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Leadership Mindset

This is an excerpt from One Goal: The Mindset of Winning Soccer Teams by Bill Beswick.

Leadership is a way of thinking. It begins in the head of each player with a desire to achieve and a willingness to take responsibility. Every member of a playing squad has a purposeful role to play and therefore a responsibility to him- or herself, the team and the coaches (see table 4.1). Players should be taught responsibility, individually and collectively, from the very start of their involvement in soccer. The power of a strong, collective team mindset is based upon the conviction that every single player can be trusted to carry out his or her responsibilities.


On one of our regular phone calls during which we discussed the mental and emotional state of the FC Twente team, former head coach Steve McClaren said,’This team is not as good as I want it to be. But it is going to be as good as the players want it to be!’


Steve understood that leadership emerges from the habit of taking responsibility. Certain players will emerge who are capable not only of taking care of their own individual responsibilities but also of helping the team with their collective responsibility, taking the lead and therefore making a difference.


Player leadership can emerge in differing forms:


  • A captain who accepts responsibility for representing the team
  • An inspirational leader - a talent who inspires the team
  • A core group of players determined to succeed
  • An emotional leader - a player who can capture the feelings of the team
  • The social connector leader - a ‘mother hen’ figure
  • Pop-up leadership - a player nearest to the situation taking charge


When the layers are peeled back to analyse a great team, many of these elements will appear. As discussed later in this chapter, for younger or less talented teams a good solution lies in establishing a small core of players, a leadership group, who share the coach’s ambitions and passion and have the ability to spread the message.


A growing trend in soccer is to focus on player ‘entitlements’ - rights and respect - but young players must learn that responsibility comes first. Every player must learn to take responsibility for her or his actions, and responsibility means being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing to the standard that the coach requires. Especially important is the discipline to continue to do the right things consistently when nobody is watching.


The philosophy at the excellent FC Twente Academy is that to build character, you have to give responsibility. The former director of football, Cees Lok, as a great player in his time, was aware that the building of character must go alongside the development of talent. When young boys and girls enter the academy, they are quickly made aware of their responsibilities. As they progress through the academy, player responsibility is reinforced at every level. The aim (see figure 4.2) is to build the kind of self-disciplined, self-managing players who can emerge as leaders and deal with the tough environment of the first team locker-room. At all times the players are made aware that they have ownership and control of their behaviour, that becoming a soccer player and being in the team is their choice.


Steve McClaren always tells his players, ‘I don’t drop you from the team, you drop yourself!’


The journey to leadership.


Being a Model Leader as Coach

The leadership characteristics and style of the coach create the conditions that allow player leadership to emerge. How the coach looks, what she or he says and how she or he acts send powerful messages to the players. The coach must be secure enough to allow space for player leadership to emerge and not be threatened by it. It could be said that coaches get the player-leaders they deserve!


Through intelligent use of power, authority, personality and presence, the coach is able to create a tight yet loose environment. A framework of control is established that includes a small number of non-negotiables (tight) yet enough negotiable (loose) aspects remain to allow player-leaders to shape large parts of the process. This move to increased player ownership is an important part of coaching the modern team.


The coach must always set the standard by personal behaviour, being confident and optimistic, seeing challenges not problems and focusing on what the team can do, not what they cannot do. Communication is especially important. Coaches must ask great questions and listen at least as much as they speak.

Learn more about One Goal.

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One Goal

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