Enda McGinley: Jurgen Klopp's philosophy is a sporting blueprint
“We want to win things, but we don't know when that will happen. We don't have a clue, so we should have the best time of our live until it happens. Performance-wise, result-wise, atmosphere-wise, have the best time until it happens.
When it happens, we have to start again. If it doesn't happen, we have to try again. That is how life is and football is.”
– Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool boss
I'm not a diehard soccer fan, but I do follow it and, with that, Liverpool would be my team for well over 20 years. Trying to set bias aside, it would be fair to say that many men, and not just Liverpool followers, would have a bit of a man crush for Jurgen Klopp.
He is one of those people whose positivity is infectious, who more often than not speaks with a matter of fact, truth and honesty that is disarming and far removed from the bombast or cliché-riven stuff often uttered by those in sport.
Most of all though, he can operate in the intensely competitive and often poisonous atmosphere that is management in the English Premier League yet appear to maintain an amazing sense of humour and ‘joie de vivre' in the midst of it all.
When I read the above quote from him following his team's seventh straight win of the new season, I just thought he'd captured perfectly how to deal with the juxtaposition with which many of us all struggle regarding our own sports.
Like many others, I am a terribly poor loser. Foul mood envelops me if my team is beaten or, back in my playing days, if I played poorly.
Throughout the country, club teams are competing in the unforgiving environment that is straight knock-out championship.
Every week then it is a harsh reality that 50 per cent of the teams playing will be defeated and knocked out of their championship.
A year's work put on the line for 60 minutes of championship action. This slaughter of hope and dreams keeps going until only one is left standing.
Teams who manage to win their county title then face the same scenario throughout the provincial and All-Ireland series.
For many, the truth in Klopp's statement is only too clear. We must somehow be able to look at the bigger picture rather than solely at the scoreboard at the final whistle.
Seeing the truth in the words of Klopp is easy, but applying them is more challenging.
However, if we look at some of the great sports stories from this year, like Tiger Woods in golf, Novak Djokovic in tennis, Geraint Thomas in cycling or Irish rugby's grand slam, they all are great stories of sporting talent achieving success – but scratch beneath the surface and they are all also built upon years of patient work, setbacks and a step by step process to recover from them and get back up that hill.
All managers will state they want to win their respective competition in a given year.
I think at the start of any team's work, they must believe that they can win it.
Crucially, though, while building that expectation that ‘the time is now' in terms of going and winning whatever that team is chasing, there must also be a bigger underlying picture of ongoing development, both for the individual players and the team.
For players to stick at their current commitment levels, I think it is more important than ever that there is a dual barometer regarding measuring achievements.
It is competitive sport, so it is crucial that winning things remains the ultimate test, as outlined previously, only one team in the country in that competition can end undefeated.
We must then build an appreciation for seeing players and teams develop. We should admire seeing players continually trying to improve.
for the players, they must also embrace and enjoy this process, while as fans we have to keep a perspective and see the honour our players bestow on their jerseys by that continual effort to improve rather than purely focus on winning.
This is one of the big lessons I wish I had grasped during my own career. I probably forgot the capacity I had, no matter what age, to continue to improve my game. To pick a part of my game and really focus on improving it. Rather than just see the overall result as a verdict on how I had done, I should have been looking and working towards specific improvements.
Now this all might sound a bit too touchy-feely, considering we are in the middle of hard-nosed championship competition, but it is more important than ever.
Put all the eggs into the basket each year and it's boom or bust time.
Defeat blows a year's work to smithereens and, if there is no semblance of an ongoing development plan, the following year starts from square one again with an extra layer of psychological scarring thrown in.
Conversely, a big win, huge celebrations, but then what?
If it is only about reaching the top, then what happens when you achieve the dream. It's only one season.
In four to five months, it's all forgotten about as the teams all start on square one again.
As Klopp said, when it happens, you must start again. If it doesn't happen, you must try again too.
A word that appears to permeate every team at the pinnacle of their sports is ‘culture'.
It's not a culture focused purely on winning, even though that's what it results in.
Aspects of this culture must continually be developed, like respect for the jersey and the team and for what they represent. As players and management, the goal is for continual improvement, continual development, to famously leave the jersey in a better place than where you got it from.
From the famed All Blacks to Jim Gavin's Dublin, their greatness is a result of their focus on improvement and, most importantly, the fact they seem to garner so much enjoyment from that process.
Straight knockout is the bedrock of our GAA competitions and rightfully so.
It leads to fantastic occasions and stories. Fairytale runs where entire communities get carried along on a crest of a wave.
It does, however, lend itself to the loss of perspective where it is all about that one result on that one night. Bottom line it isn't. The wheel will keep on turning.
If we cannot enjoy the process of that development, if we can't force ourselves to look beyond the scoreboard for the players or teams who have shown improvements and use that to fan the flames of hope and to encourage them in their efforts, we will likely have many more bad days than good.
Ultra-positive people can be annoying, yet Klopp's message is not saccharine sweet.
In amongst its sheer positivity and plea to enjoy living in the moment, there is a steeliness in it that stands out.
It says that no matter about the ups and downs, we will go on, we will keep coming back.
The next few weeks will see teams who have already accepted and embodied that challenge from previous years, who will rise and say ‘this is our time'.
For many more, however, the challenge will be to look to next year, to commit to a process
and to somehow enjoy the journey.