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More Lessons from the Coaching Ranks

We have blogged previously on communications lessons involving sports coaches. The first news conference by David Moyes, who replaced coaching legend Sir Alex Ferguson at Britain’s famed Manchester United soccer club, offers an excellent example of deft media handling.

Over 26 years the brash Ferguson coached “Man-U” into a British and European champion and a sports brand on par with the New York Yankees. The low-key Moyes spent the past 11 years in relative obscurity as the successful coach of smaller market soccer club Everton, based in Liverpool…an excellent team on the fringes of greatness that never had the resources to compete with the big guys in British soccer.
How did Moyes fare under his first media scrutiny as Man-U coach?

1) He was grilled on the future of Man-U superstar Wayne Rooney – a Ferguson protégé who is in high demand by other clubs in Europe. A reporter finally asked if Rooney had ever “categorically” stated that he did not intend to leave; Moyes replied, “I can categorically tell you that Wayne Rooney is training fantastically well.”  Moyes cleverly seized on the reporter’s use of the adverb “categorically” to dodge the question by responding with what he could “categorically” say. Point Moyes for recognizing and seizing the semantic opportunity.
2) Moyes then deflected questions about Ferguson saying Rooney told him he wanted to leave, by stating simply that he wasn’t party to any private discussions between Sir Alex and Rooney. Point Moyes, for refusing to get drawn in to speculating.

3) And finally, in a particularly artful comment aimed at both the media AND Rooney, Moyes offered up the tantalizing prospect of Rooney matching or beating the record statistics of two other Man-U superstars, thus ensuring his everlasting legacy should he stay on. Point and match Moyes for closing with a statement that was both a widely-used quote for the media and a personal message to Rooney.

Moyes stuck by what we at CommCore advise our media training clients: Don’t speculate, avoid answering “false choice” A or B questions, learn how to “bridge” artfully to a message point, and have a compelling closing statement ready that will likely get picked up.