The transfer rumour mill is starting to crank up as Premier League and Football League clubs prepare to return for pre-season training in the very near future.  Successful recruitment is generally accepted in the professional game as the no.1 critical factor with regards to success on the pitch.

So, clubs work feverishly to sign the “best” players, but this is only half the battle – once you have them, the key is to get them to perform as quickly as possible and settle in to a new and established environment.

Successfully integrating a new signing, at any level, delivers huge benefits to an entire club.  Just consider the following flow: Settled Player = High Individual Performance = Improved Team Results = Happier (and more) Supporters = Financial Benefits to the Club = Recruitment of Better Players.  Everyone wins!

There really are two key questions:

1) What can the club do to successfully integrate a new signing most effectively?

2) What can the player do to successfully integrate into their new club?

To answer these questions, I researched, continue to research and help players who have actually gone through the experience of joining new clubs in the Premier League and Football Leagues.  I have interviewed British and foreign players, young and senior professionals, and players of all positions to really understand what or who helped them when they joined a new club and also what or who worked against them?

From a club perspective, it’s key to understand how the circumstances of the transfer will affect the mindset of the player prior to Day One.  You might think that a player moving up from League One to the Premier League and all of the associated riches might mean the player is on top of the world, but how do we know whether he’s doubting whether he deserves to be in the same changing room as the stars he’s only ever seen on TV, or he’s moving to a big city on his own after he’s lived at home with his folks all his life.  Having a good understanding of these points can help the club develop a personalised integration plan.

One consistent theme was nicely summed up by a Premier League player “It was like the first day at a new school, you just don’t know anyone and how everything works.”  This was combined by admissions that the support provided by clubs was incredibly inconsistent, with a general feeling of being thrown into the lion’s den and you either sink or swim.  Surprisingly, this was true for players at clubs who provided a “Liaison Officer” – these were often seen as being strongly linked to logistics, but not providing emotional support.  So, what did the players say did help them produce their best, most quickly?

Pro-active Integration within the club:   One of the advantages of the transfer window system is that clubs have the time to develop processes, checklists and train staff to ensure that integration can be as smooth as possible.  Allocating a senior player to show the new player the ropes takes off some of the pressure.  It’s important to remember that a player is coming in to an established team, where explicit and implicit roles already exist.  Communication from the Manager and coaching staff is vital at this time so that the player has an understanding of exactly what’s expected to them – it was incredible how many of the players said you were just expected to kind of work it out as you went along.

Pro-active integration outside the club:  Accommodation, schools, language, religion and specialist food requirements (e.g. halal) all have an impact on new players (and their families), so it’s vital that a club has a plan in place for each player before they arrive.  Remember, players will only be spending around thirty hours a week on club business with the remaining one hundred and thirty-eight hours left to their own devices.  Clubs may well feel that it’s not their responsibility to manage the private life of the player and their family.  This may well be true, but ultimately the club suffers on a performance and investment basis should a player be suffering from something like homesickness that could have been alleviated with some pro-active work.

On the positive side, it was pleasing to hear how players understood a sense of personal responsibility for a successful integration.  This became particularly clear with more senior players who had learnt the hard way through trial and error that their own mindset was the most important factor in helping them settle.  Some of the methods they highlighted included:

“Don’t go in all guns blazing.”  Showing massive confidence (which could well be perceived as arrogance) and hurling the banter from the start is likely to turn the players against you.  Even if this goes well, you’ve got to keep this up which can be exhausting and affect your performance.

Keep your eyes and ears open – there are all sorts of unwritten rules that fly around a club and they may be a little different from the club you’ve just come from.  Watching and listening to the manager when he speaks to other players will give you an idea of what’s expected.

Prepare for excellence – the club have brought you in to do a job based on what they have seen.  Focus on the preparation that gives you the best opportunity to train and play well.  The fundamental point was that if you’re playing well, then the integration just kind of falls into place (most of the time!).

So that’s a whistle-stop tour, and if you’re a Manager, Player, Coach, Chief Executive or anyone with an interest in this topic (or any other area of sport psychology), I’d be delighted to answer any questions via TheSportinMind website (please put my name in the title) or via Sean@DeliverYourAbility.com

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