Nils Nielsen on democratic leadership

FIFA, 08 Aug 2023


Manchester City Women’s Director of Football Nils Nielsen sits down to talk about his open approach to leadership. In a conversation encompassing several topics, he also describes how he works with players to help them realise their full potential and touches on the importance of the mental side of the sport.

Part 1 - Nils’s route into coaching and his leadership style
Part 2 - Democratic decision making and the evolution of the women’s game

Part 1 - Route into coaching and his leadership style

Nils’s route into coaching
Nils was born with a defect in his back and knew he wasn’t going to have a long playing career. He suffered an injury in his late teenage years and did not play again. However, he had already done coaching courses and, lucky enough to get a dispensation for being too young and inexperienced, he was able to get a coaching licence in Denmark. This opened a lot of doors for him.

Choosing to work in women’s football
Nils felt there was an injustice with the women’s game at the time. Many things were not developed and he believed this was wrong. He was pleased to take the job with the Danish national team and saw it as a way to improve the daily life of women’s football, something he believes he and others have succeeded in doing quite well.

Adapting as a coach in different countries
As there are different ways of doing things everywhere, he has had to adjust his methods to reach his targets and goals. What has never changed, however, is how he is inside and this is what he always brings to each new role.

Leadership style
Nils believes he has a very open leadership style and he helps people to be brave enough to reach their full potential. He encourages players to have their opinions and helps them understand that having differences in opinion can help them grow. He tries to guide his players in the direction that fits with the common goals and values everyone has agreed on beforehand.

Part 2 - Democratic decision making and the evolution of the women’s game

Player involvement in making decisions
Nils explains that even in areas that are his responsibility, such as making a game plan, he still involves his players. Questions like how the team are going to present themselves and what the identity of the group is, are decided on together because they need to be a good fit for everybody. It’s much easier if you have done the ground work first together so everyone can agree on their values and how they are going to play in order to win the games.

Development of the mental game
He believes the mental side will always come first. He explains that a player can be in the shape of their life but if there is something that is not right in their head, they will not be able to perform to their full potential. They are not going to win games if their confidence is letting them down. 

Characteristics of mentally strong teams and players
Nils believes mentally strong players will find solutions where there are none because they believe in themselves and they know they can do it. He also gives an example of the Swiss national team. Previously they had narrowly failed to qualify for tournaments. Once he took over, they worked a lot on changing their attitude and believing 100% they were going to win and, as a result, they manged to qualify.

The evolution of the women’s game
He thinks it is the fastest developing sport at the moment because it is growing at such a speed and the games are now completely different to when he started in women’s football. Physically, the players have improved so much and they take much better care of themselves. He also points out that clubs and staff are much better now than 8 years ago.

Leadership is about working with people in a way they get to express themselves and be the best version of themselves.

Nils Nielsen on leadership

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