Six steps to team spirit that helped Leicester win the league

Will Thomas, University of Sussex

Leicester’s story is one of the most, if not the most, remarkable in sporting history. At 5,000/1 to win the Premier League at the start of the season, the bookies thought it was more likely that Elvis would be found alive (2,000/1) or that the Loch Ness monster would turn up (500/1). There has been much discussion about the spirit in the squad, but it’s worth nailing down exactly what we mean here using the latest research in team psychology. It helps tell us how such a long shot can transpire, but only if all the psychological pieces fall into place.

Research I have been conducting with Rupert Brown and Vivian Vignoles suggests that team identity can be used to predict perceived and actual team performance. Using a unique sample of amateur and elite level teams including Olympic, military and Premier League squads, we suggest potentially six psychological foundations – or what are termed identity motives – that can cause individuals to identify with a team. Leicester City, knowingly or not, appears to have the lot.

Distinctiveness motive

While managers like Manchester United’s Louis Van Gaal fret over pass completion stats, the newly crowned champions play a fast-paced counter-attacking brand of football. Indeed, the Foxes have the worst pass completion rate in the league, but they’re not afraid to play three misplaced passes if the forth one leads to a goal. This distinctive style is part of their identity, which crucially informs how they play on the pitch.

Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez attempts to launch another attack.

Belonging motive

Players, especially in the Premier League, need to feel loved and accepted and view the team as inclusive. Given the alleged player revolt against manager Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, it’s easy to see how damaging it can be when teams fail to create the inclusive environment needed to build a strong team identity.

Quite how this is done is hard to distil into a single idea. Perhaps the strong bonds between Leicester players were forged during their Christmas night out dressed up as ninja turtles, or perhaps when boss Claudio Ranieri buys them all Pizza for getting a clean sheet. Or even, maybe, when left-back joker Christian Fuchs played egg roulette with striker Jamie Vardy. Whatever they are doing, it’s certainly working.

Claudio Ranieri heads for the team bus after joining the Leicester team for a celebratory pizza.

Continuity motive

Although Ranieri came into the Leicester setup at the start of the season, when the club sought to build on its already remarkable escape from relegation the previous year, he noticed the style and strength of the team. Unlike other managers, he has persisted with most of the first team players he inherited and not tried to drastically alter the team or impose his philosophy. A tip there, perhaps for Van Gaal).

Players also know that he will be there next season, which can’t be said for either of the Manchester clubs. This continuity from past to present to future has enabled the Foxes to build on the legacy of the club, another cornerstone of a strong team identity.

Meaning motive

Players need to feel they have an important purpose and role in the team. Ranieri has dealt with benching players brilliantly. Leonardo Ulloa was a big deal when he signed from Brighton for £8m in 2013. But with the form of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the Argentinian was left on the bench for most of the season.

Crucially though, he wasn’t left out in the cold. Ranieri made sure that Ulloa understood he still had an important role to play in team. His recent goals, in Vardy’s absence through suspension, had a big impact on Leicester’s title tilt.

Efficacy motive

Our research suggests that if members view their elite teams as capable of achieving their objectives, they are more likely to identify with the team. And what was Leicester’s objective? To avoid relegation. Leicester chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, told Ranieri at the start of the season:

Claudio, this is a very important year for the club. It is very important for us to stay in the Premier League. We have to stay safe.

Having seemingly achieved their goal within the first few months, Leicester were then able to play with a freedom and expression not seen by others. Take Chelsea. Once the players realised the title was out of reach (their objective before the start of the season), they appeared to start playing for themselves, rather than the team.

All for one?
John Cooper/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Esteem motive

The final identity motive relates to esteem. If team members feel positive and proud to be part the a team, they are more likely to identify with it. Leicester players must be incredibly proud of being part of a unit that has surpassed all expectations. There is no fear of failure, as they never expected to finish in the top half of the table, let alone challenging for domestic honours.

If the likes of Leicester captain and defender Wes Morgan have a bad game, no one will say anything. In contrast, Wayne Rooney was heavily criticised on Twitter after England’s friendly win over Germany, even though he didn’t kick a ball. Leicester’s positivity underpins a strong team identity.

There is no doubt that Leicester have some good players, but looking at the whole squad and comparing it to the so-called “top” clubs, it’s easy to see why they were such long shots to lift the title. The Foxes’ remarkable triumph demonstrates how six elements of team psychology can build a strong team identity, that in turn can radically transform a collection of players into something far greater than the sum of its parts. Mind you, as a Spurs fan, I can’t help but wish they had chosen a different year.

The Conversation

Will Thomas, PhD researcher in elite team psychology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Marine biology: Zombies of the sea

By Hannah Amor

I am studying a *master’s in applied aquatic biology at the University of Portsmouth. My post below is about rhizocephala, the parasite that I will be doing my research project on. I really enjoy my course as I get to learn things that not many people know about and I also get to do lots of hands on practical work. I did my first degree in marine biology and had the chance to live in France for three months researching cuttlefish

(*A master’s is more specialised study after your degree)

At the beginning of its life you could be forgiven for mistaking the rhizocephalan parasite for an innocent barnacle larvae, however it is something far more sinister.

When newly hatched and swimming free in the water the rhizocephalan searches for a home, inside a crab host. If the crab is not occupied by another rhizocephalan, the parasite will turn female and attack. It attacks the crab at its weakest point; the gills or a joint on the leg and enters the body. Once inside it spreads through the crab like a slow rot, slowly taking control until the crab is like a zombie. It takes over the brain, stopping the crab from moulting (shedding its shell so it can grow), to steal all the energy for itself. When the parasite reaches the crab’s abdomen it bursts through and exposes its ugly eggs to the rest of the ocean.

