Sports management: Coaching the coaches

July 20, 2015

Tudor RickardsSport is big business. Do you know how to apply the latest business ideas into your sports management courses?

For over thirty years I have been working with colleagues at Manchester Business School introducing experiential learning ideas into business courses. More recently, we found out that our work with business managers could be transferred into sports management courses.

Why sports management and business management are similar

The discovery was unexpected, but afterwards was rather obvious. It came about when we realized that professional managers and athletes have similar developmental needs.

The Manchester Method approach

The approach was recently described on the MBS website

The Manchester Method is a practical, situation-based way of studying business that runs through all of our programmes.

It pushes you to your limits to bring out your best, focusing on group work, practice-based learning and self-reflection. You use and build on your own experiences to improve your leadership skills and manage complex projects.

Living cases

On important feature of the approach is the use of living cases. The term indicates that the topic under study is not bounded by the text provided.

Web-based work is increasingly important. Students, often working in teams, search for the most recent information of the current situation in each project. The work is evaluated from two perspectives, one its critical understanding, and one for evidence of appreciation of the practical aspects of the case.

In longer projects, a business client brings his or her ‘living case’ into the Business School. In shorter projects the business client is role-played by a tutor. These cases are chosen from the recent posts on leadership to be found in leaders we deserve. These have the added attraction of being updated regularly, giving emphasis to different leadership dilemmas.

A suitable course textbook is Dilemmas of Leadership which encourages students to examine the living cases for the tough decisions business leaders are taking. In its most recent edition, it comes with web based Tutor’s guide, power points and chapter by chapter revision quiz.

Sports based applications

Although the cases are selected for their business relevance, some have been sports-related. The role of the coach in team sports such as football and rowing has been studied, as well as the nature of charismatic leadership of managers and of on-field leaders. Another shared issue is that of Corporate Social Responsibility

For more information

I would be pleased to share experiences with sports management professionals interested in exploring the methods outlined in this post. You can contact me by email by submitting a comment below.

Murray v Kholschreiber, Madrid 2015. Questions for coaches

May 7, 2015

Andy Murray printwords[Notes prepared during the match as a mini-case for coaches with case questions]

May 2015: Andy Murray wins his first clay court Tennis title, in Munich, in a tight match against clay court specialist Phillip Kholschreiber. Can he continue his progress against the same opponent, again on clay in Madrid, a few days later?

Murray is least successful when playing on clay courts surfaces such as Munich and Madrid. He shares this relative weakness with British tennis players who have little experience of the surface as juniors. No Britain before Murray had won a ranking clay court tournament for nearly forty years.

The result at Munich was somewhat surprising, considering Murray’s weakness and Kholschreiber’s comparative advantage on the surface. The return in Munich offered a chance to see whether Murray might sustain the form h showed in Germany.

The context of the Madrid match

There are considerable factors to disconcert Murray. He was recently married with considerable accompanying media pressures. There have also been major changes to his coaching team.

Additional more immediate distractions included a bizarrely late start around one a.m., after inflexible scheduling. Bad for the players and arguably worse for spectators who would expect to be watching well into the early hours of the following day.

Early exchanges

Murray starts the faster and moves 3-0 with two breaks before dropping his own serve. Kholschreiber breaks back. Commentator Petchey, formerly Murray’s coach suggests his game plan was for an intense start which had been followed by a dip after the initial adrenaline rush.

Murray wins first set

Andy Murray retains aggressive but not over-aggressive play and holds break to win 6-4. Kohlschreiber demonstrates his strengths on this surface.

Second set

Both players playing well. Kholschreiber wins a brilliant lengthy rally and breaks at 2-0.


4-1 2.15 am. Stadium has nearly emptied. Murray holds. Slight dip by Kholschreiber. Drops serve.


Murray also drops serve with poor first- serve percentage

5-3 and closes out

Third Set

Murray holds a strongly-contested game. Murray breathes heavily at one stage,

Kholschreiber and Murray scramble. Kholschreiber makes last mistake.

2-0 to Murray who then holds serve to love


4-0 as Murray breaks easily.

5-0 as Murray holds

6-0 as Kholschreiber eventually capitulates.

Murray survives and overcomes an unusual set of problems, Kholschreiber eventually weakened both mentally and physically.

Questions for coaches

What factors would you consider in preparing Andy Murray for the match?

Murray appears to have started with a tactical plan. What do you think it might have been?

