What can corporate managers learn from sports coaches?

As a football coach for 12 years and a corporate project and people manager in the IT environment for 15 years, I learnt from both environments. They complemented each other, while I could re-use techniques from one with the other.  In this article, you will find some key insights and links between building a sports team and a corporate team.

Turn your group into a performing Team  

The main goal of a manager or a sports coach is to transform the team into a “performing team”: 

a group of individuals whose collaboration, and structure provides a better way to get results for the objectives they have fixed together than the simple sum of its elements.

Define your vision 👀

First, the ultimate aim in both environments is for your team to obtain results. The definition of “results” can differ. The first key here is to define what the expectations are. 

What is the vision? Where do you want your team to be in 6, 12, 24 months? What would be acceptable, great, amazing results?

In the sports environment, the objectives can be

  • Ranking: I want us to finish on the podium, battle to stay in the same league or you to be in the top 100
  • Figures: have a defined ratio of victories over losses, win all home games, etc..
  • Style: to have the best defense, or the top number of goals, or the highest possession, or home runs, etc..
  • Values: to have the fair-play title, the least number of suspensions, the most beautiful show, somewhere where people feel good or want to be part of, etc..

In the corporate world, you’ll find similar objectives. To build the best product of the market, win more clients, have a full-scale portfolio, be considered as a fun company to work for, etc…

You’ll notice that those objectives are SMART

  • Specific, 
  • Measurable, 
  • Achievable, 
  • Realistic 
  • Time bound

There are other models to define objectives that you can find online.

SHARE those objectives with your team. Tell them where you want to bring them. Show them the way, that’s what is expected from a leader. If you can explain what your vision is, people will follow you and trust you.

Setup the structure

Once you clarified those objectives, the next step is to define the team boundaries and rules. How will we work and live together?   

In the sports industry, you often read that a player has been sanctioned because he was late for training or did not respect the “locker room rules”. This should be replicated in a corporate team, no matter the size. 

This structure provides protection and permission to your team. The 2 necessary elements for people to express their power and greatness as defined in the Transactional Analysis model (Eric Berne).

Protection because boundaries will ensure that they know what they are NOT allowed to do. As a leader, ensuring that those rules are followed will create the conditions of equality. Permission, because everything that is inside those boundaries is allowed, thus fosters creativity.

Personal example: in my first year as a football coach I defined a simple rule. for weekend games, I would pick priority players that were most present during week training. Sounds obvious but not necessarily at amateur level. 

First game of the season, everyone was surprised: our best player, captain, and striker, was on the bench for the first time ever in our history. 

Reason: the player in the starting 11 had been present at every training, not him. It was a shock for everyone, but no one was above the rules. Even the captain understood. By this simple decision, I had demonstrated that I cared most about the group than about individuals. The boundaries were set and respected. It helped me to get support from the whole team, the attendance grew and we made a great season!

Create the proper atmosphere

After setting rules, the next key element for team building is to bring people together. This is what Dr William Schutz* defines in it dimension of Inclusion. How much people feel that they are part of the team? That they “belong” to the group?

This concept is powerful, and is very much understood by sports coaches, whilst corporate managers often forget this. 

To get the most out of people, to engage them, and ensure they feel part of something bigger. Sports managers often refer to the “group feelings, the ambiance, the mood”.  This can be created by simple moments when they get to know each other. It can also be fostered by having elements of unity (clothes, equipment, etc..). The key here is to maintain them and repeat. If you spot that some elements feel excluded or rejected, act as soon as possible.

Another example of my sports team: we had our own way to say “hello”. A specific handshake that we taught to every new player.

WARNING: here I am not saying that everyone must be friends, this is rarely possible. The concept is to create an atmosphere, the conditions for every member of the group to feel that they are part of it. It will especially help in tough moments when the team must gather and face difficulties as one.

As a conclusion: 

In every sports industry, there are examples of teams that exceeded the expectations because they were “a team” rather than a group of great individuals, those are “performing teams”. The common points between those: 

  • A vision provided by the leader to the group
  • A structure with strong boundaries to foster creativity and greatness
  • A sense of belonging

You can create the same in a corporate environment. Try it !


*William Schutz (1925-2002), American psychologist has introduced the theory of interpersonal relations called “Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientations” (FIRO). The theory explains that there are 3 dimensions that are sufficient and necessary to explain most human interactions: Inclusion, Control and Affection. Those dimensions have been used to assess group dynamics.


Nicolas Isch

May 2024






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