By Michael Balderstone, BSI Founder & Performance Director
English Premier League team Leicester City’s run of results this season and this calendar year is remarkable for an unheralded club. Leicester, known as the Foxes, are the only unbeaten football team in the Premier League this season, following on from their famous ‘Great Escape’ of last season, which saw them win 7 of their last 9 games to rise from bottom of the Premier League for much of the season to finishing in 14th position.
The continuation of winning ways has come despite a managerial change following the controversial sacking of Nigel Pearson, who was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, and the loss of their experienced on-field talisman Esteban Cambiasso. Tuesday evening saw the Foxes defeat in-form West Ham United in the League Cup despite making 10 changes to the team from their previous game.
As goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel recently said; “We work hard for each other and we are a team…. It is a pleasure to be a part of this team…. We always say before we go out that this is about us, about how we approach the game and how much we want it… We don’t know when we are beaten… We keep going and keep working hard…. You can live with a defeat if you have worked hard and if you have given everything you have got. That is what we keep doing.”
So what is it that has given this team a winning mentality, a growing reputation for playing positive attacking football and a never say die attitude, no matter the personnel involved?
Part of the answer is evident in the environment that has been created at the King Power Stadium and the constant messages that are sent out to the players and supporters about the ethos of the team.
I was fortunate enough to visit the stadium last month with Leicester legend Matt Elliott, the captain of the last successful Foxes team under Martin O’Neill. One of the things that struck me when we entered the players area was the images and messages that the players see just before they go through the tunnel and onto the pitch. Above the tunnel is the message FOXES NEVER QUIT, alongside a picture that captures the spirit of the team, Jamie Vardy celebrating a late winner against West Bromwich Albion last season.
Elsewhere around the ground you see the hashtag #FEARLESS. These two phrases are far more than social media sound bites, they are visible every way around the ground; on the stadium walls, around the dugout and on the cardboard clappers given to every home supporter for every game, which have helped make the 32,000 capacity stadium one of the best atmospheres in the league. The team have won 22 out of 29 available points at home since they were introduced in April.
Of course the players on the field are the ones who get the job done, but in modern elite sport where small factors can make the difference between winning and losing, don’t underestimate the effect that the external environment and positive messages can play on performance.