Get the Fundamentals Right First

It’s been a pretty good year for sports in Brisbane. The big highlight for me was watching the Brisbane Roar win their first A-League football title at the start of the year. The did it by going undefeated over the last 28 games of the season. They’ve won their first three games of the new season too, running their streak to 31 games.

The fast start is encouraging for a few reasons. The first is that they lost a lot of players in the past year through transfers – including team captain Matt McKay and their first three strikers. In addition, the other teams in the league haven’t stood still. Sydney and Melbourne Victory both made major signings. And, of course, just as Nick Gruen describes for the AFL, other teams in the league have tried to come up with tactics to combat the Roar system.

The primary approach this year so far has been to try to press the Roar over the full field instead of letting their defenders bring the ball to midfield unobstructed while the rest of the team sets up. This is how the Roar’s ex-captain Craig Moore outlined it:

Brisbane Roar’s game is built all around passing and moving, and rotating of places as well. They move the ball very well, and teams have struggled with them not only moving the ball at speed but also that they change positions.

Once Brisbane get into that rhythm, as they did against Central Coast, they look like they’ll just take off where they left last season. It’ll be hard work to get a result off Brisbane Roar but it needs hard work.

That’s exactly what Sydney tried last weekend and Gold Coast tried on Friday. The results were 2-0 and 3-0 wins for the Roar. Here are the highlights from Friday’s game – pay close attention to what the announcers say after the third goal:

Over their undefeated streak, the Roar have been absolutely dominant over the last 15 minutes of games. Why? Because they’re the fittest team in the league. Friday the game was close for 70 minutes, and then the Roar scored 2 to put it away. The same thing happened the week before. In his post-game interview, Gold Coast captain Michael Thwaite said that you have to get to Brisbane early, because no one else is as fit as they are.

This is astonishing in several different ways. Not all of the other A-League teams can afford to go and buy international superstars as Sydney and Melbourne did. And not every team has a coach that can come up with a great tactical plan like Miron Bleiberg did on Friday. But all of them could be as fit as the Roar if they just put the work in.

The thing that astonishes me is that this is the easiest part of the Roar system to copy, and no one has.

We see this in business too. Firms often look for quick fixes, like hiring stars or coming up with novel strategies. But none of this does you any good if you’re not willing to work as hard as your competition.

You have to get the fundamentals right first. Working hard doesn’t guarantee winning, but it’s an awfully important first step.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.