Why was the lower-ranked Kholschreiber considered a favourite before playing Murray in Madrid, even after his loss to Murray in Munich the previous week?

What aspects of Murray’s game might have contributed to the result in Madrid?

Murray wins a battle outside his comfort zone in Miami Open

March 29, 2015

Andy Murray had lost heavily to Santiago Giraldo in their last match. In the Miami Open he and his coaching team had to come up with a new strategy to deal with an aggressive risk-taking opponent. It succeeded, but only after taking Murray out of his comfort zone

Murray’s immediate post-match analysis did not quite match up with his court demeanor. It was essentially that he believed he had played a pretty good match in difficult windy conditions.

The final score of 6-3 6-4 seems to back this up. It confirmed expectations of the respective rankings, and Murray’s familiarity with the conditions in Miami, his training base. If so, why was he repeatedly grumbling during the match at his bench? Dissatisfaction was combined with a new tactic of being more aggressive on his opponent’s weak second serve. This seemed to be working well. But it also seems to lie outside Murray’s comfort zone.

When Giraldo came up with a powerful response to it early on, Murray grumbled more pointedly. It was as if he had reluctantly agreed to the new strategy, but wanted his coaching team (especially, I assume, Amalie Marismo) to know this was a dumb idea and he should never have gone along with it.

After the match, Marcus Buckland The Sky interviewer avoided raising the question of Murray’s serve which was found wanting. First serve percentage was low. This could be at least partly due to tricky windy conditions. Second serve was treated by  in an equally aggressive fashion as the way Murray was dealing out to his own serve.

Comfort zone

The Comfort zone is increasingly found in ideas about performance management in sport and beyond. Settling an athlete into a comfort zone is important, as a way of increasing the ease of getting into the bubble of unthinking high performance or flow. But getting out of a comfort zone may not just be a necessity for tactical reasons but opens up possibilities for personal development.

To be continued

Andy Murray v Yuri Bhambri : Cave-man tactics and their limitations in sport and maybe in business

January 19, 2015


When a qualifier meets a top seeded tennis player, sometimes caveman tactics result. We review Andy Murray’s march with Yuri Bhambri, and consider the implications of all-out aggression in other sports and in business

The start of the Australian Open, the first major of the season. Somewhat against my better judgment, I get up in the small hours in the UK to see how Andy Murray is doing. His opponent, Yuki Bhambri, is a qualifier and ranked 317 in the world.

1st set

Half an hour into the match. Bhambri’s aggression is impressive. Murray breaks Bhambri’s serve but failed to capitalise, being broken himself, ringing the first set to a tense four games all. Murray then breaks and holds to take the set 6-4.

Both players are making excellent winners, but both are rather prone to unforced errors..

2nd set

Bhambri serves first and holds. A discordant but enthusiastic chant rises up from tee-shirted Murray supporters. In the next game, good defense from the Indian draws errors from Murray, but the Scot’s resolve helps him survive; 1-1.

Bhambri continues with his aggressive style of play and wins service after more winners and errors. Murray replies with a love game bringing it to 2-2. Bhambri is still the aggressor and seems to be benefiting from winning though three rounds of qualifiers Murray breaks, then holds, making it 5-3.

Take out the errors…

Minus a few errors from each game, the quality of the match is more suited to be a second week tie. An edited film would be misleading. The commentators suggest Bhambri is playing like a top fifty player.

Defend Rally Attack

Murray continues to plays rather defensively with flashes of brilliance. I remember the coaching maxim: Defend Rally Attack. Murray too inclined to defend and Rally; Bhambri too inclined to go from defend to attack. This is evident again as Murray moves to 40-15. In returning, the all out attack opens up court, higher risk [one attacking return forces Murray to attack not rally, and he hits winner down the line. Murray wins serve reasonably easily and takes the set.

0nce the pattern is seen, it becomes clearer. Bhambri does not rally enough. I think of chess. All-out attack is the weaker player’s weapon which too often accelerates defeat, although the infrequent wins reinforces the pattern of ‘cave man’ play. [which suggests another idea: the infrequent upsets against seeds more obvious in first rounds, more chances for the cave man play to succeed.

Third set

A good example in first game of third set, when Bhambri grabs an ad point then a net point for him wins game and a break. Murray continues to rally and wait for errors. The pattern for me seems to persist but Bhambri wins and extends lead to 4-1. Murray wins own serve. 4-2. Pattern persists, and Murray breaks back. 4-4 and eventually into tie break.

