Can standard office-based performance management models be applied to training football players? Player Development Project’s Jon Hoggard looks at a common basic performance matrix to find out.


First off, let me make a confession: I work in an office. I’m not a football coach; my everyday equipment are my computer, desk, phone, lumbar support chair and a never-ending in-tray. A world away, you might think, from the cones, tactic boards, whistles and boots of a coach.

But are coaches always to be found in a sporting context? Despite the obvious differences, there may just be some crossovers between a football coach and an office manager – aside from playing the latest Football Manager game on the way to work.

Consider: I have a team of people whom I need to manage. Their development is to a large degree down to me. The team needs to find ways of working together, making the best of each other’s skills, in order to be successful. There are a range of levels of performance in my team based on skill level, desire, commitment to the cause and personal development. I am here to guide, encourage, prompt, mentor and lead. Am I obviously describing the life of an office manager or a football coach?

Below is a performance management model, which anyone with any basic level of management training (office-based, that is) will recognise. The X axis shows ability, the Y axis shows desire. Screaming towards the top-right corner of the grid is a big performance arrow. Across this matrix, the theory suggests, we can plot everyone in our charge:

  • The Role Models: high desire and ability
  • The Reluctant Stars: high ability but limited desire
  • The Enthusiasts: high on desire but low ability
  • The Others: a terribly-named category of people struggling with both desire and ability.
Performance management model

Matrix showing the how performance increases depending on staff status

The idea then, is to apply the correct management technique to each category in order to get the best out of everyone and, in time, move them into the top-right quadrant. Try plotting some of your players onto this grid – where do the majority of them fall? They will likely fall between two categories, or even across two or three, which is fine. In those cases a mixture of management approaches will probably be necessary.

This may not initially sit too comfortably. Surely boxing people is a bad thing? Well yes, it is if the box is rigid. Instead, try to think of this as a faint grid in the background – you players are individuals and will be scattered all over the axis range. Importantly, there is no judgement attached. This isn’t about boxing people; it’s about applying the most appropriate management style for where each player is currently ‘at’. In fact, this method should be repeated regularly so that you can see how each individual might be responding to your management.

Let’s look a little more closely at the relevant approaches for each category.

Approaches for Managing Role Models

These people are already performing well. But that should only lead them onto other types of development, rather than stopping their development.

Role Models should be involved in high-level discussions. Invite them to make suggestions and then support their ideas. For example, they may have a suggestion about how to change a training drill: try it, and ask them to reflect on its successes/weaknesses. It may be appropriate for Role Models to be set working with lower performers one-to-one, and to share with them your longer-term visions for the team.

Approaches for Managing Enthusiasts

Enthusiasts are those people who will always give 100% but not always do it well. ‘Low performer’ is a harsh term here, but applies.

Enthusiasts need up-skilling, to use a “management speak” phrase. This is done through careful monitoring, and providing clear guidance as their manager. Analyse the skills they DO possess. Tell them exactly what you expect, allow them to try, and then give ample feedback and encouragement. Harness their enthusiasm by getting them to reflect on their own performance and identify growth areas.

Approaches for Managing Reluctant Stars

Reluctant stars can be a tricky set to manage, as they possess all the required ‘hard skills’ but are lacking in desire or motivation. It’s important to recognise that long-term high performance requires both.

You need to find out what motivates these people. The best way? Talk to them. Ask them for their input – do they feel they’re being used effectively? What concerns do they have? Analyse their skills with them, and set goals which link to the vision of the whole team – this may inspire them to care about the team’s goals.

Approaches for Managing Others

Others are, basically, the hardest group to manage and will take up the most of your time, skills and resource. But they’re not lost causes.

Firstly, keep a log of everything you do here. See what works, and what doesn’t – remember  your goal here is to move them out of the Others box. If you can get them into Enthusiasts or Reluctant Stars, they will be contributing.

Find their unused strengths, find their motivations, and monitor them every day.

Another approach for low performers is the ‘Five Rs’:

  • Resupply: do they have the resources they need to be successful?
  • Retrain: are they in the right role (consider football position) for their skills?
  • Refit: when the first two measures aren’t sufficient, consider refitting the role to the person. (for example, are you asking a forward to be a target man, when they’re clearly a ‘play off the shoulder’ striker?)
  • Reassign: decrease the demands of the role by reducing the need for the following: Responsibility / Technical knowledge / Interpersonal skills (admittedly, this is difficult to achieve in a football context)
  • Release: in football, as in office management, there are unfortunate times when an individual just can’t or won’t perform at the required level. Be firm, be considerate, try the above first.

By following the above tips and techniques, you may find that you suddenly have a team of Role Models on your hands. The performance management models found in the office may not initially jump out as applying to the training field, but there are some common truths which cross over, whether your team wear training bibs and boots or shirts and ties. You must know your personnel as individuals, know what stimulates them and hinders them, guide them, and then empower and trust them.

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents