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The art of being a modern manager

Four of the leading coaches in the world outlined the secrets of their success at the Global Sport Summit held by the NFL in London this week. Nick Harris reports

Saturday 24 October 2009 00:00 BST

Holmgren stays true to himself

On becoming a coach: "When I was growing up in San Francisco, I tried to participate in as many sports as I could and I found the people who cared about me most were my coaches. I admired them, and it was a natural entry point. I was very fortunate to be around and work with some of the finest coaches in the country; Bill Walsh, Lavelle Edwards and others."

On discipline: "The amounts that players are paid now are staggering and so how does a coach establish team rules, discipline, deal with a player who has just been signed to a huge contract and then starts to act up? What's worked for me over the years is I've taken my best players – usually the quarter-back – and said 'Okay, we all recognise you're the man, but here is how we have to work, together, because everyone is going to be watching you, the fans, your team-mates, coaches, everybody.' It's also important to be genuine. When I went to the Green Bay Packers, I was following the footsteps of Vince Lombardi, among the greatest coaches ever. I'm not Lombardi, never going to be. So it's very important for all of us to be who we are, you can't con players, never try to say you did this or that, you need to be fair and consistent."

On the expansion of coaching staff: "When I first started in the NFL at the San Francisco we had eight coaches. Now it's 17 coaches, not including medical staff and trainers. I think the growth of staff is partly down to a culture of keeping up with the Joneses. But in my game, you have a number of different positions that require a coach for themselves during practice, so you do need a fair amount to deal with it properly."

On the conflict between medics and coaches over player availability: "There's a lot of conflict! If one of my best players gets hurts and we're playing a big game, I want him to play but my doctor has final say not me. That's the medical staff's call, and in fairness to the player it's the right thing to do because I get emotional. I want the guy on the field."

On coping with pressure: "I was asked at one SuperBowl conference 'If you don't win, will you consider this season a failure?' I've heard coaches say 'yes' to that question, and I couldn't disagree with that more strongly. You need to keep things in perspective in a very volatile world. If you say 'yes' to a question like that, then seven or eight months of my life and my players' didn't count, didn't mean anything. "

On the pre-match team talk: "Over the years I've given lots of emotional appeals, which have been forgotten after one play! More important is to bring the players in, get them to grab hold of each other [in a huddle] to emphasise how the guy on your right and left is depending on you."

Mike Holmgren: Roll of Honour

Green Bay Packers (1992-98):

1995, 96, 97 NFC Central Division

1996, 97 NFC Championship

1997 Super Bowl XXXI

Seattle Seahawks (1999-2008):

1999, 2004, 05, 06, 07 NFC West Division

2005 NFC Championship

Flower copes by separating 'real life' from sport

On becoming a coach: "Martin and I are novices compared to Fabio and Mike but I actually started coaching when I was about 20, when I was first employed by the Zimbabwe cricket union and we went and coached in the disadvantaged areas in Harare and outlying areas. So while I've played for 20 years, I've been involved in the coaching as a young man and as a player, and been interested in the whole process of maximising the potential of a player."

On discipline: "It's all about respect, not just the coach-player relationship but it's also respect for the game, respect for your opposition and respect for your position and who you are representing."

On cheating: "There's this intangible notion of [fairness] and its uniqueness in cricket. I think generally your leaders on the field know what's right and what's wrong, and that's where a lot of the decisions are made. We are lucky in that we've got a good man in Andrew Strauss and he's very clear about what he believes is right and wrong. Our team will follow him."

On coping with pressure: "Keeping things in perspective is the only way to do it. Train and play as if it's life and death, but in the real knowledge that it's not, and that there are actually more important things about it. You can be obsessed with your sport, and obsessed with your skill, and obsessed with the art of what you do but also realise that it's not life and death... I think you have to be secure enough about yourself and your systems and your team that you make your own judgments about where you are with the team and you."

On learning from other sports: "As a fledgling professional sport, I suppose we are constantly looking outside our sport for short-cuts to excellence. On the physical side, we look at squash and the footwork they use, and the coordination and resilience that you need in that game. In baseball, the hitting and throwing are areas very closely aligned to cricket."

Andy Flower: Roll of honour

Appointed full time team director of England in April 2009 after standing in as an interim for the tour to West Indies in the winter. In only his second series, the Zimbabwean helped his adopted country regain the Ashes.

England (Team Director 2009+)

2009 Ashes

Capello demands total respect

On becoming a coach: "I learned a lot when I was a player and was lucky to have some of the best managers ever, like Helenio Herrera [at Roma in the late 60s]. I learned from the different styles of my managers, that styles differ from country to country, Italy or Spain or England, and even between cities.

