Manager of the New Zealand National Women’s Team, the Football Ferns, Tony Readings has come up against some giants of the women’s world game. Taking on the likes of the USA (#1) , China (#14) and Brazil (#6), the Ferns have performed well beyond expectations. Tony and his team have created a truely unique team culture, which seems to be the key ingredient in the Ferns’ ability to consistently produce world class results.
PDP: How would you describe the culture of the Football Ferns?
TR: The Football Ferns culture is very unique and a point of difference for the team. The togetherness, trust and respect amongst the group is special and has been formed through several years of commitment, sacrifice and dedication. The genuine willingness for people to put the team first provides benefit both on and off the pitch
PDP: Who shapes this culture?
TR: The culture is largely shaped and led by the players although every person in the group (players and staff) significantly contributes. The culture is shaped through shared values and beliefs and when these are collectively drawn upon are immensely powerful, especially as they are driven and chosen by the players.
PDP: How would you describe the environment you and you staff create for the Ferns?
TR: The staff provides leadership and direction for the team whilst at the same encouraging ownership and accountability from the players. The staff use a player centred approach providing support both on and off the pitch to help the players realise their potential. A goal of the coaching team is to gradually increase the self-accountability and responsibility of the players to make ourselves progressively unnecessary.
The culture [of our team] is shaped through shared values and beliefs and when these are collectively drawn upon are immensely powerful, especially as they are driven and chosen by the players.
PDP: What do you and your staff do to promote this environment?
TR: The staff see their role as primarily supporting the players to realise their potential and work selflessly to achieve this. An increasing amount of responsibility is being given to the players to live the team vision and also design and execute the team tactics and strategies. Team meetings are very interactive drawing upon the collective knowledge of the group.
The players have amassed a wealth of playing experience at international level and unlocking this knowledge and using it to improve performance is key to the success of the team.
PDP: Can you describe any development innovations which have been crucial to the Ferns?
TR: Continuously evolving the team vision to provide a tool that guides the way the team must operate to achieve its goals has been very powerful. The vision provides a clear set of expected standards that players must consistently live both in their domestic environments and whilst with the national team. Creating individual performance plans for players and using the analysis system to objectively measure performance are also invaluable tools to improve both individual and team performance.
PDP: Do you have any key development role models or key influences who help shape the Ferns culture?
TR: The Football Ferns culture is very unique and we mainly look within our group for key models and influencers. There are many inspiring people in the playing group, main staff and support staff that play a major part in shaping the culture and everyone is encouraged to role model the desired behaviours. External people have been used to talk to the group if they can add value, fully understand the Football Ferns environment or know what it takes to achieve the team’s goals.
PDP: How do you integrate new players?
TR: There is a high level of alignment in the age group teams that makes the transition into the senior environment a lot smoother. When a player comes into the Football Ferns environment for the first time they are educated on the team protocols by the players and staff. The senior players then assume responsibility in incorporating the players into the culture, educating them on expectations, standards and desired behaviours. A key element of the culture is togetherness and this covers the integration of new players.
PDP: What’s the next step in the development of the Ferns?
TR: There will be a consistent evolution of the way the team operates on and off the pitch. Living the vision, evolving the playing model and improving individual performance are they key development areas that will be focused on. Playing regular matches is also a key focus area to overcome the obstacle of the team spending a large amount of time apart due to the global spread of players.
The staff see their role as primarily supporting the players to realise their potential and work selflessly to achieve this.
PDP: Briefly, how was hosting Brazil earlier this year, and were you happy with the girls performances?
TR: Playing matches in New Zealand are rare events, so to play a team of Brazil’s calibre was very special for everyone involved. Whilst happy with many aspects of the performances, there was disappointment with the results as the team played well enough to win both matches. These matches were very important building blocks for the team as the pinnacle events are fast approaching and the lessons learned will provide much benefit moving forward.
Readings looks on from the sideline. Photo: Photosport