England head coach Sarina Wiegman spoke to a live audience at the historic Westminster Chapel in London about her new book released by Harper Collins today.
Entitled “What it Takes: My Playbook on Life and Leadership”, Wiegman was promoting her 312-page coaching manual, co-written by Dutch journalist Jeroen Wisscher and which draws on her own unique experiences, during a 90-minute interview for the latest edition of the High Performance Podcast.
Hosted by television broadcaster Jake Humphrey and psychologist Damian Hughes, the High Performance Podcast is a highly-successful series which speaks to industry leaders across all sectors of sport and business in an attempt to unlock the secrets of achieving high performance. Previous guests include Gordon Ramsey, Tyson Fury and Lily Cole.
Wiegman, the most successful coach of an England men’s or women’s team in the nation’s storied history is someone who fits seamlessly into that exalted bracket of industry leaders. She received a standing ovation from an audience of over 800 people after her appearance on the podcast.
The only coach in history to both win the European Championship and reach the World Cup final, each with two different nations – her native Netherlands and England – she is also alone in being voted The Best FIFA Coach in three separate years (2017, 2020 and 2022).
While others may see her achievements as extraordinary, Wiegman merely sees them as the result of who she is. It had been her desire since elementary school to be a teacher in Physical Education, a pursuit which gave her the necessary skills to coach once her playing career ended. She claims the sport and helping individuals realize their potential gives her energy.
In September 2021, Wiegman took over an England team which had reached the semi-finals of their three previous major tournaments but had never won a senior international championship.
Through discussions with the players, Wiegman quickly identified that the team were not making the final step in tournaments due to an inability, within the pressure-cooker of the biggest matches, to stick to their collective game-plan.
This is something she had worked on previously during her time as Dutch national coach with a peculiar training method of antagonising the players with provocative refereeing decisions designed to test their ability to handle pressure.
Her reasoning was only by exposing the player’s behavior when annoyed could they be truly honest with each other and know which of their team-mates they could count on, who would stick to their tasks and continue to be a team-player when the chips were down in the crucible of a big game.
During her first training sessions she noticed that the England players were not taking risks on the ball, preferring to pass the ball – and the responsibility – to team-mates. She urged them to live in the moment and focus on actions and not think about the consequences of a bad result, reassuring them it was acceptable to make a mistake, so long as they learned from it.
This strategy was put to the ultimate test when they trailed with six minutes remaining of their UEFA Women’s Euro quarter-final to Spain. She admitted that the moment Ella Toone equalised late in that match to save the game as one of the defining moments in her coaching career. Another goal by Toone, scored in April’s Finalissima against Brazil, she described as the “epitome of perfection” for its teamwork and flawless execution.
Wiegman explains in the book how she has learned from previous mistakes in her decision-making. In 2017, after cutting defender Merel van Dongen from her final Netherlands squad for the UEFA Women’s Euro, she was encouraged to remain on the training camp, forcing an angry player to attend a subsequent team meeting in tears.
Following feedback after the tournament (which the Netherlands won) from van Dongen, Wiegman learned from this and changed the way in which she dropped players from future squads, allowing them to leave if they chose but also to reach out to them if needed. It was an experience Wiegman had to go through again when five years later she had to cut the former England captain, Steph Houghton, from her final 23-player squad.
Wiegman also revealed that she believes her biggest strength is connecting with people but her greatest flaw is not being able to switch off from the game, something she is working to improve with the aid of yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.
Undefeated in her first 30 matches as England head coach, Wiegman’s midas touch is for the first time being called into question after three defeats in her last five matches which has left qualification for the Olympic Games out of her team’s hands.
She feels that her players are currently struggling to score the goals their team-play merits and maintains she will do everything to come out on top in a now must-win game against her home country, the Netherlands, at Wembley Stadium on December 1. It promises to be the biggest test yet of Wiegman’s coaching tenure.
What it Takes: My Playbook on Life and Leadership by Sarina Wiegman and Jeroen Wisscher is released today by Harper Collins