AFC's Lili Bai: Why technical directors must find a good combination of ‘on and off’ pitch work

Lili Bai, 08 Jun 2023


Does previous experience as a professional player or coach guarantee success when taking on a technical leadership role? AFC Head of Women’s Football Lili Bai provides a sincere account of what's needed to thrive in these types of positions.


  • Better management of administrative staff can help ‘free up’ more time to concentrate ‘on the pitch’ 

  • Develop role credibility by achieving success in different roles in the game 

  • Learning to communicate ‘upwards’ in order to gain more support for your projects 

Tips for the technical leader

Technical directors must find a good combination of ‘on and off pitch’ work in order to be effective, says Lili Bai, Head of Women’s Football for the Asian Football Confederation. 

“Many technical directors were players or coaches before they took the role,” explains Bai. “So, they are very familiar, and often prefer, to work on the pitch or close to the pitch. For many, they don't really like the administrative work.

However, Bai believes that better administrative skills and more focus on office management can ‘free up’ more time for technical directors to be close to the pitch.

“Technical leaders and technical directors need to manage their administrative team well because that will allow them to have a better focus on the pitch. So, it needs to be a good combination between the two: on pitch and off pitch. You need to manage the office well and have a plan in place in order to enable you to have more time to focus on the pitch.

“Sometimes technical directors will say there is no effectiveness in the office or things are not running smoothly, but this needs work.” 

How playing and coaching experience can bring credibility

As part of Bai’s current role as Head of Women’s Football for the Asian Football Confederation her job is to work closely with Asia’s 47 member associations to promote women’s football and implement AFC Women's Football Strategic Plan to grow the game in Asia. 

Similar to many technical leaders, Bai has made a successful transition from a playing and coaching career to become a football executive. It is this journey that she believes gives her ‘credibility’ in the role, she explains. 

“I believe that I got chosen to this job because of my football background as a former international player, then working as a coach with a Pro Licence and as a capable coaching course instructor,” explains Bai. “So, that knowledge and background has allowed me to offer knowledge and support to our member associations.

“I see my background as giving me credibility when I talk to our members. They know you were a player with a lot of experience, so when you are making proposals and suggestions they are open to it. 

“Also, during my time with the Chinese womens football team we were very successful and now they are also doing a good job. So, the associations feel like youre trustworthy and your experience is really helping them. This has helped me a lot in my role.” 

Playing and coaching experience alone is not enough  

Although a previous playing and coaching career can give/bring credibility, Bai believes technical directors must upskill themselves in key administrative, management and leadership skills if they are to be successful and maximise their influence. 

Leadership skills are vital,” says Bai. “Your team needs to have the same vision as you and you need to give very clear directions and goals. You also need to persuade people and explain why you have the vision and goals.”

Bai also believes technical leaders must ‘maximise’ every opportunity to manage their team, especially after the Covid pandemic and a shift to remote working. 

“Things have changed since the pandemic and there are a lot more sessions online. So, leaders have to understand about a hybrid approach and utilise all the opportunities online and on site in order influence their team. You have to be thinking about how to maximise all the opportunities to manage your team.”

Bai explains another key skill for technical leaders is communication; both upwards in an organisation and also externally to key stakeholders. 

“Sometimes technical leaders are very strong in the technical area, but can be a little bit afraid to talk to the board and to the leadership. But, if you don’t communicate with them then you get less support from them. 

“As a technical leader you need to be a very good persuader and you need to get in touch with the board and leadership and update them with what's going on. 

“Often leaders will tell me the board don’t really want to hear from you. However, it’s the wrong way to look at it. If you don’t feed them the information and educate them why technical development is important they will never receive the message. If you communicate consistently, they will gradually understand.”

Update the media with progress on technical matters 

Similarly, Bai believes technical leaders must be comfortable and confident in speaking with the media in order to update on technical developmental success and progress. 

“You need to have a proactive mentality,” explains Bai. “In the past technical leaders may have felt we are not like the national team head coach. We are the one working on the ground and we do not need that exposure.

“But now the world is changing and you need to let people know why technical development is important. You need to let the audience, the fans, know what's happening with your association, what kind of progress you made and you need to make a showcase to inform people. 

“So, technical leaders must get confident with the media so they can show progression. It is all part of football education. In Asia, we really lack this kind of communication because the focus is mainly on the results of the national team. There needs to be more about coaching, youth and development.

“Its about developing media and marketing skills. You need to sell the products you have to get more attention and support. Technical leaders need this mentality and capability and be happy to communicate and be interviewed.”


  • Find a healthy balance between ‘on pitch’ and ‘off pitch’ focus 

  • Develop your leadership, management and administrative skills in order to have greater influence in your role 

  • Regularly update the media on technical department matters in order to widen awareness and gain more support 


  • What is the balance between your ‘on pitch’ and ‘off pitch’ focus? How do you effectively lead the Technical Department administrative staff? 

  • What areas of leadership, management and administration do you need to improve upon? Who can help you? 

  • Schedule regular opportunities to communicate to the media and relevant stakeholders about Technical Department activity 

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