Communication skills are a crucial part of a coach’s management tools – as Northern Ireland national team coach Michael O’Neill told a group of Pro licence students at a recent UEFA course in Nyon.
O’Neill was guest of honour at the latest UEFA Pro licence student exchange seminar, and gave the students from Azerbaijan, Finland, Serbia and Ukraine food for thought with his views on how to handle players with their different characters.
Those skills have helped bring the 48-year-old manager outstanding success in recent years. He led Northern Ireland to an excellent last-16 place at their first ever EURO final round in France two years ago.
Previously, he took Republic of Ireland outfit Shamrock Rovers to the group stage in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League – the first time that a League of Ireland team had made it to a European club competition group phase.
“You have to find a way where your message is received and understood to the maximum,” O’Neill told the student coaches, “and that’s the most important aspect of man-management and understanding players.
“Not everything works,” he reflected. “The same approach will not work for every player. Some players need nothing. Some players need something. Some players will challenge you and you have to deal with that, and there’s no problem with that.
“That man-management aspect, from getting in the hotel on a Sunday night to playing a massive [national team] game on the Thursday night, it’s about the mental approach more than anything else, and communication is vital in that.”
National team coaches have limited amounts of time together with their players, and O’Neill emphasised the importance of continued communication while the players are with their clubs. “Watching what they’re doing at their club,” he elaborated. “Texting them, little messages like ‘Well done today’.
“Constant communication is vital,” he added, “particularly when they’re maybe not doing so well at their clubs – when they’re not in the team or they’re injured.
“I do think players put a lot of emphasis on communication like that – the personal side, the human side of management, is more important now possibly than it’s ever been.”