The Art and Science of Head Coach Recruitment – by 21st Club

Hiring managers in football should be one of the easiest recruitment tasks in the world. Whereas organisations in finance or law rarely get the chance to obtain a full view on prospective candidates, football coaches operate in a highly visible space with very clear performance outcomes, and therefore allow prospective employers to gain a near-complete understanding of their ability and suitability.

And yet, as we know, the average head coach doesn’t even last 18 months in the role, usually released from the club for ‘not being the right fit’ or being ‘unable to command the confidence of the dressing room’. The amount of pre-hire available information doesn’t tally with this outcome of repeated failure; there is a clear inefficiency in the market.

Better processes can fight against this inefficiency, and better processes often include the use of data. Football is undergoing an analytics revolution, with many of the world’s leading clubs using data to inform decision-making. The smartest clubs don’t just use data in player recruitment or injury management, they use it to identify and recruit head coaches too.

From a database of thousands of coaches, it is possible to objectively benchmark them across dozens of areas. Which have improved their teams the most? Which have won the most points per dollar spent? Which have given the most opportunities for young players? Which play in a style that suits our players?

Instead of being reliant on agents, or indeed our own memory, to come up with names, data provides scale in the recruitment process, throwing up candidates who are most likely to be the right fit for our club. In few other industries is it possible to get this level of detail on a prospective managerial hire.

Of course, it’s not sufficient to just take an ‘IQ’ approach to recruitment – ‘EQ’ is vital too. A combination of both – ‘contextual intelligence’, if you like – helps provide a full picture on the coaches available. We are lucky that football is a relatively small industry; it is easy to find players, coaches, and executives who can provide background and references on a shortlist of candidates. We can dig into the areas we don’t see on a matchday – how a coach communicates, or how they vary their training sessions.

In working with EPP over a recent head coach hire, we saw that combined process come to life. The club used our analytics to help them get a helicopter view on all the candidates, enabling them to quickly rule candidates in and out with an objective rationale. The data was just the start of the process though; David and Anna were able to provide much more detail on each of the shortlisted candidates through their softer skills.

Data can compliment the interview process, too. It can reveal concerns that may otherwise never have been addressed – why, for example, a coach has let his squad age consistently across tenures? Or how they adapt from a club that spends big to one that relies on loans? The art of interviewing can draw out how the coach may adapt to this new environment, and what transferable skills and experience they have.

Efficient head coach recruitment is the right mix of both art and science; in football we have no excuse to get it wrong.

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