Gerhardsson: The music and methods behind a Swedish success story

  • Sweden’s Peter Gerhardsson nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach award

  • His team saw off Germany and England en route to finishing third at France 2019

  • Gerhardsson tells about four key aspects of his approach

“It’s always strange with coaching awards,” says Peter Gerhardsson. The man who led Sweden to a podium finish at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ speaks as one of ten individuals in the running to be named The Best FIFA Women’s Coach. But more important to him is that, thanks to his role with the national team, he also has a vote.

“I always feel: ‘How do I judge?’" he explained. "With players, you’ve watched them play and know how good they are. But with coaches, I haven’t seen them in training sessions, in dressing rooms, in meetings, speaking to players. I only see what their teams achieve. And I know I’m only nominated this time because my team achieved good things.”

Gerhardsson has a point, of course, and there will be plenty – even within the confines of women’s football – who know little about the 59-year-old’s approach to tactics, motivation and other aspects of his job. So, to find out a little more, asked the unassuming Swede to self-analyse four key elements that help form his coaching identity.

1: Calmness

“I don’t think anger helps get the most out of people. Would someone shouting and screaming at you in your office make you work better? Why then should we think it would work with footballers? For me, a coach’s job is to be clear and calm and make their players understand the things that will make the team play better. Getting angry with players might have been common in the past, especially in men’s sport, but that old way - the Alex Ferguson ‘hairdryer’ - is old-fashioned now, I think. If you’re so frustrated as a coach that you can’t communicate calmly to your players at half-time, I would say it’s better to stay out of the dressing room completely. Leave the players to sort things out.”

2: Flexibility

“I like my team to have a structure but I also feel you always need to leave room for creativity. As a coach, I feel you need to trust your players and give them freedom to create and improvise. I like players who make decisions for themselves on the pitch and, when I was a player, I always enjoyed playing under coaches who gave me that responsibility. I think that’s more interesting too – having players who can adapt to play in more than one way. I really value flexibility as a coach. It’s no longer enough, the way it used to be in Sweden especially, to have 4-4-2 with everyone playing in the same way. Structure is important, but too much structure kills creativity.”

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 03: Peter Gerhardsson, Head Coach of Sweden gives his team instructions during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Semi Final match between Netherlands and Sweden at Stade de Lyon on July 03, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

3: Treating players as individuals

“One of the big challenges as a national coach, especially at the World Cup, is that you have 23 players all wanting to play, and only 11 places in the team. We also had very few injuries in France. So you need to be careful there and try everything you can to keep everyone happy and motivated. The players are human beings and you need to talk to them and treat to them in a way that recognises what they need as individuals. And if they ever wanted to talk to me and my staff – maybe to ask why they weren’t playing as much as they would like – we were always there, and always open to explaining things.”

4: Music

“I’m a massive music fan and it’s a very important part of my life and the way I work. One key thing is that it helps me relax because, as a football coach, you have a lot of players and staff looking to you to lead them, and sometimes that can be stressful. So I need to take care of myself and music is a big part of that. But I also find it helps me in a creative way – I work better, think better and have better ideas for what I’m going to do in training sessions and matches when I’m listening to music. It was the same when I was in school - my mum could never understand it!

“Before playing teams at the World Cup, I would also look to listen to music from that country. So, for example, it would be Neil Young and Golden Earring for Canada and the Netherlands – I was already a fan – and Rammstein for Germany, although I didn’t like that so much. Thailand was the only tough one for me! I always felt doing that helped me think and prepare, and kept me in a good, relaxed mood.”