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Coaching the coaches to avoid the Pardew ‘kiss’

As Alan Pardew awaits the date of his personal hearing to discuss the FA misconduct charge for his apparent ‘Glasgow kiss’ on Hull City’s David Meyler, I wonder why we’re still talking about punishment rather than prevention.

We hear very little debate about some of the underlying pressures and causes of behaviour such as Pardew’s, and his is not an isolated case. The media scrutiny and pressure on premiership managers is so intense that it’s not surprising that some of them are at the point of explosion on many occasions. 

The average life expectancy in post for a premiership manager is 12-18 months. I struggle to think of any other job in the world with such a short life expectancy on entry, where every single action and comment is scrutinised on a daily basis and where any loose phrases or statements are immediately seized upon and splashed all over the back pages. Furthermore, there are even fewer jobs where the head person receives a much lower salary than some of his charges and every week the results of your efforts are broadcast to over 600 million people in over 200 countries around the world.

The degree of pressure felt by premiership managers is truly intense, but very few of them receive any personal support. They may be coaches to the first team, but they receive no coaching for themselves on how to cope. They are just expected to deal with the pressure. Consider CEOs in similar positions of pressure. At least half of FTSE CEOs have external support in the form of coaches or mentors. In football, such support is practically non-existent and in fact is often ridiculed. Just recently Roy Hodgson’s appointment of a team psychiatrist has been somewhat derided as odd or weird by commentators, or even equated to Glen Hoddle bringing in faith healer Eileen Drewery as an advisor to the England squad in the late 90s.

When you consider the widespread acceptance of psychological support in other sports, football has some way to go. This was not the first outburst from Pardew and the fact that these issues are commented on but no help is offered is symptomatic of the lack of recognition that premiership managerial pressure as a serious issue.

We need to wake up and recognise that any organisation (sporting or business) that is serious about the performance of its senior executives should offer them quality coaching support, if for no other reason than to reduce the risk of managerial failure.

The same goes for players too. One momentary loss of temper or outburst can trigger a red card, leading a player to be banned for three days (minimum) with the subsequent potential loss of points for the team. On occasion such a loss in points could result in relegation and you’re then talking about a potential multi-million pound loss in revenue.  

It is extraordinary given the degree of financial risk from such outbursts that psychological support for players and coaching staff is so derided. Without high quality support, inappropriate solutions are suggested – Pardew suggests he manages from the stands rather than the touchline in future. Such a suggestion is a classic example of not addressing the real problem.  

The truth is that these risks can be much better managed. Players and managers can learn to regulate themselves to a much higher degree, despite the pressures they face. Football needs to take proper professional and appropriate action to support its managers. The FA has a large role to play in getting such interventions in place and accepted as a way forward in football as it is in most other modern sports.

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.


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