The FIFA saga is not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away. It is here and now. Our game is being used and abused for personal gain, but what does it all mean, who is to blame and should we be surprised? We’ll look at the motivational systems involved in football’s governing body, as well as the impact of power and money – the sport’s very own dark side. Is it time for a rebellion?
At the moment it’s easy to cast FIFA’s departing president as the evil Emperor – Sepp, the “Sith Lord” who corrupts the Galactic Republic and turns it into his very own evil empire. But if Sepp is Sith, where are we in the FIFA saga? Will the Empire strike back, or is this a new hope? To figure this out, we really need to understand Sepp’s influence – as FIFA president is he the root of all evil or simply a figurehead? Think about it this way, is Blatter the Emperor or, in true “I am your father” fashion, is Sepp actually a Skywalker? Has he been corrupted by power and seduced by the dark side of “The Force”. Is he, in fact, Darth Vader?
The scientific theory we use to unravel the complexity of skill acquisition – systems theory – may help us appreciate FIFA’s Star Wars saga. Put simply, systems theory highlights the importance of context and environment. As coaches, we recognise that players are products of their environment. Considering this, can we appreciate that Sepp Blatter is a product of his environment too? If we recognise this, it becomes clear that FIFA’s problems are more widespread than one man and one organisation.
Taking a systems approach is about recognising that every system is part of larger series of systems. Each system exists as part of a larger one, in a series of interrelated, nested systems – like an ecosystem – that all influence each other. These systems are the environments and contexts within which we live, learn and develop. They are like a set of Russian Dolls, sitting within and shaping one another. The systems approach has been used to explain all sorts of phenomena, from atoms and cognitive processes to human societies and solar systems.
We can use this same approach to explain FIFA’s current situation, moving the focus to the systems that surround football’s governing body. This will allow us to shed light on some strange phenomena: questionable World Cup hosting bids; strange looking corporate sponsorships; and the commoditisation of players. On the surface the problem seems obvious – that FIFA is corrupt. But this is only the tip of the iceberg and it can be hard to know where the real problem lies: why do we have a corrupt system in the first place?
This line of thinking leads us down a deep, dark rabbit hole. But follow it down and we can see how this wider problem relates to the way we coach, how the mindsets of our players develop, why player-centred coaching is difficult and why developing creative football players is getting harder.
Whether it’s the Galactic Empire or FIFA, in an organisational setting a systems approach recognises that the individual is part of a group, which is part of an organisation, which is part of a national economy, which in turn is part of the larger global system and so on.
Using Sepp Blatter as an example, we can say he works as part of a group (FIFA’s executive committee), which has its own dynamics, relationships, motives and values. But where do these values come from? Well, the executive committee exists within FIFA, which is part of larger a political system of governance, which is embedded within the larger global system, driven by capitalism and the global economy. It is these dominant worldwide systems that shape people’s values and drive behaviour, and the same goes for FIFA.
When I take a systems approach, I look at each system from a motivational perspective. I try to understand how group dynamics, personal relationships and organisational structures are influenced by the motives of overarching systems. Understanding a system’s true motive is often complex and involves an understanding of how all the many systems are connected.
From a psychological needs perspective, the motivational part of a system is often called a “motivational climate”. In Sepp’s case, an argument can be made that the current capitalist, economic system has created a motivational climate that has corrupted his motives. From a coaching perspective it can be argued that the same overarching systems influence how we coach and the way players behave.
Within each system the motives, values and mindsets are the hidden energies that drive behaviour, for good or bad. Returning to our Star Wars metaphor, we can think about these hidden energies like The Force.
In Yoda’s words, The Force “surrounds and binds us”. Likewise from a systems perspective the motivational “force” provides a shared understanding, the “why” behind people’s behaviour. This force provides key connections between systems and the energy that drives behaviour within those systems. The concept and use of The Force is very similar to the concept and use of power – this is because our social evolution has taught us (or we have evolved) to value power above all else. In many cases a “systems power dynamic” (how power is symbolised, used and abused) will determine whether a system is good or bad for us.
Like The Force, the use of power has a dark side and a light side, and the types of motivational climates created by people in power determine which side dominates. “Need-supportive motivational climates” are created in systems whereby people with power (coaches, managers, CEOs, parents, politicians or Jedis) display behaviours which support autonomy and meet people’s needs. These behaviours include asking questions, valuing opinions and trusting people. Think Yoda! The people within this type of system are empowered and experience autonomous motivation – the good side of The Force.
In contrast, “controlling environments” emerge in systems in which people with power manipulate, exploit and pressure people into doing things.
This time, think Darth Vader. In these environments people are disempowered and controlling behaviours such as shaming, blaming and micromanaging radiate between people, throughout cultures and organisations. These behaviours destroy our innate creative tendencies. This is the power of the dark side – and the dark side of power.
But why do we value power so highly? Simply because society has evolved to believe it’s important. During our social evolution resources would become scarce, and at this point our power (which determines the social hierarchy) would dictate who got to eat and who went hungry. These simple primal drivers have created systems focused on dominance over people and resource. These systems require social comparison (to define success) and can lead us to the dark side – a scarcity mindset and a belief that there is “never enough”. These mindsets are now reinforced by the world’s relationship with money.
