Dave Reddin MBE: Placing your bets on what it takes to win

Dave Reddin MBE was Head of Team Strategy and Performance at the Football Association from 2014 to 2019

Dave Reddin MBE was Head of Team Strategy and Performance at the Football Association from 2014 to 2019

When we asked delegates about their most memorable moments from TGG Live 2023, many talked about Dave Reddin’s presentation - and in particular his story about poker chips.

Marginal gains has been a fashionable concept for a long time - not least since February, when the originator of the phrase, Sir Dave Brailsford, took charge of sporting operations at Manchester United.

However, Reddin argues that prioritising ‘what matters most’ and focusing your time and resources in that area can often have more impact. This is why he designed a workshop involving poker chips when he was Head of Strategy and Performance at the Football Association.

At the time, England had just ignominiously exited Euro 2016, but were looking to climb to the top of the world.

This is what Reddin said about the poker chip workshop during his opening keynote at TGG Live 2023:


Dave Reddin: Some of those little exercises are a great way of helping people conceptualise, ’Where am I going to put my chips?’

The idea was to have a myriad of ideas of areas we could invest in that could be important for performance. What are the things we are going to invest our time and effort in? By giving everyone a set of chips and asking them to bet, you create a visual idea based on scarcity.

The conversation is the most important part of this.

So what matters most? Because it doesn’t all matter the same. When I first started in sport, this idea of marginal gains was a really prevalent concept. For mature organisations, who have really eked every single ounce out of everything that’s out there, those marginal gains are incredibly important.

However, if we adopt that mindset without the humility to take a look at the basics of what we do, then we often miss stuff. It’s great to have the latest gadget or technology in our business, but if we’re not addressing our coaching or our culture or our planning, then maybe we’re missing some real opportunities that are really staring us in the face.

Gareth Southgate and Dan Ashworth were among those at the FA to do the poker chips exercise 

Gareth Southgate and Dan Ashworth were among those at the FA to do the poker chips exercise 

So it is important to try to prioritise. What are we going to bet on to create this unique recipe for our club? Because every club is different. The mix that is applied to the club I am working with (CD Castellon) will be very different to Newcastle United, for example.

That should be the case for every single club, because your identity will be different, your story, your history, where you’ve come from, where you are, the resources at your disposal.

So really try to think about. How do we tweak the mix? What are the areas of our business that we are happy being about as good as everybody else at, or even a little worse?

And what are the areas we are going to spike and really dial up and really over-invest time, effort, resources in to create a competitive advantage?

That is the real key of this process - understanding what matters most. And doing that collectively. I have done this process on my own, in my own head, written it all down, and thought I was incredibly clever until it hit the reality of other people’s ideas and I recognised then maybe I wasn’t so smart after all!

Getting people round the table and starting to discuss what we believe is going to make the difference.

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