Winning in Life, Business & Sport is a People Business
The following is an extract from my new book ’59 Lessons – Working with the world’s Greatest Coaches, Athletes, & Special Forces’ where I share my greatest insights into what makes winners truly great.
Caring for people matters more than intelligence, skills or your fame.
The “Boot Room” was a small room at Melwood, the Liverpool training ground, where during the 1960s to the early 1990s the coaching staff would sit, drink tea, and discuss the team, tactics, and the next game’s opponent. The Boot Room was situated across from the changing rooms and as the name suggests, was where academy players cleaned the first team’s boots.
The “Boot Room”
Bill Shankly converted it into an informal coaches’ meeting room, with a relaxing atmosphere where he, Bob Paisley, Reuben Bennett, Tom Saunders, Joe Fagan, and Ronnie Moran sat around and chatted like teachers in a breakroom. Some of the greatest ideas came out of these impromptu conversations.
We sometimes forget that professional players are also fans, and Stephen Jones, the legendary Welsh fly-half, was a huge Liverpool supporter. One day, before I started working at Liverpool, I arranged for us both to go up to Melwood to watch practice. Of course, not being the brightest light bulbs in the room, dumb and dumber arrived on a wet, windy day without jackets. We stood by the door of the facility next to the famous Boot Room and watched players jogging out to warm up.
“No Jackets Guys?
Suddenly, a voice came from behind us. “No jackets guys? Come here.” We turned around to see Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool head coach, standing in the doorway. He walked back inside the building, went into the coaches’ locker room, and returned with two large coats.
Here was one of the greatest soccer players and coaches of all time noticing two strangers underdressed, when it would have been easier to just stroll past.
Who wouldn’t want to play or work for a coach like that?
Sir Kenny Dalglish
As we sat upstairs after practice, Stephen and I looked down over the Melwood training fields and watched a player working with a coach after practice. He was running from the half way line, passing a ball to the coach on the edge of the box, taking the return pass, and shooting at the empty net. His return was poor, with balls going high and wide, left and right, but not in the goal.
What do we know!
When Kenny joined us upstairs, we asked who the player was. Kenny told us it was a new Uruguayan player they had just signed. When Kenny left, Stephen and I both looked at each other and agreed this Luis Suárez guy was never going to make it.
Shows you what we knew!
Christmas Away from Home
Kenny’s example emphasizes that coaching and managing is a people business. Beyond all the hype, stats, and fancy gadgets, we ultimately thrive on our relationships with others. When I was at the 49ers, Eric Mangini knew I’d be alone over the Christmas break. He made a point of inviting me to his house to have dinner with him, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and their families on Christmas Eve. When I left the Niners, the first calls on my phone were from Eric Reid, Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, and Colin Kaepernick.
Good People Leave a Lasting Impression
Someone similar who made an impression on me at Bolton Wanderers was Gary Speed. He was a great player, having captained Wales and Bolton in the Premier League and later becoming the Welsh coach. But he was an even better human being. Players like Gary who have movie star looks and all the talent in the world can often be aloof, but he was caring, thoughtful, and considerate to a fault.
Years after we’d both left the team, I was walking through the lobby in the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel with the Welsh Rugby team and heard someone call out, “Hey, Fergus!” I spun around to see Gary standing there. He asked me how I was doing, and we spent a few minutes catching up. He invited me to meet with him again at breakfast the next morning with Raymond Verheijen and Damian Roden, who I’d coached with at Bolton. Gary never forgot anyone and was genuinely invested in everybody around him. His early passing was a big shock to me and I’ll always remember him being a true gentleman.
Coaching is a subset of life.
Life isn’t a subset of coaching.
Winning will always be a people business.
by Fergus Connolly
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