The Project Manager Qualities Needed in a Sports Coach

Project Management in Sport

In sport today you often hear coaches and directors of sporting teams often referring to their team as a project. There is a goal that needs to be achieved and a plan is carefully put into place in order to achieve it. So who is managing the project?

Whilst the director or a board of directors may set the targets it is the coach who will take the lead in achieving them.

Being a manager or coach of a sports team isn’t easy (just ask any of the ex-England Managers). They have been brought into the position to achieve success for the team and if success doesn’t come quickly enough it’s the manager who usually takes the blame. In modern-day sport, fans and owners are not willing to be patient and pre-game protests and match boycotts are commonplace at underachieving teams.

Coaches need to show the qualities of a project manager in order to be a success. So what could the manager of West Brom have learnt this season?

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What Qualities of a Project Manager does a Football Coach Need to Show?

Planning – The first decision to be made by the coach will be whether to take on the job and if the goals set by the directors are achievable.

Extensive research of the team, its players, the facilities available plus potential investment needs to be assessed. Roles of anyone involved in the team need to be made clear as one of the problems many coaches face is the input from others. This was famously reported when Jose Mourinho was at Chelsea. Roman Abramovich decided to take on the role of recruiting players and staff, something Jose considered himself in charge of. This ultimately led to a fallout and Mourinho leaving.

Ring any (half-time)bells – the project manager and the sponsor?

Once the project is ready to start every member of the team needs to be able to understand their role in working towards a common goal.

Team Focus and Design –  In sports, a well-oiled functional team is essential to success. The manager will assess each team members expertise and skill level to decide their role within the squad. New members may be added if the current team can’t carry out the roles required.

Another thing to think about when recruiting new members to the team is the impact of new star players in the squad. New players can disrupt and replace current members of the team potentially creating tension.

This tension can, however, be positive and create a competitive atmosphere and motivate the overlooked members of the team to prove their worth and fight for a place in the team.

Of course in project resource management, a Project Manager doesn’t have the same recruitment spend available – but the skill of blending the right skills and creating a high performing team is still key. In project teams, to be picked – it’s all about the skills, experience, behavioural skills and style – plus a good track record. Project Managers can also experience the problem of top talent being ‘transferred’ away at any time – for projects with bigger benefits or a tighter schedule. Those projects that are deemed to be the trophies in an organisation often lead to resource grabbing of the top talent.

Flexibility –  Successful sports teams work to a Game Plan. However, it is rare for a project to go exactly to plan, especially when there are many other teams fighting for the same achievements. The manager must adapt and modify the team effectively when needed.

The manager will usually have a vision of how they want their team to perform. Sometimes though the manager will know they have to make changes. This could be due to a number of factors such as the style of the team may not suit a specific opponent; the team is not on track to hit their target or some individuals are not performing as well as expected.

It is essential for them to make changes and understand how the changes will affect the current roles of the team, making sure that the impact is positive.

Project management is all about change – without change, there is no need for projects, the only thing that is constant is change. Does a sports coach think about the art of change management? How to bring the people with you? How to keep the detractors on board? Does a football club have a culture of change?

Leadership – All teams need a leader, someone to make the decisions guide the team through its journey. An important part of this is how the manager rewards and disciplines the team during the project and at the end. Knowing that not everybody in the team reacts the same way and individuals in the team should be treated as such.

The manager will also need to set a hierarchy of leadership amongst the team. Identifying a captain and senior team members gives others someone to look up to and provide motivation when perhaps the manager cannot.

This was perhaps the biggest failing of West Brom boss Alan Pardew. When he arrived at the club in November there was immediately a backlash from supporters who didn’t believe that he was the man for the job. This was a sentiment clearly shared by the players as they never got to that high level of performance under Pardew.

Pardew had no control over his team and never instilled any belief that they could win. His team went on to lose 9 games in a row and 26 points from winning positions. During which time 4 of his most senior players got arrested during a warm weather training camp.

The team’s absence of control and a rudderless leader ultimately lead to the team being relegated and finishing bottom of the league.

Success for a sporting team can’t be achieved without planning. And as we say in project management, “fail to plan is planning to fail”

Without the planning in place, the project will ultimately fail. Just ask one of the bottom three.

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