6 Min Read
Jul 19 2023
The Sporting Director role has gained significant prominence in recent years. As football clubs strive for success on and off the pitch, the need for a specialised position to oversee sporting operations and bridge the gap between senior management and technical staff has become increasingly evident.
This was a topic at the 3rd Football 360 Summit where Dr Dan Parnell, CEO of the Association of Sporting Directors, hosted a panel session focusing on Sporting Directorship. The discussion provided great insight into the role from industry experts. The panel members included:
- Gareth Jennings – Technical Director at the UAE Pro League
- Donald Gillies – Technical Director at Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club
- Gyorgy Csepregi – Sporting Director at K. Beerschot V. A.
Effective communication and relationship-building are essential skills for Sporting Directors. Understanding how individuals within the organisation receive information for their own development is key. Internal transparency is also vital, as Sporting Directors act as the bridge between senior management and technical staff. They must have a deep knowledge of the club or organisation, allowing them to align their communications with the club’s vision and values. These are critical factors for balancing the needs of senior management and technical staff, whilst maintaining that all parties see eye-to-eye.
Parnell explained how the 3 Ts of Communication – Timing, Type and Total Communication – play a vital role in effective leadership. Sporting Directors must understand when and how to communicate information to different stakeholders. Jennings added a 4th T to this model, Translation. He reasoned that Sporting Directors must also serve as translators of strategy who can convey the organisation’s vision to internal and external stakeholders.
In terms of organisational hierarchy, there are differing opinions whether Sporting Directors should sit at board level or not. Some suggest that they should be focused exclusively on sporting operations and, therefore, not distracted by corporate affairs. Others counter that board-level insight could better align sporting decisions with the wider organisational strategy. The panel consensus is that both structures can work so long as the role and responsibilities of the Sporting Director are clearly defined and communicated.
“A distinct division of responsibilities is required to enable Sporting Directors to operate autonomously in their area of expertise.” – Gareth Jennings
Managing short and long-term strategies in football presents significant challenges, especially considering the constant focus on match results. Sporting Directors must balance the inevitable pressure of match results with long-term objectives. Gillies explained that they must “reach for the low hanging fruit” to guarantee the time, resources, and support of key stakeholders to achieve long-term strategies. They need emotional intelligence to guide decision-making and understand what can be achieved. Short-term pressures are ever-present in sports, but long-term success relies on effective management of those immediate challenges.
“How much are you willing to give to stakeholders in the short term to guarantee your ability to manage and achieve long term strategies?” – Donald Gillies
Data and analytics have significantly impacted decision-making in recent years. Sporting Directors can leverage these tools in various ways to gain a competitive edge. For example, they can analyse data to identify academy players with similar traits to upcoming first team opponents. This creates mutually beneficial opportunities for the first team to better prepare and for young players to gain exposure to senior football. From a league perspective, data-driven insights also play a role in optimising match schedules, ensuring player recovery and peak performance.
Jennings explained that Zone7, official partner of the Association of Sporting Directors, are supporting leagues in this area by leveraging data analytics powered by artificial intelligence. Leagues can develop ideal fixture scheduling and better inform clubs about how to adapt their periodisation models.
Injury Risk Forecasting by Zone7
Staying up to date with the latest tools and platforms is essential for Sporting Directors. They should carefully evaluate new offerings and identify valuable resources amidst the abundance of options. Moreover, as explained by Csepregi, physical data is a crucial aspect of player recruitment for clubs aiming for promotion. Players signed must be of sufficient quality to meet short-term objectives whilst being capable of coping with the physical demands of a higher division.
Personal development is similarly critical for current and aspiring Sporting Directors. Individuals wishing to move into such positions can learn from the paths of those currently in the role. Valuable insights can be gained from their career trajectories and transitions.
Continuous education and learning are critical to maintaining a contemporary understanding of the industry. Confidence in one’s understanding and bravery in decision-making are also vital attributes. Sporting Directors must be prepared to make tough choices and effectively communicate them to stakeholders. Finally, whilst a previous playing career is not necessary, a comprehensive understanding of how the game practically operates in various contexts is crucial.
“You do not need to have been a professional player but you do need to know how the game works. The way football operates on the pitch is different than in the dressing room and even more so than in the boardroom. Sporting Directors must understand all these areas.” – Gyorgy Csepregi
If you would like to watch the full recording of the Football 360 Summit panel discussion, please click here.
The role of a Sporting Director clearly requires a diverse skill set. Effective communication, relationship-building, and strategic translation are fundamental. Navigating short and long-term strategies in a results-driven environment is challenging but achievable with emotional intelligence and effective management. Leveraging data analytics and new tools empowers Sporting Directors to make informed decisions.
By learning from industry professionals and continuously educating themselves, Sporting Directors can excel in their role and lead organisations to success. The Association of Sporting Directors has launched its education programme. The first course includes world class industry insights from John Murtough and Andy O’Boyle (Manchester United FC) and Brian Marwood (Manchester City FC). To find further information or to enrol on the course, please visit: asd.mimentorportal.com
The Association of Sporting Directors is a global membership network which supports, connects, and develops leaders in the football industry. Our ambition is to support our members for the future challenges of the game, develop creative thinking, create knowledge exchange opportunities, and share the latest industry insights. Become part of a powerful global community of directors, all from professional clubs and sporting organisations, who share their perspectives to help our members become better leaders, make more informed decisions and achieve greater results. To learn more about The Association of Sporting Directors and apply for membership, please visit: https://associationofsportingdirectors.com/membership/