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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies


Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Tomorrow afternoon, after a year's preparation, the GB Lions Men's American Football Team will play it's first home game in 4 years when we take on France at Butts Park Arena in Coventry. The last game we played was at the end of October last year, when we narrowly lost to the European Champions, Italy, in Milan.

American Football in the UK is strictly amateur and, like most sports outside of football and rugby, it's entirely self-funded by the participants. This means that every player and ever coach on the squad has paid their own way to attend and take part in nine practice days since Italy, travelling from all across the UK to the team's base at the University of Nottingham roughly every 6 weeks. Players and coaches play their own travel and accommodation, they pay a small fee for every practice, to cover the cost of the facilities, they pay for food and drinks while they're there, they pay for equipment, for team merchandise and then when gameday arrives, they pay for the privilege of taking part in the game!

The commitment is not only financial, it's also about the time away from work, family and firnds. Each practice, for all but those based in the Midlands, means an early start (or an overnight stay at a local hotel on the Friday night), a long day of practice on the Saturday, film review and meetings, and then a late finish to travel home.

Throughout the year, we carry a squad of about 110, in order to make sure that we are able to fully evaluate players, but also to make sure that we have meaningful numbers at every practice; with work, family commitments and of course injuries often rendering players unable to take part. Closing in on a series of games (we play France and then we play either Serbia or Denmark), the staff narrows that down to a 75-man squad who are eligible for the games and then, after the last practice and in the final days before each game, we select a 45-man roster who will pull on the navy and white uniforms and the white helmets and represent their country on gameday.

What that means, of course, is that there are 65 players who commit to the programme, with all the sacrifices that entails, right through the year, only to find out that they won't feature in the gameday squad. Cutting players, despite what Homer Simpson says, is the hardest part of being a coach at this level. Coaching is about building relationships with the players, in order to help them maximise their potential and to build a squad that is not only talented, but cohesive.

The process reminds me of the process of performance reviews, which are still commonplace in many organisations. At NatWest, in late November or early December of each year, every employee would complete their end of year paperwork and then they would meet with their line manager to discuss their year. This could be a very empowering conversation; but it could also be quite the opposite. What was never really spoke about was the fact that, before these meetings took place, the line manager would submit their rating for each employee to a central system (on a 1-5 scale, 1 means you might not be alive, 2 is underperforming, 3 is performing, 4 is exceeding expectations, 5 is turning lead into gold). Then, in early January, once all of the reviews had taken place, the line managers would meet again with their team individually and give them their ratings. THIS was the bit that everyone waited for, because for all grades of Managerial or above, the rating determined the level of payrise and whether a bonus was to be paid.

A year's work shouldn't have been, but in many cases was, ultimately summed up in one conversation - often leaving the member of staff frustrated or even surprised with the outcome.

When you have a conversation like this - whether it's delivering a performance rating or telling someone whether they have or haven't made the cut for a team, there should be no surprises. There will always be an element of anticipation and there may be a sense of false hope, like the arrogant player who tells themself they're a starter when they're barely a squad player or the worker who has always been a 4 or 5 performer so believes they're always entitled to be one, but the balance of evidence that's been shared with the individual over the course of the time period - in this case a year - should show them exactly where they're performing and where they're falling short. If the first time they realise that they have an area of development is at a meeting like this, that's a failure on your part.

Regular feedback is critical in helping people orientate. Where are they excelling? What, specifically are they doing that's making them excel? Where are they deficient? What's the impact of that deficiency? What's the positive outcome they can expect if they work on that deficiency?

If you do this, the chance of their improvement is increased and with it, their self awareness. The more evidence you're able to provide and the more you encourage them to seek further feedback and evidence as to what they're doing well and less well, the higher the likelihood that they'll begin to self recognise the things they need to do differently.

And the more self awareness they develop, the more likely it is they'll know what to expect when you sit down for your meeting.

Who do you have feedback to give that you're holding back on, because it's got the potential to be a difficult conversation? Who do you have positive feedback to give, but you're holding back because you think they already know it, or because it's 'just their job' to do those things well?

Stop hold back. Start giving feedback.

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