Win the Championship with

Alyson Annan

Women's Coach of the Year (2019)


When talking about building winning teams, Alyson Annan was at the top of our list. Alyson Annan is a field hockey coach, former professional field hockey star and holds several gold medals to her name. She became head coach for the Dutch women’s team in October 2015, leading them to gold at the European Hockey Championship in 2017 and in 2019 to gold at the World Championship and FIH Pro League. For her incredible successes, Annan was named Women’s Coach of the year 2019. Annan knows what it means to build and maintain a strong team that will win you the championship.


I appoint people who already live the values in a very natural way, and I let them cultivate this in the team.

How to build a high-performance culture in a brand new team? When I became coach for the Dutch team I started by first giving the players the responsibility to build their own culture. It begins with defining what your values are as a team; what do we want people to see in us, how do we want to represent ourselves, what do we want to leave behind as our legacy? We want to be professional, respectful, and we want to work hard. Secondly, I changed the leadership structure of the team. We now have a captain and two vice-captains. Every member of the leadership team has their own responsibility for a certain sector, and one of them is culture. I appoint people who already live the values in a very natural way, and I let them cultivate this in the team.

How important is fun in a high-performance team? Fun and performance go hand in hand. The team must have fun while performing. When they don’t enjoy themselves, they don’t perform. However, they need to know that fun can never overtake performance, and that can be a grey area. In the end, you’re here to perform. As a coach, I have to guide the team through this grey area when I see that there’s too much fun or too much performance. You can also be far too serious and want to perform too much. We’re people; we need downtime. That’s the only way we can have uptime and perform.

Alyson Annan

Former professional field hockey player (AUS) Head coach Dutch men's & women's field hockey teams Women's Coach of the Year (2019)

We’re people; we need downtime. That’s the only way we can have uptime and perform.

How important is the role of a coach in building a high-performance team? If you have a group, someone needs to lead. I have a strong vision, but as a leader, you don’t need to have deep, in-depth knowledge about everything. It’s very important to know what people are best at doing. You need to gather people around you who do have the in-depth knowledge and get them triggered and moving, so they can give you the right information. That’s what a leader does.

If you recruit new people, should you go for talent or cultural fit if you want to achieve high performance? Go for talent and teach them the culture. Everyone has to live by the culture; otherwise, it creates chaos and problems in the team. Part of our culture is, for example, showing respect to everyone around us. This also means tidying up your own hotel room. If one of the girls refuses, she will get feedback from the team, and eventually, someone will check to see if she does it. If you want to play with us, you have to live our culture.

Go for talent and teach them the culture.
If I don’t see someone failing, I don’t see someone learning.

How do you work with performance evaluations in the team? Winning and losing in itself is already a good performance indicator. Besides that, we evaluate performance in several ways: on an individual basis, in-group, and based on data. We play in a team, but all we do regarding performance is individual-based. A strong team is built out of strong players. How can you become the best player you can be? We look at several aspects, like performance, physiology, technical skills, and nutrition. Feedback between players is also an important part. They evaluate each other, give each other feedback, and stimulate each other. Four times per year, players also evaluate themselves in individual sessions with me. What was your goal? How do you want to achieve it? Are you getting results, and do you spend enough time doing that? Is that still the right approach, or do you need a new approach? Failing is also important. If I don’t see someone failing, I don’t see someone learning. In the team, we distinguish four different roles: serving players, structured players, creative players, and connectors. As coaching staff, we put the players in the different roles but then ask the team, without them knowing where we put them, what roles they would put themselves in. It’s great to see that they almost always put themselves in the same role we put them in.

What does true performance behavior look like to you? Everyone who joins the team takes a competency test, which gives a certain score on a number of competencies, like performance under pressure, goal-orientedness, communicating, and making decisions. We also ask each player which 3-5 competencies from the test deserve the most attention in order to perform best, and we coach them on that.

In the end, my role as a coach is not only to make better players but also better people.

Besides, it’s clear for everyone how a good performance looks, but the behaviour is different for everyone. We look at the initial response behaviour (for example: do you catch the ball or do you dodge it, and why is that?) Does this response behaviour stimulate performance or not? If not, we coach the person to change this. In the end, my role as a coach is not only to make better players but also better people.

What can scale-up leaders learn from performance in top sports? Not many companies coach on performance behaviour. They just look at performance. By doing that, you don’t get the best out of your people. Lots of companies just say: we need these numbers; this is the process. But what happens to someone when they get stressed or lose confidence in their work? When they coach you on performance behavior, performance will improve. It would make us all better leaders if we did that.

What else can we learn from top sports? I don’t believe in an eight-hour workday. It’s not possible to perform eight hours a day. An athlete who trains for eight hours, goes home, cooks dinner, goes to bed at 12:00 to be at the office at 8:00 the next morning, would be a very unhealthy athlete. There’s no time to rest. We train one hour and 15 to 30 minutes a day, and that’s when the players need to perform. A lot of employees are ineffective because they have too much time. You can fill your 40 hours, spend hours in meetings talking about air, and still have a long to-do list. Give people less working hours, for the same salary, and they will be more effective and way more focussed.

Give people less working hours, for the same salary, and they will be more effective and way more focussed.

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