The Art Of Staying At The Top

In today's sporting climate, staying at the top of your respective competition is pretty hard to do. Most leagues have some sort of salary cap which does a nice job of evening out the playing field and allowing for teams to have an opportunity where they usually wouldn't. Some sports have drafts and others just simply have nothing and have no desire to even the playing field. This all makes for a decent spread of talent, but within this there are still great differences in how that talent is managed.

There are many variables that can impact the consistent success of a team, which when you consider the point of taking part in that competition - to win, makes things pretty tricky. To stay at the top you need to combine smart financials with a team culture that breeds loyalty, which in this day and age is pretty hard to come by.

The salary cap varies from sport to sport, obviously in the amount of money involved but also the logistics with some salary caps like the NRL's being pretty strict. Others like the NBA's just means that the owner has to fork out a bit more of his own cash should he exceed the cap. While in football, there isn't a salary cap, there's some bullshit called financial fair play ... which is so dumb I won't refer to it again.

Salary caps make it pretty hard to keep winning teams together. If a team rises to the top of their league, the players are usually rewarded with a healthy deal from that club or another who can see the potential. You can't keep offering big deals to large chunks of your team because the math simply doesn't work out. 

This offers up a tricky situation. To keep your winning side together you must engineer a sense of loyalty within your club. You have to create reasons as to why player X should take less money to stay at that club. Whether this is because your club simply has a winning culture and there's championships to be won - Melbourne Storm and Miami Heat, or if it's just because your club has their shit together and players enjoy putting in the effort in what they think is the best environment. 

You have to balance this against players 'doing what is right for their family'. Translated - taking the cash. The Manly Sea Eagles appeared to have the right balance with senior players offering great loyalty to take pay cuts allowing them to keep their core group together. However this looks to be falling a part because they didn't really do it whole heartedly, deals were back ended so while they took a pay cut, they'd be rewarded later on. Kinda defeats the purpose don't it? Why not just take a pay cut to help your club in the long term?

The salary cap does give some balance to that competition. It's something that I reckon is super important and we see a variety of clubs challenge for the title but if you're sensible you can juggle the many aspects of staying at the top. The culture is the biggest thing, that way whoever comes and goes understands what your club is about and that you don't fuck around - you're here to win. But the various strategies are interesting. Do you throw the majority of your money at a superstar and build around them with cheap guys or do you spread the fun throughout a group of very solid players? Either way, it takes some sort of compromise from the players and the players need a reason to compromise. Call it hope - 'I hope this coach can take me to this level' or whether it's just understanding the club, the more compromise you get from the players the more likely you are to be able to handle the financial aspect.

You also have to stay ahead of the game in terms of training and technology. Kinda like the Cronulla Sharks, but do it a hell of a lot smart. Ok, more like the Rabbitohs. We as folk in the South Pacific need to just look around the world for new an innovative ways to boost performance. While old school thinking certainly has a place, failing to utilise and adapt with new technologies will see you fall behind. Whether it's hyperbolic chambers or extreme ice bath things where you step in to a pretty extreme freezer for a few seconds, or whether it's spinning blood, to stay at the top you have to be willing to take a chance and explore the world of sports science. 

It's no surprise that the best teams are usually those who are the fittest and the healthiest. One day there will be absolutely no reason for any athlete to eat fast food, because we'll all know how stupid it is. We already see around the world athletes exploring ways to change their eating habits. People try everything when it comes to diet, but we're seeing a worldwide trend of athletes just trying to eat more fruits and vegetables with a bit of meat. No sugar, why the fuck would you eat sugar?! Smoothies packed full of nutrients and vitamins for breakfast instead of wheat and dairy etc. 

I hate the word paleo. I prefer mother nature. Paleo is trendy as fuck.

Staying at the top requires a combination of a lot of things. The front office must juggle the financial aspects or you can just be an EPL club and spend money to get to the top. Coaches and training staff have to be willing to listen and research to new ideas that are worth a try. Athletes, well I can't tell them to compromise because it's their life but maintain a highly talented playing group requires compromise. Athletes also have to willing to expand horizons and say goodbye to old habits, why wouldn't you? 

To be the best for a consistent period of time you need the talent. But top heavy talent doesn't allow for consistent performance, you need smart players who can play a role. That desire to play a role and do a job comes from the culture of the club. With a strong culture and desire to win, players are more likely to sacrifice. They're more likely to sacrifice alcohol and sugar and they're more willing to compromise to allow greater success for their team. 

Team first is always the way to go.