I don’t know how many of you played Spotto in the car as kids but the basic rule of the game is that every time you see a yellow vehicle you punch your sibling and yell out “spotto”.
The unusual thing about this game is that the seemingly rare occurrence of yellow cars on the road soon turns into a really sore arm after copping repeated whacks from the next door seat.
There is actual science behind this phenomenon that relates to a part of your brain’s activation around areas of focus.
Penrith Panthers at the moment are on a search for what is wrong across their entire operations and guess what they are finding?
Externally, at least, it seems they are stumbling across an endless accumulation of issues. Another big loss to the Warriors on Friday just highlighted the problem.
As the Panthers dive into finding the solutions for the problems they are identifying, the risk of having the difficulties absorb all their energy is very real.
We have often heard in the past how success can hide problems, where teams that are experiencing consistent victories brush over nagging performance areas that really need to be addressed.
This is entirely true across all areas of life and I’ve certainly had my own experiences with this as a coach, businessman and person – it’s easy to ignore problems only to find them hindering performance.
However, the opposite also applies.
Looking at the Panthers’ performances and hearing their feedback after games it is evident that as a team they are so distracted by what is wrong with their performances that any recognition of what they are doing well has evaporated.
Take Nathan Cleary for example, he obviously has high standards around performance, but one of the things that has always impressed most about him is the ability to move onto the next task quickly, regardless of if he nailed it or not.
Resulting in a real focus on what needs to be done in any given moment and this skill is why he was not overawed when selected in Origin last year.
In his performance last week, I could visibly see him shaking his head after a poor kick. He also dropped his head after a missed tackle.
I’ve always thought his halves partner, James Maloney, had the shortest memory in NRL history because the thing that has always defined him as a player is that he could come up with an absolute shocker and, on the next play, produce a skilful match-winning execution.
But even this experienced campaigner is showing signs of frustration on the park – something I’ve never seen from him in the past.
So what is the answer to the demons that beset a struggling side?
Well Craig Bellamy gave us a little bit of a hint a couple of weeks ago in his post match spray at his team’s performance.
Now while many focused in on Bellyache’s apparent anger, it was the messaging that highlighted the brilliance of his coaching.
He didn’t spend too much time on the team’s below-average performance. Instead he kept coming back to the Storm’s standards and their identity as a footie team.
Sure, he pointed out what was wrong, but what his players heard was: ‘If you don’t play Melbourne Storm football then you don’t play’.
While that is a tough message it is also a positive and insightful one because it talks to the behaviours he expects, rather than what is wrong with a team’s performance.
The Panthers need to take a leaf out of this book and decide what they want to see in their game.
They can then start playing “spotto” for real. Seeing in themselves and their teammates what is good and what they expect from each other.
Once they know what they want to see, only then can they start planning for next year and better days.