Between the lines: What football pros can teach managers

Written by Annie Makoff-Clark Wednesday 07 December 2022
With the World Cup kicking off, we explore how leadership manifests itself non-verbally on the pitch and why awareness of body language is such a powerful skill for managers – from how you enter the office to understanding what your team really thinks
The German football team covering their mouths at a game during the Qatar 2022 World Cup

The secret of a winning team is more than just skill on the pitch: it’s team cohesion, rapport and crucially, the ability to read and understand non-verbal cues. 

Qatar 2022 has been notable for a number of instances of players and fans transmitting messages without using words – take the German football team’s silent protest or a fan coming on to the pitch with a rainbow flag. 

But body language isn’t always that loud. 

That’s why it’s useful for managers to be able to pick up on the more subtle, nuanced signals that they themselves and their team members are sending, explains sports psychologist and business coach Martin Robert Hall, an expert on body language both on and off the pitch. Non-verbal cues, he says, can have a big impact on people’s emotions and subsequent behaviour for the simple reason that humans are sensitive beings.

“Just the way a former boss parked his car each morning would tell us his current mood,” says Martin. “Has he parked within the lines or come in at an angle? Did he screech in at speed, or was he driving more cautiously? The whispers would go around the office each morning and peoples’ behaviour would change based on that.”

How you walk into the office each morning, whether you smile or make eye contact, it all matters. “It’s entirely possible to upset or offend someone before you’ve even opened your mouth,” Martin adds.

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Influence perceptions

Non-verbal cues such as body language, gestures or facial expressions can really influence how people perceive you. Martin cites a Harvard study which revealed that it takes just a few seconds to form a first impression, whether good or bad. “If it’s negative, research shows it then takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change that first impression.”

It may not necessarily be what every potential interview candidate wants to hear, but self-awareness is critically important: how you walk into a room, if you make eye contact or even if you’ve got good energy. “All these things are sending subtle cues to the other person,” says Martin. “Becoming aware of your own body language and non-verbal cues is a very powerful skill to develop.” 

Keep reading to discover how to anticipate outcomes and understand your people


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