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Trust and Conviction are Keys to Success

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, Coach of the Switzerland Women's National Football Team, shares her method for successful leadership and explains how she copes with stressful situations.

At a recruiting event in early May, Campus Relations Switzerland gave select female students at various Swiss universities the opportunity to learn more about factors of success for starting and developing one's career. Four women with careers in various sectors took part in a panel discussion on the key factors of success for their professional paths. One of the participants was Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the coach for the Switzerland women's national football team. During an exclusive interview with Credit Suisse, she provided glimpses into her career and gave employees useful tips and tricks for their future career advancement.

Juliana Bon: Ms. Voss-Tecklenburg, how did you go about planning your own career?

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg: I set my goals very early on, and I have always taken whichever path was the best in the given circumstances. While at school, I played on the German women's national team. After completing my final secondary school examinations, I did a traineeship in business at the state sports association, where I learned a great deal. The institution provided me with a lot of support on my career path, for instance with unpaid leave for football. However, I realized fairly quickly that I didn't want to sit at a computer and work in accounting, and would rather be a coach on the football pitch. I kept sight of this goal throughout my 20s, meaning throughout my active football career. I completed training to become a coach, received professional training, and became a mother – I had a daughter at the age of 26 – all while playing football.

What do you think is important apart from goal planning?

Two things: On the one hand, you need passion, but on the other, you also need some discipline. People who say "this is too difficult for me" will never achieve their goals. So for years, I would get up at 6:00 a.m., drive to the office, leave the office at 3:30 p.m., get in my car and drive 160 kilometers to practice, and after practice I would drive the 160 kilometers back again. I would get home at 11:30 p.m. and go to bed, and the next day, it would start all over again.

Wasn't that fairly exhausting?

That's not how I saw it. It was just clear to me that this was what I wanted to do. Of course there were things that I did without, but that was mostly because they simply weren't important enough to me. In my mid-30s, I was able to work as a coach. I set out for a new challenge at 40, and I deliberately took a risk. I resigned from a very stable position at the German Football Association for a job at a club, which always carries the risk of being fired. And I've been the Swiss national coach for three years now. A lot of people say that this is essentially the top, the highest point you can reach in a coaching career. But I'm not satisfied with just that. I always need new input and new challenges, and I am open to new, exciting things. At the same time, I don't want to give up what I'm doing right now – I do it with a great deal of passion.

What is your secret method for motivating your team?

I don't have a secret method. It's more of a philosophy. It would be wrong if I had to encourage my players to do something. I try to act based on conviction. A player needs to have the right mindset to start with: I want to practice six to seven times a week because I am convinced that it will improve me and not because the national coach said so. That's the only way she can play on the national team. It's a fundamental necessity. Otherwise, it's not going to work, no matter how hard I try to motivate her. Trust, communication, conviction, and self-assurance are the keys to success.                         

What tips would you give to women on their career path?

My tip is to find out where you feel comfortable and what you enjoy. I don't think it makes sense to choose a job just because you could potentially earn a lot of money in a very short period of time. If you don't feel comfortable with what you do, you should find the courage and the strength to make a change. What's very important in this is to have a supportive network around you. If my daughter and my husband didn't support me in everything I do, it would be twice as hard for me. You also need to be very frank. When talking with someone else, I have to explain and discuss what I do and don't want, and where my passion is. This is very important.

What parallels can you see between careers for women in sports and in the world of business?

Actually, the same rules always apply both for sports and for choosing a career: Find your passion with discipline, and never stray from your path. You need passion to start off well and discipline to end up well. If you lack the discipline and the willingness to improve, then you won't move ahead in sports or not to mention in your career. You can opt to become a face in the crowd and be satisfied with that. Or you can say: I want to move forward; I want more. And that's valid. One thing is clear to me: If you are trying to muddle through something, you will end up suffering from it at some point or you will no longer make the cut. So I have a lot of respect for players who have come to me and said: "Martina, I can't provide what you're asking for," whether it's because they are in school, because they are in a profession that makes it impossible, because they don't have that inner drive, or because there are other things that matter to them just as much or even more. That's a sign of strength.