Money came into existence as a medium to facilitate trade; however, our economic systems have transformed money into the super-resource. The resource upon which all others depend: food, water, shelter etc. Today power and money could share the same definition. They both define social status, while facilitating control or dominance over people and resources.
Money has become the interwoven thread that connects many systems like economics, politics and education, and it is also the force that drives human behaviour within them. Unfortunately, systems dependent upon money drive behaviours and shape relationships that reinforce the “never enough” mentality. This creates the mindset of “money at all costs”. In these systems money has become the tool of the dark side, controlling and manipulating people.
Think of some of the world’s leading industries, exploiting their customers for financial gain. Their behaviours suggest they do not care about their customers or future generations. It is this type of exploitation that has corrupted capitalism and the people working, living and learning within this system. Money buys power and power can lead to money.
Power and money can corrupt. Anakin Skywalker was a cute kid with lots of potential, but he was “seduced
by the power of the Dark side” and transformed into the ultimate villain by the systems around him. As a child, Sepp Blatter presumably grew up with an innocent love of football. But when we watch Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader do we blame him? Or do we feel for him?
The Dark Side
The dark side of the force is society’s value in power and the scarcity mindset that controls our behaviour. The Dark side has corrupted capitalism and made money its magic wand to wield power. The influence of this corrupt global system has infiltrated the systems dependant on it. It has influenced the systems that surround football and is turning our players into commodities to be ruthlessly bought and sold. It’s no surprise, then, when players act like commodities, making decisions without consulting their conscience or considering fans’ feelings or their own sense of loyalty. When the world has let corrupt market systems shape the game, it’s hard to blame players for letting market forces determine where they play.
Football Organisations like FIFA operate within a corrupt capitalist system. The people within FIFA live and work within a “money at all costs” system that creates controlling environments and shapes mindsets around a “never enough” attitude to money. This is how we get those questionable World Cup hosting bids, strange looking corporate sponsorships, and the commoditisation of players.
With money corrupting power, we may all be in danger of becoming twisted shadows of our former selves with no personal integrity or sense of the greater good, just like Anakin Skywalker. Money’s controlling influence on our mindset and the greed it develops is a catastrophic side-effect of the current economic system. At a group level controlling environments can be seen to breed exploitation and corruption. On a much more personal level, controlling environments disempower the people in them, crush their creative tendencies, disengage their brains and leave them uninspired and disconnected.
In many ways coaching sessions are mini systems, which sit within the larger club system, which sits within the league, nested within the federation or association, embedded within the confederation, which is administered by FIFA. It’s no wonder that clubs or federations sitting within these controlling systems can’t help but create controlling environments, the radiating negative effects of which infiltrate our coaching sessions.
The “money at all costs” mindset becomes “win at all costs” in football, which shifts people’s motivation. “I want to coach/play” becomes “I have to coach/play”. This shift in motive leads coaches to display controlling behaviours which are all about the outcome. We become more controlling and less supportive of autonomy, asking fewer questions and giving more answers, always slipping towards a “command and control” style. In these environments our coaching becomes more Darth Vader and less Yoda, crushing our creativity and our players. We create an army of drones.
The continual commoditisation of football, led by FIFA’s Empire, may be the death of the beautiful game. We may be destroying the very thing we love: creative players. If we don’t start to recognise the motivational implications of the world’s dominant system, corruption will continue to flourish while creativity dies.
We all live, work and move within systems that influence our motives, values, mindsets and behaviours. We are all susceptible to the corrupting influence of power and money. But if we are to develop happy, healthy and creative football players, while also fulfilling our own potential, we need to be aware of, and rebel against the dark side of the force.
We rebel by using our power for good, supporting players’ needs and promoting autonomy. We rebel by taking a balanced approach to money in our lives, not letting it dictate who we are, what we do and how we play/coach. The rebellion against the dark side is recognising that the scarcity mindset is an evolutionary hangover. We don’t have to be controlled by it, or conform to social-comparison criteria; we can define our own success.
Finally, the key to this rebellion is creating systems that value empowerment, engagement, self- directed learning, integrity, open- mindedness, and social responsibility above all else (especially money). Promoting these values should be the goal of any football organisation. The rebellion is also recognising that Sepp Blatter may not be the only enemy. He is merely a product of the dominant system and the rebellion needs to change this system.
As coaches we must maintain our personal integrity and remember why we coach; for the players, so they can fulfill their potential. The rebellion starts here.
Cover Image: Chris McGrath / Staff
1: Montuori A. (2011). Systems Approach. In: Runco MA, and Pritzker SR (eds.) Enyclopedia of creativity, Second edition, vol. 2 pp. 414-421 San Diago: Academic Press.
2: Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C., & Soenens, B. (2010). The Decade Ahead: Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation and Achievement Advances in Motivation and Achievement. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
3: Buss, D. M. (1991). Evolutionary personality psychology. Annual review of psychology, 42, 459-491.
4: Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly, how the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. London: Penguin Group.
5: Kasof, J., Chuansheng, C., Himsel, A., & Greenberger, E. (2007). Values and creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 19(2-3), 105-122