Shooting down the old stories

The enduring power of story to change hearts and minds has been refreshingly demonstrated by Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup team who inspired a sometimes delirious nation and exceeded some lowly expectations before the tournament had even started in Russia.

His determination to liberate his team from the negative story of past campaigns in which he had also played his part, was mighty impressive. How many of us watching that penalty shoot-out against Colombia were anticipating yet another failure, but instead the young players kept their nerve and won it for the first time, thus writing a new chapter in our singular World Cup history.

But writing that new story is much more than simply setting an intention to change the outcome (something we all try and often fail to do with New Year’s resolutions), it’s the application of our unique human ability to imagine a different future and then to set about living it. No other species has this capacity and yet too often we remain trapped in the thrall of the old stories which seem to have a disproportionate influence on how we behave.

In order to make that leap into a different future we need the support and inspiration of others who encourage us to believe in all of who we are to meet the challenges that paralyse those who’ve tried before. Southgate’s leadership achieved that by embedding a new culture, built on mutual trust, which hadn’t seemed possible with the previous divided generation of self-absorbed players.

He changed the way they thought about themselves, free of the contaminated perspectives of the naysayers and got them to believe in a new story in which they were the creators

That’s quite some achievement, especially when history weighs so heavily in the memories of a disbelieving public whose joy can quickly turn to anger and recrimination when the results fail to give them what they want.

And now that football and the team have come home, albeit without a trophy but with a huge amount of pride restored, it’s Gareth Southgate who’s now in high demand on the after dinner circuit with audiences keen to know how he did what he did. I wager he won’t be sharing a series of quick fix techniques because he knows that it takes considerably more to re-write a story. All the many characters have to want to be part of the new narrative and that’s his commendable contribution – he got them to believe in themselves, but which is considerably easier when you don’t have an old story to forget.


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