Prediction for tie break

My prediction is that failure to Defend Rally Attack more dangerous in the tie break Murray goes to 5-2 then 6-2 and 6-3 but two then Murray closes it out as Bahmrhi ballons out a return.

Murray’s verdict

Opponent is a junior world champion, but injury explains his low ranking.


Caveman chess was a popular term among British chess players to refer to violent attacks often unsound but always unsettling.

Rather than show an image of one ‘caveman’ chess player I had in mind, I choose the image from Wikipedia Commons.

Also thanks to Conor for helping in the editing process.

Dealing with performance anxiety: the Coach’s dilemma

February 4, 2014

FencingDealing with performance anxiety has been a major issue in the development of a science of sport management. The knowledge gained is contributing to understanding of choking and under-performance across the sporting spectrum

I recently asked a [very small] sample of contacts whether performance anxiety and its management were important in coaching their sport. Here are few responses:


In football, reckless tackling is deemed career-threatening and met with assorted bans and other sanctions. Although sometimes this is deliberate it is loss of control often through pressures to perform. Weak penalty kicks would be another example. Routines that work in practice influenced by performance anxiety.


Rugby Union is a sport which prides itself in the traditional sporting values of personal discipline and respect for the referee’s authority. The violence, as in other contact sports, is mostly channeled legally into man on man hits. But there are still surprising episodes of grievous bodily harm. Off-field skullduggery are also known including coaches fixing blood injuries to obtain player substitutions. Nor is violence a product of the sport’s recent professionalization. One of the most-quoted injunctions was from a coach in the era of amateur rugby who urged his players to ‘get your retaliation in first‘.


Non-contact sports create fewer opportunities for the release of a competitor’s tension through physical aggression. In Tennis, much aggression is directed towards explosive attack on the ball. If that fails, an attack on the racquet becomes a back-up strategy for some players. The action is subject to sanction, but the punishment is minor.

One tennis player who rejects the release provided by racquet-smashing is Chinese star Li Na.


Golf, in common with other non-contact ball sports [such as snooker, pool, ] requires execution of well-grooved routines which can break down under performance anxiety. In golf, the breakdown of routines particularly in putting is famously known as the Yips. The medical condition is considered a kind of small muscle fatigue. Similar breakdowns of performance are known in the world of music among violinists.


William Thompson is a qualified fencing coach. He outlined how a leading international trainer dealt with performance anxiety:

“I studied fencing under Professor Robert Anderson who died in 2013. He explained to me that his role as the coach of the British Olympic team was to remove all stress and performance anxiety:

‘My foot ware is causing a problem,’ Coach: We will change your foot ware.
‘There is noise from the room next door and I cannot sleep,’ Coach: We will move your room.
‘My training partner does not seem motivated,’ Coach: We will change your partner.
Performance stress has its observable symptoms. The coach’s job is to address these symptoms and remove them.”

Obsession and performance anxiety

Overall, the accounts suggest that performance anxiety of players is a major issue for coaches across a variety of sports. Probably the obsessive drive to achieve among top athletes is a mixed blessing.

Andy Murray may need more mental map-making for Open success

April 21, 2012

Andy Murray has shown a willingness to learn through his new coach Ivan Lendl.

We examine how the learning will require reframing not of broken racquets but of mental maps

As Murray was heading for defeat against Tomas Berdych at the Monte Carlo Masters event [April 20th 2012] he smashed his racquet in frustration at his failure to find a strategy to cope with his opponent’s muscular game.

Coping with the unexpected

The defeat was not particularly unexpected. Although Murray is higher ranked, Berdych’s game is suited to Monaco’s clay court surfaces. Murray’s preparation has been hampered by unusual circumstances (withdrawal of three opponents through injury in the last few weeks, including in his last match). But the unusual has also to be coped with. The manner of the loss suggested Murray had not found a plan to deal with ‘events’ and with Berdych.

The post-match interview

We can examine the post-match interview for signs of the Scot’s mental state. I borrow from the principles of mental map-making which are being taught to business students including those at the Miami location of Manchester Business School programs not far from Murray’s own training facilities. The mapping approach attempts to examine the way an individual (or a group) may be ‘reading’ a situation and making sense of it by testing assumptions, and maybe changing his or her mind through mental reframing or conceptual map-making.

