It reminded me of a paper I wrote during my Masters of Defence Studies on how much the effectiveness of modern armed forces relied on the threat of courts martial and other forms of discipline. The simplistic view is that sailors soldiers and airmen put themselves in harm's way out of fear of being punished if they hesitate. An infantryman charges a machine gun nest because his officers told him to do it. I didn't think that this could be the thinking in modern armed forces. But I couldn't think of an alternative explanation.
My research directed me to a senior Air Force officer who had studied this question and presented a simple answer. Members of the armed forces behaving contrary to normal instincts of self-preservation was the result of thousands of hours of drills and other training. Soldiers' instincts had been re-programmed so that they reacted in a predictable way to coming under fire, and they knew that everyone else in their section was doing the same in a practised drill. They had become unconsciously competent.
Much like the air traffic controllers, this rote response actually freed their minds up to consider more creative options to deal with the threat. Soldiers charge machine gun nests because it's what they've been trained to do. It's their Widget. Not to detract from the significantly higher risk to them of this behaviour compared to that faced by the average office worker. This is why those whose actions are recognised with medals usually shrug awkwardly when asked about their bravery. They were doing their job. They knew that their fellow soldiers' ability to do their jobs depended on it.
The justification for the structures in football is much the same. As the writer of the article concludes:
'I think the key that ultimately opens the door for most footballers is that this process is not the football bogyman at all. In fact, if adhered to, these structures will let you return to the battle cry that made you a good player to begin with: ''JUST LET ME PLAY!''
In simple terms, all of these set plays and crosses on the whiteboard are just a place to start. With the right amount of teaching and practice, getting to these spots just becomes part of the routine, part of the rhythm of a game.
For the best players, it gives them a freedom, too. A starting point. To be in the spot your team needs you to be in can give a player a sense of inner confidence.'
Good policies, procedures, routines and Widgets in a workplace do the same. Combined with a good boss, far from constraining us, they free us to just play.