Marc Sagal from the Winning Mind joins ASD members in a conversation with Haydn Roberts

Elite performance coach Marc Sagal spoke about how and why Sporting Directors need to grow their own identity in order to achieve success 

Marc is Managing Partner for Winning Mind, a consultancy that focusses on performance coaching for elite athletes and leaders, helping them achieve meaningful success under even the most extreme pressures. Winning Mind’s clients range from professional teams (EPL, MLB, NFL and NBA) to elite military and Government organisations (FBI, US Army, Navy SEALs) to high-profile companies (Snap, Hilton, Vans, Microsoft). What unites his elite clients is that they all work in an environment where performance meets pressure – an environment that will be familiar to all Sporting Directors. 

With a background in psychology, philosophy and sport, Marc has focused his career on the mental side of performance, helping people be at their best when it matters the most. He’s pioneered what he has called ‘identity fortification,’ a process designed to strengthen performance and resilience through the purposeful clarification and strengthening of beliefs. 

In his illuminating thirty minute presentation Marc argues that identity as a form of differentiation can lead to individual and team success. Ultimately, there are lots of ways to win, but you have to know your strategy to be the best. Within the presentation Marc challenges us to think about whether we can truly answer these simple questions:

  • What defines success for you?
  • What is your competitive advantage?
  • What will inspire others to follow you?

Football Clubs, Managers and even players all have unique identities that can help them find the right fit to play to their strengths. Yet, why is it that Sporting Directors don’t really have a strong identity? Marc argues that building an identity, both for the job and for you as an individual, has many advantages. 

A strong identity can help provide much needed clarity on the role of Sporting Directors. Let’s face it, there is currently ambiguity in the title and responsibilities for many leadership positions in football. An identity which can highlight the unique value that Sporting Directors can bring to raise our profile and earn us deserved respect for our contribution. 

Identity can also align stakeholders. One of the biggest challenges of our role is that we operate in a precarious space in amongst players, owners, management, coaches and supporters. Having a strong identity about what makes you successful helps bring these diverse stakeholders into alignment. 

Marc goes further to say that identity, which can often be referred to as a brand, enables you to be a better leader. It can help you behave with conviction around decision making and be more consistent across your communication. 

So how does one create a strong identity? Marc argues that you need a clear and compelling story of who you are, what you want and how you will achieve success. Stories don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to be memorable. 

Once you’ve found the one thing that makes you special, you need to peel away the onion to reveal the layers to your identity. And then you need to craft your story, ensuring you insert emotion. Quoting Maya Angelou, Marc comments: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And this is why a compelling story, with emotion, makes a better identity than a mission statement or a corporate vision. 

The online seminar covered a number of insightful questions, including:

  • How do you measure improvement in our line of work
  • How can you maintain trust with players whilst still communicating with management
  • Data advancement is everywhere. How does this influence the psychology of scouting
  • Practical guidance tips for Sporting Directors for dealing with challenges and varying expectations from competing stakeholders

The ASD aims to support sporting directors in professional football. These conversations allow members to connect, share practice, develop ideas and innovate in their own practice. The full conversation is available to ASD members. We are thankful to Marc Sagal and Haydn Roberts for the conversation.

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