Guest blog post by Neil Baker
Now, the football of oligarch owners and multi-millionaire prima donnas is of little interest to me. My heart is down in the grass roots. Way, way down.
I’m talking about the sheep-dung-crusted fields of the local village Friendly League. This is where a team of brave 13-year-olds turns out each week to give 110% for their visionary manager: Me.
I didn’t plan to become a football manager. I knew next to nothing about the game when I started. And I don’t know much now. More importantly, I had no idea how to control a group of 20 teenage boys (and one girl).
But as every football manager knows, success is 95% luck. And my luck has been good. Just before my first game a new lad joined the team. It turned out his dad was a proper coach and had played professionally. Suddenly, I had an assistant.
And what an assistant! Watching Dave instruct the boys (and one girl) has taught me a lot about football, and even more about business writing (and I can’t tell you how surprised Dave would be to read that.)
The first lesson was to keep it simple. Really simple.
I thought my job as manager was to devise complex match-winning strategies and set-piece routines that would baffle the opposition, which I’d supplement with tactical insights shouted from the touchline. Wrong.
Dave explained that football is a simple team game. Each player has a role to play and an area of the pitch to cover. When everyone is in the right place, doing the right job, you have a “good shape”. Slip into a bad shape and you let in goals and lose matches.
So every now and then during the game Dave shouts one word, “Shape”. Automatically, the players check what they are doing. And they look at what their teammates are doing too. Has someone wandered out of defence? Gone for their asthma pump? They work together and fill-in for each other. They hold their shape.
So football, I realised, is a sort of creative collaboration. You set a nice clear objective, lay down some rules, and let everyone get on with it. Periodically, you ask them all to reflect, so they can self-adjust. Working with clients soon got a lot easier.
The second lesson was to stay calm. When a player is through on goal Dave doesn’t shout, “Stick it in!” or “Finish it!” or any of the things the eager parents blurt out from the touchline.
He wants the player with a shooting chance to tune out all the noise, confusion and parental support. They don’t need to be reminded that the aim is to score. So he just says, “Relax”.
I say the same word to myself now when I’m pressured by writing deadlines or overwhelmed by client demands. Be aware of what’s going on, but rise above it. Find the space amid the chaos to play your game. Trust your skills. Relax.
So there we are, Shape and Relax. Now I just need to understand the off-side rule, and I can apply for Arsene Wenger’s job.
Neil Baker (pictured above) is one of the new Dark Angels associate partners