxiety and poor performance.

On the other hand, intrinsic values (such as respect, humility, self-direction, engagement, task mastery) provide the platform for complex problem solving, adaptability and creativity because they create a space for players to experience autonomy, competence and relatedness.

(This is a complex topic and it took me 30,000 words to scratch the surface in my master’s thesis – so please don’t expect the full picture here).

As a simple theory: if a club’s identity is founded on good – intrinsic – values, and the majority of people in the club share these values, then a good the foundation is set. If these people understand how to embody these values in their daily activities (‘walk the talk’), a need supportive motivational climate can emerge. Walking the talk or walking our ‘shared values’ can increase feelings of basic psychological need satisfaction, setting the environment for the realisation of human potential.

According to a mountain of research on SDT, this is all about humans’ organismic growth tendencies (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). These are our evolved and innate desires to:

  1. De-value extrinsic goals and replace them with intrinsic goals.
  2. Internalise our social groups’ goals and values and use them to shape identity; and
  3. Experience autonomous motivation – which is, in part, the freedom to express ourselves; our identity, which is formed by our deepest values and these organismic growth tendencies.

Think about this as a (possible) practical example. When Pep Guardiola, in his first speech to FCB first team, reputedly said: “the goal is not to win titles, the goal is to develop a unique style of play” he simultaneously de-valued an extrinsic goal (titles) and replaced it with an intrinsic goal (playing style). He also realigned players’ competence criteria (definitions of success) with that of the academy: focusing on mastering a playing style. This allowed players to ‘express themselves’, specifically expressing the shared and personal value in ‘FCB’s Game’ – adopted, internalised and personally valued during their time at the academy. Because the players personally value FCB’s game they experience autonomy when playing FCB’s game.

However, for must of us (and most football clubs) the first step is knowing what your values are – what is your talk? The second step is figuring out how you’re going to walk your talk? Because a lot of people talk the talk, but very few, walk the walk.

As a quick comparison, when I ‘Google’ “FCB Barcelona club values” I found the #1 hit was their website and this page:

JV1

Listing – Respect, effort, ambition, teamwork and humility as core values with a clear meaning given in the context of the club followed by sub values.
The same Google search for LFC: “Liverpool football club values” led to this:

JV2

The first 3 hits are to do with financial valuation and the fourth is the club’s ‘corporate charter’. Is this a fitting depiction of Fenway Sports Group’s (FSG) values? Some might ask: why else would FSG align LFC with Dunkin Donuts as a major sponsor? Fan health? The same Google search with Manchester United leads to even more financially motivated hits – not surprising. At this stage it would be easy to blame the North American influence, and many will point out that Barcelona are a corporate machine too. But as the Scandinavian saying goes “there are degrees of hell”: Yes FCB play the corporate game (and subscribe to extrinsic values) but they also promote much needed intrinsic values and produce and promote a higher percentage of home-grown players. Are they doing more than most other clubs? Yes. Could other clubs do more…? Yes. I choose to believe that FCB are, in fact, as their motto suggest, ‘more than a club’.

Operating in a modern corporate world devoid of intrinsic values, FC Barcelona (like SDT) are a guiding light.

In his seminar, Joan explained that what happens ‘underground’, ‘behind the scenes’ and in the ‘boardroom’ (also discussed here) is massively important. At FCB everyone has the same idea, allowing the club to ‘walk the talk’ and embody their intrinsic values.

In the context of player development there is no point ‘walking the talk’ if the ‘talk’ (i.e. values) come from modern society’s obsession with money, power, greed and social status. Without clearly articulated intrinsic values – ‘the talk’ – and easily embodied actions – ‘the walk’ – clubs (and governing bodies etc.) will not create the environmental conditions that develop people and players.

Without the promotion of intrinsic values we leave people and players lost in a world dominated by ego-orientated extrinsic values that do not satisfy the basic psychological needs required for mental wellbeing.

This brings me to Joan’s final point: FCB believe that they have a fantastic tool to influence the child and society. Fundamentally FCB (and PDP) believe football can be a vehicle for social change – a tool to make the world a better place and right the wrongs of a corporate world fixated on extrinsic rewards that reinforce extrinsic values.

Walking the talk is easy, but walking your own talk is the hardest thing.

For a better explanation of the seesaw relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic values, check out this fantastic TED talk from Tom Crompton and follow their movement at Common Cause.

Many thanks to Auckland City FC for organising this Coach Development opportunity, to José Manuel Figueira for translating the content and Joan himself for presenting in New Zealand.

References:

Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., Button, C., & Renshaw, I. (2016). Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition : an introduction. New York: Routledge.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic verses extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: Another look at the quality of academic education. Educational psychologist, 41, 19-31.

Cover Image:

Nou Camp, Barcelona.  Photo: Dacasdo / Depositphotos.com

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