The coach is the better trainer

On August 23, 2020, German soccer club FC Bayern Munich won the final of the Champions League and thus the “triple” for the second time after 2013, means the Champions League title, the German championship and the German soccer cup. Still in November 2019, after the disastrous defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt, where the Bavarians were swept off the pitch with 1:5 by the Hessians, nobody would have bet a cent that the season would finish like this. On the contrary, Germany’s soccer fans were hoping that finally there would be another German champion at the end of the season and the long strong era of FC Bayern might be over for a while.

Everything turned out different

But everything turned out quite differently. And that was not because the club spent millions of Euros for new players or perhaps the much-cited “Bayerndusel” (Bavarian luck) helped to get there. In the Champions League final, nine players were on the field, who also played against Frankfurt on November 2, 2019. What had happened? Simply because of the fact that there was no other “star coach” available at the time, Bayern Munich’s assistant coach was promoted to chief coach, or let’s say interim chief coach. He never attracted attention with big words or airs and graces. He always did his job in the second row, as it was the case for the national team during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Germany won the title. When he took over in Munich, there were competing groups within the team, dissatisfied star players and allegedly also so-called “moles” who gave internal information out to the press.

The big turnaround

Already during the first game with the new coach, it was obvious that something must have changed significantly. And from that moment on, things only went into one direction. One record after the other was broken, the word “defeat” was no longer in the team’s vocabulary, and it was like playing in a frenzy. Even players who had already crossed the 30-years age barrier, having thought about changing the club as they didn’t like to sit on the substitutes’ bench, suddenly experienced something like a second spring and played like in their best days. Younger players became leaders and young talents, hardly known by anyone before, became regular players. And all this within nine months only!

Brand new sounds

During the interviews following the Champions League victory, only a few words were spent on tactics and similar topics. But you could hear a lot of statements like:

“You cannot really describe the feeling when you win a title like that with such a team, with brothers.”

“We are fighting over who makes up for each other’s mistake.”

“It has never been this much fun – and I’ve been doing this for a long time already.”

Teambuilding as the key to success

All of a sudden, only the team and the fun to play were the most important topics. If you want to get really nostalgic, you could use the old quote “one for all, all for one” to describe the atmosphere. Someone calls his teammates “brothers” and another one who has really been around for a while already “has never had so much fun”. I was not very surprised. I’ve been following soccer pretty closely for many years, and apart from a few exceptions, the coaches who have been most successful are the ones who are able to recognize the players as human beings, treat each of them individually as individuals and then form a real team from all these different characters. Professional competence I take for granted here, because this is certainly something that every coach has in the professional soccer business. But empathy cannot be learned. You either have it or you don’t have it. And you need empathy for good coaching.

Trainer and coach

If you enter the word “trainer” in English into various online translators, you will often find words like “instructor” or even “tamer” in German. Conversely, from German to English, always the word “coach” appears. Let this sink in for a moment and then think about some of the soccer coaches you know. At least I know several, also very famous ones, to whom the word tamer probably fits better than coach.

Soccer as a role model

Why do I talk so much about soccer? Because in my opinion, all of this can be applied very well to any management or leadership function, as also employees are individual characters. Leadership means that you have to lead. But unfortunately, many managers confuse leadership with control, micromanagement and exact instructions. For me, leadership means getting the best out of every employee, putting him or her in the position that best suits his or her abilities and strengths. You should and must provide a direction, a strategy, but also give the team the opportunity to participate in developing this strategy, and then, above all, make them responsible to creatively implement this strategy. At this point then, ideally you are only in the role of the coach, who advises, who listens, who asks the right questions, who motivates, who mediates and sometimes also arbitrates if necessary. Only then you will be able to use the full potential of everybody in the team and hopefully you will hear a comment from time to time like “how great it is to be part of this successful and amazing team”. Actually, just like in soccer.

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