'Aye, We Still Can' - Scotland's World Cup Hopes
"Naw, we cannae! Gie's peace, Andy! None of yer positive 'spin'. 2 points from our opening 2 games, that's us done. The Euros was a blip - and we lucked that on penalties anyway - we've returned to our rightful place, we're just not that good. In fact; sack Steve Clarke, drop Robbo, call up Turnbull, call up Gilmour, play Griffiths, play 4 at the back AND BRING BACK CRAIG BROWN..." etc. ad infinitum.
I saw all those comments after the game and, in the moment, I might've even agreed with some, I might still... Craig Brown was brilliant, after all.
Now that we've got that out of the way, and we're a couple of days on, let me just say - I was hurting just as much as you, and it's still a bit tender. We have common ground.
To watch us concede possession, territory and chance after chance, time and again, was a nauseating, angering, and bewildering experience.
It's why when Israel scored, I tweeted the old adage, 'Been coming...' because it had. Anyone could see that.
Our defensive three, so often our strength, were far too deep. Huge gaps were appearing in the midfield where McTominay and McGregor were nowhere to be seen. John McGinn, our acrobatic saviour against Russia, seemed unrecognisable. It didn't take much, therefore, to predict that one of these repeated chances would lead to a shot from that gaping hole, resulting in Peretz's inevitable goal.
It was very, very, obvious - even to someone like me who wouldn't claim to be an 'analyst'.
I felt angry. I stood up, walked about like an idiot for a while and said some choice words I can't quite remember. My kids told me 'it's okay', and I sat back down again. Y'know, standard repressive procedure.
Simply put; we were rubbish, and we all felt it.
In the second half, however, we changed.
We changed to a back 4 and brought on a forward-thinking player for a defender. And it worked. It worked immediately. Fraser got in a few times down the left, and Robbo overlapped on multiple occasions. All of a sudden, we created chances and looked threatening. Yes, we left Kieran Tierney at the left side of a central 2, yes we risked being hit on the break - but my goodness - we offered a lot more going forward.
It was, therefore, again, no surprise, when we eventually scored from Ryan Fraser's accurate finish. Perhaps further tactical change would've helped us to snatch a win, perhaps not. That would be mere speculation and I'm merely trying to observe what happened.
I hope, however, that in the main, we can agree that that is how the game went? Of course, folks will, and are, wanting to home in on specific elements, and for more insightful analysis to this end, see @PureFitbaw, @TheTotallyShow (Scottish version) or @SBienkowski - that's not really what we're offering here.
What we can hold out, should you wish to look at it, is thoughts about growth, and how change takes place in an organism, over time.
It's even got a name, and some notable research, behind it... it's called change management, and it's how anything good that ever happened in an organisation, or sports team, ever happened.
Let me tell you a wee story.
In my day job, I work in a consultative/advisory capacity to help educators include children in their care.
Typically, I do a lot of hands-on work alongside the staff I'm supporting, but this is only ever useful if I've done the first bits properly - namely observation and assessment.
This means I listen and watch carefully and write down what I hear and see, applying the knowledge and training I have to interpret and filter information. Now, I'll leave it to you to make jokes about my ability to transfer that to the football pitch, but in my day job, I've been known to be okay at it.
Very often, alongside the team, we'll arrive at a recommendation for a child that, in turn, benefits all children (inclusive).
In one such instance, I was modelling to a staff team the methods by which this child could be included. I do this a lot. To some, this was received as second nature, to others, they could see the benefit and realised they had to change their practice to meet this child's needs, to yet others, they saw it as hard work and basically, they weren't going to do it.
Now, how do I know this for sure? Change management.
See, what I was outlining involved using wee pictures to tell the child, and help them choose, what was happening 'Now, Next, and... Then'. We call this a visual schedule, and it's a precursor to understanding time. It can help alleviate frustrations with expressive language and can enable children to be included in play and learning. It helps adults too. It's why we have motorway signs instead of a big P.A. System shouting the speed limit as you whizz past. We're visual beings and visual communication is often less stressful. It's just the way we are.
Anyway - how can I say that some didn't receive this training well?
Because, in this instance, in modelling how to use the schedule and how as educators they'd need to pass it between them to follow the child, I, in turn, passed the schedule on. The educator who received it took it out of my hand before then placing it immediately out of hers on the chair beside her with emphatic disinterest. If she could've stuck it somewhere else, I felt sure she would've.
Now - joking aside - this breaks my heart. Why?
This educator thought they knew best. They thought they'd seen it all. They thought they didn't need to learn, didn't need to grow, didn't need to change. Most importantly, as detrimental as this might've been to their own practice (and it was), what is tragic is that if this little child had needed them to use the visual schedule in order to meet their needs and be understood - it would have been nowhere to be seen. The child would have suffered. That's not on.