The appearance of an egg mass underneath the crab attracts another parasite, this one turns male so it can fertilise the eggs and create thousands more of the horrible parasite. The rhizocephalan is clever, having control of the crab’s brain gives it control of its host. It tricks the crab (even if it is a male crab) into thinking the eggs are its own. The crab looks after the eggs as if they were its babies, tending to them until they are ready to hatch.

When they are ready, the lovingly cared for eggs are released into the sea; the next generation of rhizocephala are ready to infect more unsuspecting crabs. The crab host has used all of its energy nurturing the eggs it believes are its own, meaning it has no strength left. It is unlikely to survive once it is of no use to the parasite, so the crab dies thinking it has created a new generation of crabs and not knowing what it has really let loose in the ocean.

Find out more about what marine biologists do and how to become one.

How a tweet can save a life


By Gemma D’Souza

When you are in your last year of university, you normally do a big final project called a dissertation.

I did a geography degree and my dissertation took me about nine months to complete. The final word count was just under 10,000 words. Sounds daunting right? I thought the same, but then I realised it actually wasn’t. Most courses allow you to choose the topic of your dissertation. You can find something you enjoy, make yourself familiar with it, do lots of research, collect data or interview people and then write up what you have found.

I’m really interested in natural disasters – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and so on. I’m also a big social media fan – I love Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and could spend hours scrolling through them all each evening. So I decided to link them together and make my dissertation about how Twitter can possibly help save lives after a natural disaster has taken place.

How is Twitter useful?

Twitter lets you post a comment, add an image and also add the location of where you are when you send that tweet. When a disaster happens, aid agencies (like the Red Cross, for example) need to get to the victims affected by the disaster as soon as they can. If victims still have access to a phone or computer, they can send a tweet directly to these aid agencies, asking for help and receiving assistance more quickly.

For example, someone could send a tweet saying how many people are injured or lost, what sort of help they need and most importantly, where they are. Using the Twitter App they can even attach their exact location and pinpoint it on a map.

In March 2015 Cyclone Pam hit the South Pacific (to the east of Australia and the north of New Zealand). It ruined hundreds of boats, roads and homes across thousands of miles and on different islands. Tweets and photos were collected from victims on these islands, particularly Vanuatu, and were responded to. It’s good to know that social media can be used to help people in emergencies.

Gemma D’Souza graduated from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a degree in geography.

Find out how to become an aid worker.

Facts on the fly

By Ryan Badham

Most people think flies are disgusting but many don’t realise how fascinating they are. Did you know they can taste with their feet and breathe through their bottoms? You can even study flies at university. Here are fourteen incredible things you probably didn’t know about them…

  1. Flies are the only insects with 2 wings; all others with wings have 4. They are known as Diptera (di-ptera” = two wings in Greek) or ‘true flies’ and include blue bottles, house flies, mosquitoes and midges.
  2. A fly has a 4-stage lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. This means it undergoes complete metamorphosis (like a butterfly).
  3. Flies are found all over the world except Antarctica.
  4. Larvae (commonly known as maggots) clump together to keep warm. This helps them develop faster.
  5. Maggots can breathe through their bottoms, allowing them to continue eating without pausing for breath.
  6. Maggots have been used in medicine since ancient times to help heal wounds by eating dead tissue and killing bacteria to fight nasty infections. They’re still used in some hospitals today.
  7. A fly feels with the hairs on its body. Those on its mouth and feet are used for tasting, so they taste what they walk on. If they step on something yummy, they put down their mouth and slurp it again.
  8. A fly can hover, fly backwards, land upside down and beat its wings up to 200 times per second.
  9. Flies have sticky pads on their feet that act like glue and help them stick to glass and ceilings.
  10. Flies don’t bite (they suck, spit or stab) and can only feed on liquids. They sip nectar from flowers, drink liquefied dung (animal poo), or spit saliva on their food (which has enzymes to liquefy it) and suck it up. Female mosquitoes’ pointed mouthparts pierce skin and they drink blood.
  11. Flies have compound eyes containing many facets. The house fly has 4,000 facets in each eye and can see a light flickering nearly seven times faster than we can. Flies don’t have eyelids, so rub their eyes with their feet to keep them clean.
  12. Flies help solve murder cases by establishing time of death, and DNA has been extracted from maggot guts to identify badly burnt or decomposed victims.
  13. Whilst some flies are pests that spread disease, others are beneficial. They prey on other pests; pollinate plants; are food for other animals; and help break down organic matter, recycling it back into the soil.
  14. There are over 100,000 species (about 1 in every 10 animals is a fly); with at least 5000 in Britain and more being discovered every year. So, next time you see one, don’t dismiss it is as ‘just a fly‘, it could be one of thousands of possible varieties.

Entomology is the scientific study of insects.

Forensic entomology uses insect biology to help us with the law, including crime.

Ryan studied forensic biology as a degree at university, followed by a research based Master’s in Forensic Entomology (*A Master’s is more specialised study after your degree) using blue bottle fly genes to try to estimate how long someone has been dead. He likes insects because there are so many different kinds and even closely related species can be dramatically different and unique. Caddisflies are Ryan’s favourite (even though they’re not true flies) because their protective casings can be used to make jewellery.

Here’s Ryan (standing furthest to the right) with some of his university colleagues, showing how interested they are in flies!

Lab picture