Dislocating your Expecations

2003 was a tough year for South African rugby fans.

For starters, our national team, the Springboks, was close to the laughing stock of world rugby.

In fact, it was so bad that our arch-rivals, the New Zealand All Blacks, put 50 points on us at a canter.

To make matters worse, England, under coach Clive Woodward, were thriving.

While we were easily bundled out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals (our worst result), the English went on to claim the trophy.

The Book

It was inevitable that there was the book that came out, detailing England’s road to victory.

While I wasn’t particularly keen to re-live the journey of England rising above South Africa, I was intrigued in how they turned things around from easy-beats to World Cup winners.

During a moment of ego-swallowing strength, I bought the book.



Dislocated Expectations

One of the key factors of the rise and success of England rugby was built on a Royal Marine term: Dislocated Expectations.

The Royal Marines understand that the best-laid plans, no matter who planned them, will almost definitely become unraveled during a mission.

Whether it’s the equipment, the landscape, the weather, the enemy or any other conceivable thing, the plans will go awry, and those that are prepared to adjust to the new scenario are those that will survive.

“… an attitude… to adjust..”

Dislocated Expectations is an attitude to prepare and plan; and then be prepared and planned to adjust to the proverbial curve ball.

Think: Expect the Unexpected.

A quick note to point out: adopting the term doesn’t imply that every conceivable scenario should be planned, rather the it’s a mindset to understand the plans are a starting point and a commitment to stay nimble.

It’s a pledge to be adaptable.

[For the astute reader, you might already be thinking ‘growth mindset’ and ‘Anti-fragility’.]


Examples in Sport

Looking around we see it too often where:

  • A coach plans the season as if none of their key players will get injured or suspended.
  • Practices are mainly unopposed; or drills are closed.
  • Only prefect scenarios are rehearsed.
  • Travel schedules are optimised.
  • There is only one game plan.
  • Talent ID pathways are linear, with equi-distant stepping-stones.

In each of the above-listed examples, we can all picture the look on the faces of the involved when things go awry: panic.

Something changed and they weren’t prepared to deal with change, they were only prepared to deal with what they thought (wished?) would happen.



On a personal note, how do your Athlete’s attitudes rate against the following questions?

  • How does your team respond to being down an early score? Or losing a key player? Or a biased official?
  • How do your athletes react to a cancelled flight? A changed venue? A hotter/colder/wetter day than predicted?
  • What happens if training/warming up/the team has been disrupted?

If the answers are not terribly positive (recognising this is the first step!) it might be a valuable exercise to introducing this into your program.


Integrating ‘Dislocated Expectations’ into your Program

There are 3 easy steps to integrating this mindset into your program.

1)   Introduce the term. The simple act of understanding the term, what it means and what it looks like is a great start. Make it part of many conversations.

2)   Gradually, progressively introduce ‘planned dislocations’. In your preseason, intentionally have a rushed warm up, or tell the bus driver to take a detour. In training, ‘forget’ essential equipment, or get your athletes to train using each other’s equipment. Start small and build from there.

3)   Reward the behaviour you desire. Whether it’s an ’Adaptability Rank’ or public praise, reward those athletes who recognise that expectations have been dislocated and seamlessly adapt to the new situation.

Looking back to that 2003 World Cup winning English team, there were many reasons they were crowned the champions but I dare say that being able to adapt to dislocated expectations was fundamental.

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