“You put a group of 20 to 25 people on a team together and there’s always going to be differences. Somebody sees it this way and somebody sees it that way, so it’s looking at what the differences are and how do you get to the bottom of that? The ideal sporting environment is when you get as many people as possible pulling in the same direction, and to do that, they have to have a shared understanding and a desire to move forward together and be on the same page.”
Melissa Phillips, Head Coach, London City Lionesses
As coaches how do we get our people on the same page? Some of the greatest sporting moments are born out of a mutual understanding between players. We’ve all seen the scenario where they are there for each other at exactly the right moment on the field and magic happens. Sometimes those dynamic connections between athletes happen naturally, but sometimes they don’t. So how do we as coaches make sure we are doing everything within our role to allow those relationships to develop and progress towards what we’re looking for.
Melissa Phillips, Head Coach of the London City Lionesses, is renowned for getting her people aligned using a particular mix of performance and development. “For me coaching is a people business, it’s really a foundation of wanting to get the best out of people”, she shared when she made the time to talk to us during the Lionesses’ busy season. For the Lionesses who play football (soccer) in the FA Women’s Championship in England, the competition fixtures runs for 10 months of the year.
“Matches come thick and fast during the season, it’s Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, and in the professional game you are always in-season! Unlike other football leagues you don’t get that chunk of time in the off-season, so we are always working on player development.”
Melissa brings a unique angle to her role at the Lionesses, coming across from more than a decade coaching at the US College level, she was originally recruited as the Assistant Coach but within six months was promoted to Head Coach. Going from the perspective of a new assistant coach straight into the head coaching role in such a short period of time, alongside other huge life changes like moving across the world, meant that she had to consider how her own coaching style may impact her athletes differently. Elaborating, Melissa shared that she used Athlete Assessments’ CoachDISC Profile to cement her understanding of her own coaching behavior and preferences when moving into the head coaching role at the Lionesses. Throughout the years she has matured and gone into different coaching roles, and areas of her style have adapted slightly.
She added, “I’ve taken the DISC Profile three times. Once as a 23-year-old head coach, once as an assistant, and then once again recently when I stepped into this role, and they’ve all been quite different actually. There’s a common denominator of Steadiness in my profile, but the other styles have shifted depending on what I felt was needed from me in the role at that time.”
Every coach has a style whether it is something they work to consciously develop, or whether they act instinctively, and each coach’s style is often a reflection of their natural behavioral tendencies. The CoachDISC Profile acts as a tool to help coaches define their style through identifying whether they are fast paced, make decisions quickly, stick to routines, are detail--orientated, value relationships, are spontaneous, or hold an even keel. Through this, Melissa was able to identify how her style may influence her interactions with others, the way she delivers her coaching messages, and builds relationships with her athletes. It also gave her an insight into how to identify the likely DISC Profiles of others, and the way people with similar or different behavioral styles might interact with her.
Speaking about her own style, which happens to be on opposing sides of the quadrant (Dominance and Steadiness), Melissa shared,
“I often have moral battles about how I do things because I prioritize both goals and people. My partner always reminds me not to apologize for having high standards or driving standards, but to make sure I have connections with my players. They will play for me because they know I care about them, and it’s not just about winning games.”
Part of Melissa’s strategy to develop her players and improve their understanding of one another is to have each player undertake an AthleteDISC Profile. Melissa described the process she follows to then use their profiles as a development tool, sharing that when a player first takes theirs, she will meet individually with them to talk about their strengths and how to understand the content of the report. She then encourages them to complete the sections which summarize their preferences, tendencies, needs, wants, and motivations to really hone in on self-awareness and cement their understanding of their profile. She explained that this summary then becomes a quick reference for the staff and coaching team to refer to throughout all aspects of the season, including recruitment, pre-season, leadership selection, team culture and values, and as a starting point to resolve differences and conflicts.
“The most important aspects of DISC are the learning around self-awareness and communication with others. What are your strengths? Are you bringing those to the table everyday? What are the behaviors that you aren’t so proud of and what do they look like? Can you adapt those to meet the needs of the situation? It’s really just diving deeper into understanding who you are and being better able to engage with others. Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are the foundation for getting the best out of people.”
One of the things we found particularly interesting during our chat with Melissa is that her use of DISC doesn’t end with developing her players’ self-awareness and understanding of one another to create team alignment. She also uses it to enhance the exchanges between them and electrify their team’s dynamic by using her deepened understanding of her players obtained through DISC to recruit new players for the team or assign positions on the field.
“I will look at our starting line-up and work out from a DISC point of view what the missing pieces of our puzzle are. If we need to add some creativity into our play, we might need some Influence (I’s) out wide, they will bring spontaneity, innovation, and they will make things happen because they are also risk takers.”
“From a performance point of view profiling is really important. For example, if I’m looking at two center backs who play beside each other, do they complement each other in how they communicate? Are they both play makers who take risks, or is there a balance and one is going to be steady and connect passes? What does the team need? If I’m looking at our team, and maybe even deciding between two players in the starting line up, I think about if they fit in with those around them to complement each other’s strengths.”
To introduce this advanced use of DISC Profiling to her players, Melissa starts by giving them an overview of what DISC is and how it can add value to benefit their environment, from a culture standpoint, as well as a performance standpoint. Once players understand their own profile and move into understanding others, Melissa ensures DISC language is used throughout every aspect of their team and creates activities for the team around this. As a team, each player identifies how their own style contributes to the team, while forming an appreciation of others. This creates the basis of their understanding in using DISC from the team recruitment and positioning perspective.
The team formed a ‘best for the team’ mentality, bringing acceptance and valuing the contribution of others, rather than focusing on a particular player’s technical ability. Melissa added, “We get the players to call upon each other’s strengths too, it builds trust amongst teammates, and it comes back to everyone pulling in the same direction. By recognizing each other’s strengths, we have the players driving from within, looking at how do we get the best out of each other, and that’s also a big part of our leadership discussion. That just becomes more successful as it goes on.”
To conclude, Melissa shared how she responds to other coaches when asked about this application, “I will usually get quizzed at coaching courses with something like, ‘So, you’re telling me, you will recruit this player over this player because of their behavioral profile’, and I say a hundred percent I will, because it’s what my team needs. Even if they’re a little bit inferior in skill, and remember we’re talking about a professional game so there’s still a baseline level here. But if we know that their behavioral tendencies will complement what our team needs from that position on the field, then we prioritize them knowing that we’ll be able to get the best out of our team’s performance by doing so.”
Biography for Melissa Phillips
Melissa Phillips is the Head Coach for the London City Lionesses, a professional football (soccer) team competing in the FA Women’s Championship. Now in her third season with the Lionesses and heading up the program since early 2020, Melissa was recruited following a successful college coaching career which included five years at the University of Pennsylvania as the Women’s Assistant Coach. Melissa played a pivotal role in the team’s performance which was the most successful period in their history. Melissa was given the responsibility of the Head Coaching role at Cal State Bakersfield when she was only 23. She was a Division I soccer player herself and concurrently commenced her coaching during her athletic career. Melissa is also a certified Athlete Assessments DISC Consultant.
Where to from here?
Whether you are a coach like Melissa, a consultant, or a sports professional, your people rely on you to bring them valuable and reliable tools to enhance performance. You can learn more from the experts in performance, including coaches, consultants, and academics by catching up on our previous open webinars. Learn more about Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles with sport-specific options of the AthleteDISC, CoachDISC, and Sport ManagerDISC.
If you would like to discuss how Athlete Assessments can contribute to your program or initiative through the use of our DISC Profiles and tailored programs, we encourage you to reach out and contact us.
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