Football directors of the clubs of the Eredivisie, the highest level of Dutch professional football, delved into ‘performance under pressure’ and ‘crisis management’, under the guidance of Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam
Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam organized two online workshops for football directors of the Eredivisie, one on ‘performing under pressure‘ and one on ‘crisis management‘. Professor-coach Henk Groener of Johan Cruyff Institute, who led the meetings, said: “After a short introduction, we addressed mainly the experiences of the participants. It was valuable to share those, so they could learn from each other’s approaches to these kinds of challenges.”
“In professional football, directors are expected to perform at their best, just like the first team. For them, it is impossible to avoid learning to deal with high pressure and crisis” — Henk Groener
The football industry is a dynamic world and club executives are regularly under great pressure as they are expected to perform at their best, just as is expected of the first team on the pitch. In times of crisis, things go even a step further, because normal business is turned upside down. As a football manager, you have to face an additional dimension of pressure. Suddenly something different is expected of you.
“I particularly noticed how evident it was that most participants deal with pressure daily and experience it as business as usual. To survive in the professional football industry, it is impossible to avoid learning to deal with high pressure and crisis,” says Henk. “And the pressure often comes from outside, for example from the media. I liked the input from football club Willem II director Martin van Geel in that regard, who explained what level of pressure works best for him, and how he is able to regulate it.”
“Keeping everyone connected and sharing the issues and the process, so that you can operate from there as one team is essential” — Martin van Geel
According to Martin van Geel: “For me, fortunately, what I heard during the meetings was mainly a confirmation of my own experiences, but it is still very important to consciously reflect on the theme, since it is very topical. Also, for example, because of the continuous adjustments due to the coronavirus. In less easy times, you need to be able to withstand stress, and to keep moving forward on your best course. You do this by consulting a lot with each other, keeping everyone connected and sharing the issues and the process, so that you can operate from there as one team.”
“Being stress resistant means, above all, that you are able to regulate your own stress levels, so that it is just right for your own best performance” — Henk Groener
Henk adds: “What makes a crisis special —on top of the pressure that is normally already high in football— is that it is accompanied by the fact that what worked before, no longer works. Otherwise, there would be no crisis and we would already have the solution.”
How do you cope with a crisis?
Henk Groener is the current coach of the German national women’s handball team. He is one of the creators of the Master in Coaching offered by Johan Cruyff Institute. To him, these skills are essential to cope with a crisis:
- Know how you respond to pressure and the people you work with.
- Know the optimal pressure level for you and the people in your team. It’s different for everyone in the team.
- Learn the skill of keeping or bringing the pressure to that level, so that it is in your optimal performance zone.
- Be able to identify where the pressure is coming from and where the solution might lie.
- Maintain continual communication with all parties involved. Effective communication often makes the difference.
“Communication with all those involved is essential in order to be able to operate successfully together in an environment such as professional football,” concludes Henk, adding that “to me, dealing with pressure and being stress resistant means, above all, that you are able to regulate your own stress levels, so that it is just right for your own best performance. You’ll need to be able to regulate the stress itself, to increase and decrease it.”