Developing the footballing leaders of the future

The SFA have enlisted Dundee University's Dr Brian Howieson to help our coaches instill the lost art of leadership back into our elite game.

“Imagine a team with 11 Graeme Sounesses’. It would be quite powerful, wouldn’t it?”

With this tantalising analogy Dr Brian Howieson is animatedly describing the dream end-game of his work to bring strong leadership back to Scottish football. In delivering seminars on the SFA coach education programme, the University of Dundee scholar is extending his fascination with a subject that has fuelled much of his life’s work in academia. A passionate football fan and Falkirk season ticket holder, Howieson feels his specialist subject is becoming increasingly crucial to the health of our national sport.

He said: “Willie Miller says when he speaks to coaches they always say to him, ‘we are not producing leaders any more’. “Players like Souness or Bremner.

“I wonder, is the reason we aren’t very good at football a lack of leadership rather than a technical shortfall?”

The academic’s work stands as a tacit acknowledgement by the governing body that the game has moved on. No longer is management about angry patriarchs ruling with an iron fist ruling through fear and intimidation.

He said: “Twenty or 30 years ago a lot of the managers were bullies but what we are seeing now is a massive change with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers . They are much more soft skill orientated.

“We touch on this in courses: Like many people, if you shout you won’t get the best out of me. You need to press certain buttons to get me to perform at my best.

“There is now an acceptance that football can learn from other sectors. Academia is part of that. It’s about helping people to develop their thinking.

“A lot of people think that professional footballers are thick but that’s not true. Some of the best teaching I do is on these courses. People are very interested and engaged.”

Howieson was an officer in the RAF for many years and believes the military is a good example of an organisation with insight and best practice for football to gleam from.

“I remind people that if you join the armed forces at a young age you will lead and you will be taught to lead.

“Seventeen-year-old soldiers are expected to lead their own patch and lead others. They develop you as a leader as soon as you enlist."

While Howieson’s students come from across the game and will vary over time, it’s clear from the names he mentions that his work has the potential to have a tangible impact on our elite level.  

He added: “What I do, with people like Graeme Murty and Martin Canning who are currently on the Pro Licence is to get them to think about not just how they coach but how they manage and what their leadership may look like.

“The idea is that when you do your B licence you start to have conversations with me. Once you do the A it becomes more cerebral and I give you models you can use to develop coachees. Then once you take your next step up to the Pro it starts to get into how you can lead a group of players.

“What I try to do is to ask - what is leadership and what does it look like in professional football? Then ‘If you see a future Tony Adams or John Terry, how do you develop it?’”

While the SFA are often lampooned as out-of-touch ‘blazers’ who don’t understand the modern game, Howieson is keen to stress they are an organisation trying to think outside the box for solutions.

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He said: “The SFA are open to new ideas. They have always had a European reputation for innovation in coaching.

“There’s a DNA in there going back to Andy Roxburgh’s days when Mourinho and the other Portuguese guys came over to learn.

“Nothing like this is happening in other associations across Europe.”

If Brian Howieson can help Scottish coaches to develop a national team full of Graeme Sounesses, that will quickly change.

Daily Record – January 2018