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Creating a Sense of Identity and Purpose at Chelsea and Burnley

Five key takeaways from Emma Hayes and Sean Dyche’s session at 2017 Leaders Sport Performance Summit in London.

Emma Hayes’ take on the coach-player dynamic in soccer goes some way to explaining why players must be permitted to have an input at our Sport Performance Summit, London 2017.

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By John Portch 

The Chelsea Women’s Head Coach broaches the topic in an all too common context for her accomplished side: opponents set up with a low defensive block. “We have to create and adapt to playing against terms that sit in their half the entire time and I find it incredibly challenging as a coach to do that,” she told an audience at the 2017 Leaders Sport Performance Summit in London. 

The players, those tasked with winning the match, are a crucial part of the solution. “As I’ve always said, I watch the game laterally, they watch it horizontally, so I might see spaces in between certain lines and they might see it another way.” 

Hayes was joined onstage that afternoon by Sean Dyche, the Manager of English Premier League Burnley, as the pair discussed the creation of team identities and their efforts to sustain a sense purpose. 

Here were five key takeaways: 

1. A clear purpose provides focus. And much more besides 

When Dyche arrived at Burnley in 2012 he did not make bold promises. “The only thing I could guarantee was sweat on the shirt – players who will give you everything,” he recalled. The Clarets, who are about to embark on their fourth consecutive year in the English Premier League, are particularly noted for their defensive resilience. The hard-running style advocated by Dyche is a product of the values he espouses. “There’s got to be a line that runs through your beliefs,” he explains. “There has to be a base tactical position for a team in order for them to earn a result.” Dyche knows his charges cannot go head to head with champions Manchester City but neither do the club nor the fans, who cherish the top-tier status Dyche continually delivers. “We know what we are and we’re proud of it. My players know what it’s brought them off the pitch. Money comes and goes but what about your name being written in stone at the club? I’ve got players at Burnley who will be written into the annals of the club in 20 years’ time. That’s a powerful thing.” 

2. Staff must drive a club’s sense of purpose 

Hayes is able to point to five major trophies in her seven years at the helm but it was not a winning side she inherited in 2012. The environment needed to change and her staff were key. “They had barely won any games so you have to create that team identity to begin with,” she remembered. “You have to learn that at such a large club – and Chelsea are like a conglomerate – you have to take responsibility within your departments.” It was incumbent on Hayes to educate the players who thought ‘the club’ was something larger or abstract. “‘I’m the club, you’re the club’,” she would tell them. A change in mindset often starts with the staff and from there the team could build a sense of collective purpose. 

3. Affect the person and you can affect the performance 

Dyche argued that you can make your players feel valued by working to build rapport and trust with the group. “My way of working is if you can affect the person you can affect the performance,” he explained. “Before I worry about formation, I’m thinking what level of rapport can I gain with the players, what’s going to make them understand that it’s about them not me? I’ll give everything for them to improve them and help them get better. It takes a while, however, to get to the environment where the culture becomes set. 

4. Self-learners drive better learning 

Make the players feel valued by inviting constructive feedback and performance input helps to establish a shared purpose at Chelsea. Once a week we’ll put a couple of games on a remote server that they can watch on their phone,” said Hayes. We don’t tell them to watch it, we just tell them it’s there. We then put them into different groups. They’ll come in on a Wednesday morning with their notepads and they might have very centred questions around five phases of the opposition’s play where they’re educating the room about it. We’ve found that our players are watching more games now by giving them responsibility and they’re getting more confident when they present back to the group.” 

5. The best clichés often ring true 

‘Taking it one game at a time’ is a standard mantra in English soccer but such a clear message can be impactful on the pitch. Dyche said: “As long as you are clear and you follow it through then it becomes a reality; I actually work on the next game, plan for the next game, after that game we sometimes debrief it sometimes we let the players have their time to bring their own conclusions and then we focus on the next step, which is the next game.” He also argued that the media have a role. “Now behind all of that, I’ve equally said through the media that of course there’s planning at board level and of the staff,” he explained, “but the focus for the players is almost ‘don’t run too far’. We know who we are and we know each challenge as it comes and the next one is the most important one. We’ve just constantly reinforced how important that is, added the detail you need to stay focused.”


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