Thankfully, she's retired now, but I bring this instance up because it reflects accurately what is identified in change management as 'states of change'.
Have a wee look and see if you can spot where this educator might've been on her journey?
Used with permission from Winning Scotland, with thanks. (WinningScotland.org)
Messy. Disorganised. Despair. Anxiety. Fear...
Transitions are tough, aren't they?
Change is hard.
Key to overseeing change is the importance of recognising that we are all individuals, and as such, we access and receive any proposed adaptations in very different ways.
Now, here's the nub - The Scottish National Team are undergoing a change, a transition, and they are doing it whilst introducing new players in the fiery hot furnace of international football.
As Ireland have found with Stephen Kenny, this isn't an easy place to grow and change. This isn't a place for new ideas and creative thinking. Or as Iceland, Luxembourg and our opponents on Wednesday, The Faroes, have displayed in their respective rises through the FIFA rankings - maybe it is?
See - it starts with observing and assessing carefully. It starts with seeing and hearing, carefully. We're not advocating a mindless embrace of positivism without direction. Rather than suggest we are world-beaters, or that Steve Clarke needs to resign, we're instead going to recognise that we are on a journey. We're going to do that by charting growth. By charting what didn't work, and how we are putting it right, over time.
Two years ago, we were beaten 3-0 by Kazahkstan. This Summer, we're going to the Euros. It's not foolish or naive to recognise growth, though it can take a great deal of bravery as cynicism is far easier. It's not being blind to places for improvement. It is instead recognising areas for improvement and putting in place the measures by which a situation improves.
I've been listening carefully to Steve Clarke and the players since he took over. I know that they believe this, and not just because I know that a commitment to a Growth Mindset is embedded within the SFA.
"It's not about going out and dominating. It's what I've said all along, it's about building as an International Team. These players, when I came in, were relatively inexperienced [with regards to] international football... You're starting to build-up international experience. You're learning all the time. These games are difficult. Every international match is difficult...
We just keep trying to improve."
- Steve Clarke, Israel pre-match
This improvement happened in the second half on Sunday night, and, as uncomfortable as that might be to acknowledge given the overall result, it is nonetheless true.
How does that land with us I wonder? Are we willing to acknowledge the journey? The growth? In doing so, will we acknowledge that we are all observing and assessing this journey and change differently - just like the players?
If we win on Wednesday, and we should, we will have 5 points.
Depending on the Austria - Denmark game, we could be anywhere from 2-4 points off top spot with 7 games to play. If we win the rest of our games, we will qualify as group winners.
That's an observation.
But it's true.
In closing, we stuck our neck out a year ago when A\M launched and said that we could reach the Euros.
I was often derided/pitied, especially in the build-up to the Serbia game when we wrote a response to the doom and gloom perpetuating the MSM.
Apparently - we were deluded, over-zealous, too eager, fanciful, escapist or just plain ill-informed. We refrained from saying 'I told you so', instead, we did what we are geared towards and made a video, logging the nation's joy and bringing people together.
I didn't do this because we wanted a pat on the back.
I did it because we believed, and we saw the growth.
It brought great joy to share in that with everyone - however distanced we were, we were together through that video, and many others like it.
I might be guilty of being hopelessly romantic from time to time, maybe even windswept and interesting if I'm fortunate (love ye, Big Yin), but the hardship of choosing to recognise growth along the way made the ecstasy of David Marshall's big paw saving that penalty all the more visceral and emotional. It meant that much more.
Hope and optimism are a choice.
Recognising growth is a choice.
How you view the change is a choice. This doesn't mean we don't offer critique - quite the opposite. We need it! However, are we also recognising growth? The two go hand-in-hand.
A fixed, cynical mindset of 'naw, we cannae', is easy - but they're also dime a dozen and not that interesting. They stand to lose nothing because they risk nothing. They're 'hindsight drivers', never happy with 'Now' because they've never considered 'Next'. I'm not interested in that.
A growth mindset is hard. It's brave. It's combative. It looks at challenge and sees a way forward. A next step. It stands to lose much because it risks everything. It charts hope and belief in hope as a strength. It says 'Aye, we can', until we actually can't. And then it learns from the disappointment and goes again.
I for one am willing to be counted as foolish. after all, in any story worth telling, I'm in good company. To return to the language of the child's visual schedule for a moment;
'Now, we're playing the Faroes.
Next, we're playing the Euros.
Then, we'll play as Heroes.'
Alba Gu Brath.
Aye, we can.