Ownership over excuses

There has been a lot of noise on social media about England’s performance at the weekend, and some of the lessons relating to leadership and high performance sport.

For me, one of the most powerful takeaways was the responsibility for failure.

Harry Kane was under immense pressure taking that second penalty. He had the weight of a nation’s hopes on his shoulders. The world was watching. And he fluffed it. 

Maybe he changed a tactic last minute and the gamble didn’t pay off. Maybe the pressure was too great and he tried too hard. Maybe it was just bad luck, one of the 1% of shots that Harry Kane doesn’t nail.

Most of us will never know why it happened. Maybe he doesn’t even know why.

But what’s interesting isn’t that he fluffed it. High performers fluff it all the time. 

What’s interesting is the way he took responsibility for the failure, and for the loss of the game. 

There were plenty of excuses that could have been found. Decisions by the ref that could have (justifiably) been questioned.

There were misses and mistakes by other players too. Each one could have shifted the dynamic of the game in England’s favour.

But Harry Kane stood up afterwards and owned it, citing his failure as the reason England’s World Cup dream is over. (Conveniently forgetting the fact that he’s also the reason it stayed alive as long as it did!)

I often struggled to take ownership for failure, particularly as a young athlete. I wanted to latch on to a reason why I hadn’t performed. Absolve myself from the responsibility of a poor result.

In Kane’s language, I wasn’t very good at ‘taking it on the chin’. Accepting that I didn’t have what it took on the day.

It’s something I got a bit better at through my career – it still stung when stuff didn’t work out, but I started to recognise ownership as more commendable than excuses. But doing it with 23 million people watching is another level!

I’m sure the stinging is pretty acute right now for the England team. I hope there is some pride in the reflections too. 

I don’t always think footballers are the best role models for young people. But ownership of success AND failure is rare, and should be applauded 👏

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