In post-match interviews Andy usually shows evidence of an acute mind actively engaged. That is in itself unusual, and compares well with evidence from interviews with top sports figures generally (I am thinking of the vast majority of interviews with fooball players and many managers). I have added my own ‘map testing’ interpretations of Andy’s maps.

“At some points today in the match I did well, and at some points I didn’t do so well,” said the Scot.
[Map reading]

“Today is a good match to learn from because I was playing a top player who played very, very well.
[Recognising the need to learn by map-mapping]

“I hung in, in the first set. Then in the tie-break I got a few lucky bounces. He missed a couple of shots that he hadn’t been missing.
[More map-reading]

“At the start of the second set he obviously started playing better and my level dropped – as the scoreline suggests.”
[map-making? He concludes that Berdych gained an advantage by playing the better better and that his own level dropped. He bases it on the evidence of the scoreline. He lost the set heavily].

Some tentative conclusions

A post-match interview may only reveal a glimpse of a player’s thinking processes. There may be deliberate withholding of information. And there is the possibility of ‘knowing more than can be said’. Just on the evidence, it seems to me that Andy Murray has untapped potential which if released will increase his chances of winning his much-coveted first Open Championship. He shows he has the mental equipment to reflect and develop his game further.

Although not obvious in the snippet of interview above, he is adequately motivated (over-motivated, some may say. His reflections stop short of acknowledging the dilemmas he faces. Can he rely on his exceptional defensive skills or should he attempt to be more aggressive, for example?
Maybe some more reframing of his mind sets will produce less reframing of his racquets.


The image could have been of Andy’s racquet. I suspect it’s not. It comes from the excellent tennis blog This tennis.


A few months later Andy Murray won the US Open, with ample evidence that he has developed the necessary mental reframing.

Andy Murray: Advice from a chess trainer

March 4, 2012

After his change of coach and some evidence of strengthening his mental game, Andy Murray may be may be interested in advice from Stewart Reuben, a chess trainer who used to play odds games with Bobby Fischer

This week [March 2012], Andy Murray avoided a slump in form after a good performance in the opening grand slam of the season. His play in the tournament has been consistently strong. Even his serve percentage held up well until the final. LWD has commented for some while on his potential, and on recurring patterns in his play. Our observations are not backed up with any direct experience of competitive play. For this I draw on a shared platform of understanding of more experienced commentators which seemed pretty well summed up in the Guardian’s analysis of his Dubai performances:

Murray ought to be able to lose a final without forensic examination of his disappointments in big matches …[although] he is getting closer with a sound, improving game and an on-court demeanour that is noticeably calmer since he took on Ivan Lendl as his coach in January. He beat [world No 1] Djokovic on Friday with as good a service game as he has produced in a long time but it let him down against Federer, even though the winner’s 50% first-serve rate was only two points better. It is tough for Murray to overcome the ingrained instinct that he has a better chance of winning from the back of the court, even on his own serve. These fine calculations are often split-second ones and it is more comfortable for him to rely on trusted strategies.

Leaning from a Chess master

Stuart Reuben is a distinguished English chess administrator and teacher. One of his valued pieces of advice to young chess players is that weaker players tend to choose the cautious move against stronger players. This is a strategy which favours the stronger player. I can confirm from personal experience of playing as one of a hoard of amateurs against a visiting grandmaster taking us all on simultaneously. Too often, the chess bunnies play passively as their games drift away.

Reuben (a world-class poker player, by the way) encourages us bunnies to seek dynamic positions, avoiding trying to keep it simple as a primary factor in selecting each move. Not quite simple. The weaker player has also to avoid recklessness. In my case, this often shows itself as a futile attempt to break out of the passivity trap by being foolishly aggressive, a dilemma facing the chess player.

Over to you Andy

So there you go, Andy. If snooker players like Steve Davis and boxers like Lennox Lewis have found the value of chess as a metaphor for strategy in another sport, why not add it to your training regime. You may find ways of adding these vital percentage points to your play at crucial moments of important matches.


Image of Stewart Reuben from the Atticus website

Coaching in the days of the amateur rugby player

January 2, 2012

In a TV programme discussing the days of amateur rugby [Dec 2011], Welsh legend Gareth Edwards revealed widespread distaste for the notion of a professional coach. He would have been describing the scene in the 1960s

“In Scotland” Edwards recalled “there was no [international] coach. They were referred to then as ‘assistant to the captain’.”