"Being manager of England is completely different again. At a club you work with players every day, you understand their mistakes, you can improve them, change their style, work with them psychologically. When I had my first training session with England I was surprised because the players were really good. I thought 'Why are these players so good but failed to reach Euro 2008?'

"I realised in training it was because they played with fear, with no confidence, and I realised this was a problem in the mind, and I worked on this, and we improved game by game. I remember the game we played in France and we lost 1-0. The players weren't happy but I was happy because we played well for 35 minutes, and my next objective was to play well for 90 minutes."

On discipline: "I cannot understand why 20 players, for example, should have to wait for two players that arrive late. I don't understand why a player would have no respect for rules, or don't respect the coaches and other people they work with. I expect respect."

On cheating: "I don't like players to dive, never. I speak always with my players but during the game, you have to be close to the players to speak with them. Sometimes, the decision of the referee is not correct, it's not good [in dealing with divers]. If a player dives, I cannot kill him, but I don't like diving."

On the pre-match team talk: "It's one part of our job that's really important. Sometimes you just need to have a quiet word, sometimes be a bit louder. It's the part of the job when you don't want any cameras around. It's the sacred moment."

On learning from other sports: "Every sport has an important characteristic that can teach you something. In volleyball, there is no contact between team-mates during play, so after every point you have to touch to create a group spirit. As for rugby, that's the strongest sport in the world because after every game the doctors are very busy! Baseball is like cricket, where you seem to have to wait for a lot of time for the really important play.

"The mentality of players differ a large amount in different sports. In rugby and ice hockey it's all about a fighting mentality.

"In volleyball it's more strategic, about movement on the court. In baseball, it's about maintaining concentration levels for a long time, to catch one ball. It's important to know the psychology of the different players. The common fact in sport is psychology , and what's important is to improve the psychology."

Fabio Capello: Roll of honour

Milan (1991-96, 1997-98)

1991/92, 1992/93, 1993/94, 1995/96 Serie A, 1993/94 Champions League

Roma (1999-2004)

2000/01 Serie A

Juventus (2004-06)

2004/05, 2005/06 Serie A*

2005 Serie A Coach of the Year

Real Madrid (1996-97, 2006-07)

1996/97, 2006/07 La Liga

*Later rescinded

Johnson insists on putting the team first

On discipline: "In a team sport, whatever rules you set, if you don't follow them then you're just letting other people down, letting your team-mates down. You can have different characters in a team, and you encourage that, but there's a line to be drawn and if we decide to do something as a team, we do it together. And if you don't want to do that, there's a simple choice; don't be involved."

On cheating: The good thing is that [Bloodgate] has been dealt with. But how did we get there? You get situations where the law gets abused slightly, and people get away with it, and they do it a little bit more and a little bit more. We all live in a competitive world, whether it's about money or the will to win."

On the expansion of coaching staff: "When I started playing, we had two coaches, now there's a full-back, attack coach, backs, forwards, scrum coach, specialist defence coach. I think you do get caught up thinking 'You need this and that, it's there to improve guys and help them.'

On the pre-match team talk: "People love the myth of the big team talks before you go out and what that does to a team. I played 500 games or whatever, and I can probably remember three or four of them. You have to know when the time is right to be able to do it. I don't speak to our team really, I speak to them about half an hour before they go out, then the captain deals with them pre-game."

Martin Johnson: Roll of honour

Took over as England head coach in April 2008 after winning the World Cup and five Six Nations as a player.

England (Team Manager 2008+)

2009 Calcutta Cup

Finished 2nd in 2009 Six Nations, scoring most tries.

Say what? How it's done

The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.

Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing

Vince Lombardi

When you go into this game, you have to work extremely hard – you need a natural work ethic. The really good coach is the one who is happy to work and believe me, it is not easy to work hard in coaching for your whole life. The drive, the hunger, the passion must be inside you, because players need to recognise that you care. And of course, the aim is to get the players to care along with you.

Sir Alex Ferguson

I cannot compromise. Winning is about inches. Look at Kelly Holmes – she won by inches. We won the World Cup by inches. You don't win World Cups by compromising. You can't take short cuts if you're trying to be the best in the world. We won by an inch, because we did that little bit more than our opponents

Sir Clive Woodward

If you're a painter, you don't get rich until you're dead. The same happens with managers. You're never appreciated until you're gone, and then people say: 'Oh, he was OK'. Just like Picasso.

Sir Bobby Robson

It is vital to have different personalities in a team. It is simply about how, as coach, each person and each situation is managed. Inevitably there is conflict between personalities. It is about finding ways to make this conflict work for the individual and the team – healthy conflict – as opposed to unresolved conflict that becomes a cancer within the team environment.

John Buchanan

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