Chris Coleman and the Wales national men’s football team. Chris_Coleman_2015

When speaking to the media, one of the goals of a manager or coach is to reduce (and/or not increase) pressure on their team. How managers do that will depend a lot on the questions they get asked and the situation they are in.

One type of pressure managers may find themselves needing to negotiate is that of ‘expectation’.

It’s fair to say that Chris Coleman and his Welsh football team have been dealing with a bit of expectation recently. They have risen to tenth in the world rankings after a run of great results, and there was an expectation that they would qualify for the European Championship last night – their first major tournament since 1958. However, that will have to wait.

Chris Coleman, the manager of the Welsh side, negotiated the expectation surrounding this match fairly well in the media. Immediately before the match, a few of his strategies caught my eye, in particular the message of patience and the way this message was delivered. Here are some quotes from a pre-match BBC report.

  1. “My message to the fans is ‘just stay with us’,” he said.
  2. “In Cyprus it was 0-0 with about 10 minutes to go and maybe certain people
  3.  were thinking maybe we should be one or two goals up by now.
  4.  but it doesn’t work like that.”

 

In these and other quotes I’ve seen, there has been a theme of patience put forward by the manager, an approach that can be usefully employed to address the feeling of expectation.

His main message here is for the fans to stay with the team even if things don’t go their way (line 1). Coleman may have been predicting a ‘park the bus’ approach from Israel and did not want fans to get anxious and quiet, as these are crowd actions that might have an impact on his team. In using these strategies, he may be hoping to set the emotional tone for the match.

To help make this message easier for (potentially) impatient fans to swallow, he suggests that there is the historical precedence for a patient approach. He points to the recent match against Cyprus where fans needed to be patient (lines 2-4) and were eventually rewarded.

I also liked the way he directly addressed the fans when delivering his message of patience. Managers don’t do this enough, in my opinion. We all know media interviews are directed at fans, but in saying ‘my message for the fans is…’ he uses a simple structure to draw them into a specific message. As with any conversation happening around you, if you hear your name (or are referred to in some way), you’re likely to listen in. This strategy could be considered the media soundbite equivalent for getting fans to focus on a particular message.

Frames like ‘my message to the fans….’ are also likely to increase the chances of this particular quote being picked up and published in subsequent write-ups. If the sports media are doing their job as tribunes of the fans, then messages framed by such quotes become easy choices for shaping and filling news stories.

It’s hard to say whether these strategies had an impact on fans who read them. The fans would need to answer that. But they did seem to be in good spirits throughout the match, even as the win they needed slipped away. Also, a lot of tweets after the match suggested they had waited 50 years to return to a major tournament so they can wait a little longer. The theme of patience may indeed have been picked up by the populace. It was certainly picked up by the media and was prevalent in commentary and punditry talk before and during the game.

Regardless, by urging patience and speaking directly to the fans, the manager has not drawn on bad strategies to negotiate the pressure of expectation surrounding this match. Now, what will he do and say in the build up to the match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on October the 10th?
 

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