Untarnished advice for free

The suggestion that the international team might have the amateur status ‘tarnished’ through professional advice was too much for the men in blazers (who one suspects were not averse to offering their own words of advice, in true amateur spirit).

Boot money

This was at a time when the same amateur players were allegedly recipients of sums of money which mysteriously found their way into boots before training sessions.

Murray gets to Cincinnati semis but is he improving?

August 20, 2011

Andy Murray advances to the Semi Finals in the US Open warm-up event in Cincinnati. He believes he is making good progress. But has he made any significant improvement in his play over the last two years? [Opinion piece]

Five years ago there were these two promising young tennis players. Both were seen as likely world No 1s and likely grand slam winners. One fulfilled his potential. The other seems to have stalled.

Novak and Andy

Novak Djokovic progressed to become World No 1, grand slam winner, and favourite to win the US Open. Andy Murray is hanging in there at World No 4, which is still a great achievement, but looking increasingly in need of a quantum leap in play to fulfil his early promise. Few insiders doubt his talent at individual shot-making. He identified a need to get superfit and did something about it. On his day he has beaten the best in the world, including Nadal and Federer (both of whom were knocked out of the Cincinnati Open while Murray progressed to the Semi-finals.

From the bottom of the pile…

As my Tennis Ranking is not No 1, even in my own family. My observations on Murray’s tennis don’t count for much, unless you believe in the merits of a fresh perspective from the bottom of the pile. My professional knowhow is more about the processes through which people reach personal development goals.

Murray tries too hard?

There is one theme within personal development which suggests that you can be over-motivated. So bizarrely, Murray may be trying too hard. His self-abuse remains evident on court. He is too aware when a shot lacks perfection. And when he is not blaming himself his anger gets rechanelled towards his coaching staff (the membership of which changes rather too regularly in comparison to the stability of the Djokowic entourage.

The latest self-help effort

There seemed to be another conscious effort to loosen up in this tournament. Murray comes on court with a smile on his face. But it is a smile which reminds of the sad efforts made by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Gordon was notoriously uncomfortable in the public eye. His body language was poor, as the coaches like to say. Someone hit on the solution. Act confident, Gordon. Show you like it out there. Smile.

But the smile became a grimace of pain

It never really worked for Gordon Brown. The smile became a grimace of pain. If anything it gave comfort to his opponents.

I’m just hoping it will not do the same for Andy Murray.

Life of Riley

June 23, 2011

Pat Riley now of Miami Heat is a basketball coaching legend. His leadership style bears some comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United Football Club. What might their careers tell us about business success?

Tudor Rickards

A young man brought up in tough early circumstances goes on to become one of the all time legends of his sport as a coach of the highest quality and a great motivator. He became known as a master of press relations, and a coiner of memorable phrases. His playing career was successful enough, but he was never regarded as in the same class as the world beaters he went on to coach and motivate.

Abrasive but sensitive

He is often described as charismatic. He was to become rich and famous beyond the expectations of his early years. His management style is regarded as abrasive although showing unexpected sensitivity to a player’s emotional needs from time to time. He enjoys the good life outside his professional work.

Sir Alex or Pat?

Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United or Pat Riley of Miami Heat? The facts fit the public picture of both men equally well. They were actually written about Pat Riley.

Now President of The Miami HEAT, Pat Riley posted 50-plus winning seasons in 13 consecutive years, which is unprecedented in the NBA. Riley’s 137 playoff victories rank first in league post-season annuals as the only coach to secure 100 or more playoff victories. He surpassed the legendary Red Auerbach’s 99-playoff wins in 1990. Pat has won six world championships as a player and coach. His speeches before hundreds of corporations have earned him the title of “America’s Greatest Motivational Speaker.” His philosophy is based upon winning, leadership, mastery, change, and personal growth as well as understanding and controlling the shifting dynamics of a team any team, whether it is a small company, a giant corporation, a city, or a group of athletes. He worked with one of the greatest stars of his sport but the relationship went wrong. The club wasn’t big enough for both of them.

Art follows life

In one of those coincidences, executives in Miami will be studying a hypothetical case of a sports motivator who has written a book called “Leadership is for winners not for whingers”. [Probably a Brit. A whinger is someone who constantly blames others for their problems]. The executives will learn how to weigh the evidence and assess the merits of such claims, as part of a leadership programme. I am getting ready for questions about basketball …

Study note

This post was written for study by executive students at Manchester Business School’s Miami-based MBA course as part of the introductory module Global Events and Leadership.