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Non-negotiables with Jesse Marsch - "I want to help my players be better brothers, fathers and husbands"
We sat down with the Leeds manager to discuss the key coaching values and philosophies he won’t compromise on and how they influence his management style.
As shoes go, they don't come much bigger than Marcelo Bielsa's.
So when a little-known American head coach by the name of Jesse Marsch was appointed as his successor, eyebrows were raised.
But in the space of just eight months, Marsch has moved out of Bielsa's shadow to build a new-look Leeds United team in his own unique image.
As Leeds prepare to face-off against Liverpool this Saturday, Marsch has revealed all in an exclusive interview with BT Sport, delving deeper into his key philosophies, values and what he expects from his players.
Do you have any concrete non-negotiables?
I know it's become a popular phrase in English football, but I always say ‘my only non-negotiable is not using the word non-negotiable!'
I don’t like to create an environment that’s all about rules and regulations. For me, people are not machines and shouldn’t be treated as such.
You’ve said before the “right mentality determines success” - why is mentality so crucial for you and what does the 'right mentality' look like?
When I was in Austria, they used to make fun of me in the media because I said “Mentalitat” so often - which means mentality in German.
Mentality to me means work ethic, it means the relentless pursuit of improvement and success.
Can you consistently be the best version of yourself, even in the most challenging times? I often think that's what determines success and failure in this business.
You like your players to "empty the tank" on the pitch, how important is work ethic to you as a leader?
Work ethic is the most important thing in football.
It’s why I try and be the first person into the training ground every day and it’s why I try and be the last one to leave.
Because I know that you can say you work hard but unless you show it, it doesn’t mean anything.
Then with the team, I try to hold our best players and biggest leaders to the highest standards.
I’ve found that if your best players and senior leaders are your hardest workers then no one else has any room to do anything else.
I’m more interested in maximising the potential of each individual and helping them understand how they can commit entirely, with every fibre of their being, to what we are trying to create as a group.
- Jesse Marsch
My father would say to me: “If you’re going to do something do it all the way, don’t do it half way.” He used to say it all the time and it used to drive me crazy!
He was one of those guys who was happiest when he was working hard and I took that with me.
Is it difficult to strike a balance between hard work and over training?
Physiologically there’s a balance in your body between adrenaline and endorphins and there are times when I have to reinforce with adrenaline how we work and that we go full-throttle and we sprint and we work harder than everybody and empty the tank.
Then it's about creating endorphins by acknowledging how hard they work, how well they’re improving, hearing what they have to say, engaging with them as people and letting them know that we value them, that we believe them and care about them.
So we reward them for their hard work and there’s this ebb and flow of how the body responds to challenges and rewards. I try to stay on top of that as a coach.
When we do that well I feel like we can really engage every person really well and make them feel like they belong here. We’re all looking to feel like we belong to something.
Even for me, coming to Leeds United, I’ve been rewarded beyond belief for the person I am and the way that I think. I’m just trying to pay that back and encourage it in all the right ways.
As a leader, how important is it for people to feel like they have a voice, that their opinion is valued?
Ultimately I’m tasked with being the leader and making decisions.
But I’m more interested in maximising the potential of each individual and helping them understand how they can commit entirely, with every fibre of their being, to what we are trying to create as a group.
If I can do that, to the best of my ability, then I will see them all flourish not just as players but as fathers, husbands and brothers.
For example, my kids are now 20, 18 and 15 and they’re here at Thorpe Arch a lot, interacting with the team and helping out on the pitch because this whole idea about family, togetherness and believing in each other is very, very vital to me.
That’s my vision of leadership, it’s a holistic approach.
I can’t know the players well enough to appreciate what their daily stresses are in the outside world, but I try to provide an environment and a relationship where it’s okay for them to talk about those things.
If you’re making a car, you don’t need to know the emotion of every little thing involved, but when you’re trying to build a football team I think it’s important to be on top of the personal details.
You once said: "I don’t regret much in my life, but things I do regret are the things I approached too passively." How much do you value courage in yourself and in your players?
I experience fear, just like everybody else. There are things that are out of your control that could determine the fate of people you love and that can be difficult to face.
But I do feel much more comfortable being aggressive – maybe even too aggressive! - and taking risks than I do playing it safe.
I’ve always lived my life that way, by moving around and trying different things.
So when I was developing how I wanted to coach, I really wanted to play fast-paced, aggressive, vertical… and then I met Ralf Ragnick.
Within 36 hours he introduced me to a model and detail of football that I never knew existed and challenged me to take it on as my own.
After that I finally found a strategy that fit who I am as a person and it became this obsession.
As I’ve continued to build teams, I’ve tried to take the model and add my leadership ideas to make something that reflects perfectly how I want to live life!
It’s often live by the sword die by the sword. But I will always try and live by the core principle of, as they say in Germany, “to be too aggressive is better than to be too passive.”
Watch Liverpool vs Leeds on NOW via BT TV from 7pm this Saturday