Sunday 11 December 2016

How to be well above par in sports leadership

Michael Cullen

Published 17/12/2015 | 02:30

Pictured with Paul McGinley, right, at the breakfast in the Marker Hotel were Mick O'Keeffe, PSG and Lisa Browne from event sponsor Electric Ireland. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
Pictured with Paul McGinley, right, at the breakfast in the Marker Hotel were Mick O'Keeffe, PSG and Lisa Browne from event sponsor Electric Ireland. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
Telly Savalas
Martin O'Neill Santa ad

Pitching yourself as the underdog and acting modestly can pay dividends in sports management and there's no substitute for preparing properly, golfer and European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said. Speaking at a business breakfast organised by marketing development programme students at the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School, McGinley (49), who played Gaelic football until he broke his knee at 18, spoke about managing the best.

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Quoting Nike founder Phil Knight, McGinley says "it's all right to be Goliath but always act like David". Although a lifelong West Ham supporter, he's a big fan of former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson who would tell him about "chasing down Liverpool". In managing top sports stars, under promising and over-delivering is a wise ploy. Heap the pressure on rivals while at the same time "framing back success". McGinley believes sports management is about the process and not the result. In the dressing room, everyone is a link in the chain that ultimately delivers success. But the Gymaholic motto is "getting better is not about getting the result, it's the whole process behind it".

McGinley was encouraged by Dave Brailsford, the former British cycling performance coach. In managing Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, Brailsford made the distinction between sports stars having a dream and wanting something great to happen - and focusing on a realistic target. If the goal is just winning, you're in trouble. You get stressed out because the end line may not be in your grasp.

McGinley took a similar approach when trying to imbue confidence and foster the right spirit in his Ryder Cup squad. Ignore the egos of some of the world's top golfers and focus on the process and prep. Never "bull****" your staff, he insisted. In communicating with the team, including backroom staff, continuity of message is essential.

The fact the Europeans were at home brought its own pressure. But McGinley saw the need to play down expectations and pose as the underdog. He'd talk up his opponents, but only truthfully by exaggerating their successes. In contrast, for the US, with major championships winner Tom Watson as team captain, it was all about winning.

Using the right images and language was part of McGinley's psychology. Graeme McDowell was in a poster with raised arms and the line 'Passion created our past - attitude will shape our future'. The strategy was respect your opponent, while driving home the message "we will be the rock when the storm hits".

McGinley told his players not to be overawed by the occasion but try and to get to grips with the opportunity and challenge facing them. Pictured with Paul McGinley, right, at the breakfast in the Marker Hotel were Mick O'Keeffe, PSG and Lisa Browne from event sponsor Electric Ireland.

* With Christmas just a week away, some agency pitches are still not wrapped up. Dublin Airport Authority, aka the DAA - and for years known as Aer Rianta - saw media, creative and digital presentations. PHD and Cawley Nea\TBWA are the incumbents. Insurance company Axa also reviewed its media buying, currently with Mindshare. But Santa has come early for Carat. The Dentsu Aegis Network agency, run by Ciaran Cunningham, has won Stena Line after a contest with Starcom and OMD. Belfast agency Ardmore and Digitas in the UK were the incumbents.

* Mayo County Council (MCC) has come up with a sweet idea to remind people about getting home safely this Christmas. The MCC handing out lollipops branded with road safety messages to people leaving pubs and clubs. The MCC road safety officer says like giving candy to a grumpy baby, lollipops have the same effect on adults. The idea worked a treat in the UK and Canada where police noticed less rowdy behaviour and an increase in calming energy. No doubt, Telly Savalas's lollipop-loving cop Kojak, pictured, would approve. Who loves ya baby?

* Ronan Nulty's creative team at Publicis scored with a Spar ad, main picture, in the run-up to the draw for the Uefa Euro Championships in France next summer. A Santa letter from Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill gently asked the Great White Bearded One to look kindly on him as the balls were picked out of the pots for the tournament's six groups.

The Republic was drawn in Group E with the world's highest ranked team, Belgium, four time winners Italy and Sweden, with star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Northern Ireland got drawn with world champions Germany, Ukraine and Poland, prompting Martin to joke that he'd just seen manager Michael O'Neill carried out on a stretcher.

But all jests aside, it would appear Martin's letter to Santa either got lost somewhere between Abbotstown and the North Pole, or it's still under the tree at Spar.

Michael Cullen is editor of Marketing.ie: cullen@marketing.ie

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