Whether you’re a football fan or not, there’s a lot we can learn from the ‘The Beautiful Game.’
As with most things, the 90 minutes on the pitch is the tip of the iceberg. The players, coaches, physios, sports scientists, sports analysts, and others work around the clock to lead the team to victory.
After watching the BBC’s TV show, ‘Britain’s Youngest Football Boss’, it struck me how communication can make or break a team. The show followed Matthew Beard, the head coach of West Ham United Women’s team.
Matt has an impressive track-record, having previously managed the women’s teams of Chelsea and Liverpool. He was also the head coach of Boston Breakers, who competed in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Matt clearly knows a thing or two about coaching a team to success, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet him, and delve deeper into how he uses communication to get the best out of his team, and what tactics he transfers to everyday life.
His passion for coaching one of the top women’s teams in the fastest growing participation sport among females in the UK was clear. Here’s his expert advice on coaching and communication.
Think your way to success
Matt is a firm believer that our words and thoughts have a direct impact on our outlook and ability to achieve. The brain is wired to the body, therefore consistent positive re-enforcement is key to success. Matt uses this approach off the pitch too. Before his children head off to school, he tells them they’ll have a good day. It’s positive affirmations all the way, and no ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’ or ‘don’t’.
We all learn differently
To ensure the team learns effectively, they learn in a number of ways. This includes using PowerPoint, video analysis, and watching or listening to someone in person. It’s useful to bear in mind that what works for us might not work for others.
Account for language and cultural differences
The West Ham Women’s team includes professional footballers from around the world and Matt makes good use of Google translate!
He explained how adapting to his player’s language and culture is essential; “during a training session, I noticed a player had to pause for a split second to translate something I’d said. Even a micro-pause like this can make a big difference to the game.” Matt and the player worked together to agree which words would be useful for him to learn in her language, to avoid the need for translation.
During his time in the US, Matt also noticed how important it is to understand the culture of your team members. For example, there was no use talking about football boots, bibs or goals to the Boston Breakers, because they’re known as cleats, pinnies and frames in the States.
Give feedback without knocking morale
Feeding back can often feel a little tricky. Matt’s tried and tested policy is to keep the language positive and begin with covering areas where there’s room for improvement, and end the conversation on a high by sharing positive feedback last.
Treat people like people
It was so refreshing to hear Matt say that when the team see each other for the first time each day, they hug/high five/shake hands, and have a quick chat. The most successful leaders I’ve seen have always made time to do this. It’s so important to recognise people as individuals, and not just another cog in the machine.
Work on yourself
The team is heavily reliant on Matt at ‘make or break’ moments, and he’s very aware of this; “there have been times when my emotions have got the better of me in the heat of the moment.” He’s invested a lot of time in learning how to manage this for the benefit of the team, and his life in general, and sees it as a continuous evolution. Matt highly recommends reading Mark Rhodes’, ‘Think your way to success.’
Give people responsibility and trust
The team set their own objectives, and are given the trust and responsibility to take ownership in achieving them. Matt firmly believes that this approach boosts engagement and morale.
Best piece of advice
“Be adaptable, but always stick to your key principles and values.”
Thank you, Matt, for sharing your invaluable advice, and good luck to West Ham Women’s team for the new season!
Whether with your team, at home, or with your children, how do you use communication to coach and engage? What tried and tested tips do you have?