A few decades ago statistics showed that Korean planes suffered more accidents compared to airplanes from other countries. As aviation is a matter of life and death, this worrying pattern was immediately investigated. The investigators found out that a cultural factor was the underlying reason for Korean planes getting involved in crashes and other incidents more frequently. The analysis of the black box proved that in many situations the co-pilot had already spotted a problem but did not directly inform the pilot. He only tried to warn the pilot with indirect signals using words like maybe, possibly, could, might, etc. This way of communication has to do with a cultural dimension.
You are right even when you are wrong
In Korean society there is a strong hierarchy. Older people are consider to be wiser than younger people. Therefore, older people are always right when they say something to a younger person. Even when they are wrong. Also, in Korean culture people are sensitive with respect to ‘losing face’. In other words, one tries to avoid the public embarrassment of other people. These two cultural factors are exactly the reason for the higher frequency of incidents with Korean planes. Co-pilots did not want to make the pilot ‘lose face’. Even when a plane was about to crash the co-pilot refused to directly warn the pilot that he was doing something wrong. These Korean co-pilots rather crash than step out of the cultural boundaries. Obviously, in aviation this is unacceptable as other people’s life are put in danger. Therefore, specific cockpit procotols were developed to avoid these situations in the future. Co-pilots were now backed by universal protocols and did no longer have to worry about cultural obstacles. This same phenomenon has also taken place in Korean football a few years ago. External factors negatively influenced the decision making of players on the pitch.
Passing instead of scoring
Although football is not a matter of life and death, head coach Guus Hiddink had to deal with a similar problem when preparing the Korean National Team for the World Cup 2002. Younger players decided to pass the ball to the older and more dominant players even in situations when other players were in a much better position on the pitch. So, he asked himself the question how he could solve this problem without being disrespectful to the Korean culture. He decided to change the procedure during meals. Until that moment there had been a table with all the older players, a table with all the young players and a table with all the mid-age players. After mixing all the players, all of a sudden the oldest player of the team was sitting next to the youngest players. They had never spoken to each other before. So, during the first few meals there was total silence as the players were very uncomfortable. But eventually players started to speak with each other and the cultural barriers gradually disappeared. The team even managed to reach the semi final of the World Cup.
Passing the ball to your friend instead of creating a chance
The above problem does not only happen in aviation or international football. At any level of football external factors do negatively influence the decision making of players. For example, in youth football coaches have to deal with players who prefer to play the ball to their friends rather than passing the ball to a teammate in the best position to score. Friendship should never influence the decision making of players but unfortunately it sometimes does. How could the coach try to solve this situation?
Football is a TEAM sport
When addressing the problem with the player the coach should avoid that it becomes an issue between him and the player. This is a classic mistake made by many coaches around the world. The coach should explain to the player that it is not a personal issue but an issue between the player and the team. Everyone is working hard to try to score one more goal than the opponent and to win the game. The player’s behaviour has a negative effect on this team objective as he prefers to pass the ball to his friend rather than passing the ball to another teammate who is in a scoring position. So, it’s crucial how the coach phrases and addresses the problem. Always define incorrect behaviour in a team context.
Make the parents part of the solution
The risk of this approach is that parents will get an incorrect impression of what the coach tries to achieve. As their child is their main source of information, they might get the impression that the coach does not want their child to pass the ball to his friend at all. Consequently, the coach might find himself in an uncomfortable and unnecessary situation with the parents. To avoid this kind of confusion, the coach should pro-actively get the parents involved in the process by informing them about both the problem and the solution.