Be Prepared

Inside Look at Building a Program

September 12, 2019

The role of a general manager is critical to the success of any sports team or franchise. From leadership and strategic planning to talent evaluation and preparation, a general manager oversees a number of different facets of running a team. It is an incredibly difficult task and requires a significant investment of time and energy and a strong plan to succeed. Proper planning, setting tangible and achievable goals and identifying the right talent for your leadership and team are all key factors in driving towards that success.

What is the process for putting together a team? How does a general manager put a plan together that gets buy in from ownership or executives, the coaching staff and, especially, the players? 

Start with a Strategy

Strategy is a key component to building a team. Whether you’re coming in with a blank slate or have an infrastructure already in place, it’s critical the manager creates a plan that builds on their strengths and addresses any weaknesses that may exist.

“You must take the time to study the strengths and weaknesses to assess where you can improve,” said USA Rugby Men’s National Team XVs General Manager, Dave Hodges. “In my case, we already had a lot of personnel in place, but figuring out how we could improve was paramount to our success.”

Putting a plan together that serves both short-term and long-term goals is an important balance for many general managers. While there is pressure for many general managers to win now, the overall strength of the program often depends on building a strong future. 

“We have a near-term plan for executing this World Cup, but also have put plans in place to build for the next World Cup,” said Hodges. “That means building the best possible team to compete this year but also making sure players ranging from our age-grade teams to the national team are continuously developing.”

Set Your Goals

After a plan is in place, goal setting is an important step on the route to success. Having clearly defined goals helps general managers stay focused and implement their plan. 

“We set goals for my first year, additional goals leading up to World Cup qualification and accomplished those goals,” Hodges stated. “We now have goals for the upcoming tournament as well as long-term goals for the program.”

Achievement and measurement of goals along the way often influence the strategic plan going forward. If goals are reached, the plan moves into the next phase. If goals need to be recalibrated, planning is often tweaked to build upon processes to achieve the desired results. Sometimes multiple plans need to be designed to cover all bases.

“Teams that do well in World Cup pool play and automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup, can redirect resources to developing their team rather than spending time in 4 year quadrennial trying to pick the best possible team to earn qualification for the next World Cup. Either way, you have to have a plan in place for both outcomes,” Hodges added.

Find the Right Talent

Part of building a successful plan is picking the right leadership. Identifying the best talent to lead your organization is very important in both sports and business. For many general managers, it’s about tapping the right person for the right job, based on the strengths and needs of your organization. There are a lot of things to consider, including style of play, current talent and history of the organization.

“We had a coaching change during my tenure as general manager,” Hodges recalled. “With over 100 applicants, we wanted to find somebody that could build upon the improvements we made under the previous coach. We identified the system that we wanted to move forward and found a coach who had a strong background in the areas we wanted to improve.”

The general manager and coach are responsible for building the best possible team. This includes more than just finding the best players, but finding players that fit within a system and adopt the culture the team is implementing. 

“Having played sports from a young age into my late 30s, I have been on teams that do not buy into the culture and you spend too much time not implementing your strategy,” Hodges said.  “The 31 players traveling to the World Cup have all bought into the system and fit into the culture we have established.”

Succeeding as a general manager is based on a number of factors, but the ability to create a plan, reach predetermined goals and finding the right people are the ultimate drivers of success.

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