9 Min Read
Mar 14 2023
Lucy Rushton is a trailblazer in many ways. Being the first woman to occupy a Technical Director role in the MLS with DC United, after experiences working with her hometown club in Reading, Watford and Atlanta United. Rushton spoke to the Association of Sporting Directors about her career so far, her experiences in a leadership role in the MLS and plans for the future.
Having completed a Master’s in Sports Performance Analysis, Rushton was hired by Watford as a Recruitment Analyst, using data to scout players. After six months, she got her dream job with her hometown club, Reading.
“Shortly after coming out of University, I was offered a first-team analyst position at Reading FC which was exactly the career I wanted at the time. Getting that opportunity with my hometown club made it even better and it was ultimately my dream job. I ended up staying there for 8 years. Most of that was as a first-team analyst, and then towards the end, I moved into scouting which seems to be the natural progression for a lot of analysts,” Rushton explained.
Rushton then moved to the other side of the Atlantic, where she helped build the team from scratch, when they entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2017.
“I just felt like I needed something to really push me on into the next stage of my career, and I’d never considered MLS up to that point. I got put in touch with Darren Eales, who was the President of Atlanta United at the time through a mutual contact. Darren explained the vision of Atlanta United to me, told me about their ambitions and showed me their infrastructure, and what they were looking to build. It was too good of an opportunity to turn down. The job was to go in as Head of Technical Recruitment and Analysis. At the time, we didn’t have one player. The task was to build a whole roster from the ground up. To get that opportunity from a scouting perspective was too good to turn down – it’s such a rare opportunity and was totally unique. So, it was just like, okay, let’s go. Let’s do it!,” added Rushton.
After her work in Atlanta, which included an MLS Cup win in 2018, a year after entering the league, Rushton stepped up and became General Manager at D.C. United, a role with more responsibility.
“As General Manager at DC, I was given the responsibility of managing everything on the technical side. When I arrived at the Club, there was very little use of data – we didn’t buy any technical data or have any staff to manage it – and there was very little in place with regards to a scouting department. My job was to build those departments and create a structure for our overall player recruitment and performance analysis. My first two hires were a Director of Scouting and a Data Scientist and we invested in data and scouting platforms. And from there we started to put some processes in place – practices around player identification, player analysis, team analysis, league trend analysis etc. I was also responsible for the general day-to-day operations on the football side: dealing with agents, trading players, managing the cap and overall soccer operations budgets etc.
The biggest part of the role for me was people management. Going into the position, managing staff was not something I had huge experience of. I had small departments at Reading and Atlanta, but at DC I was responsible for around 25 staff plus a roster of 30 players. I quickly learnt that the art of leadership and management were critical. And it’s a part of the role I enjoyed so much. I realized that I’m a real people person. I love helping to put people in positions where they can get the best out of themselves, where they can excel and succeed in what they do,” she added.
In an area where there are very few female Sporting Directors, Rushton was one in a high-profile league and she feels like the more we have women in these roles, the more it will influence others going forward.
“I hope we’re breaking down some barriers. I think the more that women get opportunities and probably the more that women see other women in those positions, they will think, ‘I can go for that, the opportunity is there’. Because until now (having now been in the role), I never thought that as a woman I could go for that kind of position. I often don’t see my gender so I don’t see myself as a trailblazer. I’d say that I see myself as someone who has worked hard in the game to build and establish a reputation and who has developed from the good people around me in the various environments, I’ve been in” said Rushton.
Her experience in various technical roles has seen Rushton rely on peers in the industry for advice and guidance along her career journey, something she feels is invaluable.
“It’s such a unique, niche role. For me, to get support and insight from people who have lived and breathed the sporting or technical director position is totally invaluable. They’re the people that can understand your position, can best advise on situations, and they just naturally relate to situations you might find yourself in or things you’re trying to figure out. I think we all have one or two people in our industries who we see as our “gurus” – probably someone we’ve worked with before – and they’ll always be the ones you call when you’ve got a dilemma, or you need a second opinion. I have a couple of those, and as a support network, they continue to be fantastic for me, providing great wisdom and advise,” she added.
Rushton also revealed the various ways she continues to grow and develop in her field and what she thinks is important to stimulate that.
“I’ve always been massive on staying ahead of the game and so, from a research point of view, I’ll always seek out the latest analysis, coaching or scouting products and softwares, or find out what new technological advances there have been in those spaces. If you want to remain competitive, it’s vitally important to be ‘in the know’ about those no matter what you’ve got set up at your club already.
Another big thing for me is to continue learning from my peers. Coming together with people I trust to ask questions and share ideas has been so massive for my continual growth and development. I don’t think “sharing” is something we should fear because we’re all ultimately trying to improve and enhance our industry. I’ve always been very open to discuss what I’m doing and it’s great to find people who are receptive to that and who are willing to share back, as I have done with members of ASD. When you are in that space mutual respect and trust, everyone can learn from each other and develop.
More recently, I’ve started to listen to quite a lot of podcasts on things like leadership and management. I’ve enjoyed learning from the experiences and stories of people operating in high-performing environments. Listening maybe to how they’ve overcome adversity, or how they changed the culture of an organisation, or how they managed not only the emotions of their staff but of their own selves in certain, often challenging, moments. I always find that I’ll get three or four key take-aways from each person that I can apply to my future self and work. I love that concept of continual personal growth and self-development and I always feel enthused by it” Rushton explained.
Having been introduced to the ASD through a friend, Rushton is excited about getting involved with the association and can see the benefits of being a member.
“The ASD members are all people that are living and breathing my world. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge amongst the members and to hear their insights and be able to learn from them is fantastic. I think that’s a big part of what I’m looking to get out of the platform – continued learning and development. But I am also looking to contribute myself, and hopefully give some bits and pieces to others that can help them in their roles.
Of equal value to me is that feeling of community I’ve found in the group. The position we operate in is so unique. The job can be great and hugely rewarding but it can also be extremely demanding, challenging and at times lonely. To be surrounded by people who have been there and done it, and just to know that you have that community to tap into, is really important and beneficial”
Having left her role at D.C United, Rushton is looking forward to the future, as she looks to remain in the director field, whether that is in the MLS or elsewhere.
“I’ve got a massive hunger to continue working in the Sporting Director space. Whether that be as a number one or as an assistant. While I know I have a lot to offer with my experiences and background, I also recognize that I’m still very young, especially in this role. Being in a position at a club where I can both be relied upon and given responsibility but also learn from those around me would excite me. To work with an organisation and with people who share the same principle and ambitions as me is also important.
Given the specific nature of MLS – the salary cap and general set-up – I think I’m well suited to the league here. As crazy as some of the rules can drive you at times, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here and am excited about the growth which continues to take place. But at the same time, I’ve spent eight to nine years working in English football and I’m very comfortable in that landscape as well. Wherever my next role takes me, I feel energised and ready for the challenge!,” Rushton said.
Rushton clearly has some unfinished business and with experience at Premier League, Championship and MLS level, she will bring a global perspective to her next role. The Reading native joins a growing number of ASD members and we are always happy to connect, support and develop our membership. Industry professionals can apply for membership here.
This article was composed by Colm Hand and Liverpool John Moores University student Kevin Bannon.
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