Emma Hayes' psychological methods keep Chelsea women flying high

Emma Hayes gives teamwork lessons by asking the Chelsea players to learn the habits of geese, who fly in formation and take turns at the front, holding each other accountable.

Emma Hayes' (C) Chelsea FC has already won the Women's Super League and League Cup titles and after Sunday's Champions League final, there's still the FA Cup to go (File Photo).   -  Getty Images

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has deployed the right tactics while leading her team to its first Women’s Champions League final. And her psychological methods have paid off, too.

Before facing Bayern Munich in the second leg of the semifinals and down 2-1, she showed her players a video of a female UFC champion repeating the phrase “I'm the best” moments before a fight.

Hayes gives teamwork and leadership lessons by encouraging players to learn from the habits of geese, who fly in formation and take turns at the front, holding each other accountable in the process.

“That's a big part of who I am — developing mentality, mindsets,” Hayes said recently. “I might have some performance psychology support for individuals but the best psychologist is the coach.”

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Hayes will be trying to become the first Englishwoman to coach a team to victory in the tournament when Chelsea faces Barcelona on Sunday in Gothenburg, Sweden. Chelsea got there by beating Bayern 4-1 nearly two weeks ago, eliminating the German club 5-3 on aggregate.

Only two female coaches have won Europe's premier club competition, the last coming 12 years ago with Martina Voss-Tecklenburg of German club Duisburg. Finalists since then have all been coached by men.

Hayes became Chelsea manager in 2012 and has built one of the world's best teams, amassing international talent like Australia striker Sam Kerr, Denmark forward Pernille Harder and England forward Fran Kirby.

Under Hayes, Chelsea has won the Women's Super League four times — the most in England — in addition to other trophies.

The London club has a chance to match Arsenal's quadruple from 2007, when Hayes was an assistant coach there. Chelsea has already won the WSL title and the League Cup. After Sunday's final, there's still the women's FA Cup.

Hayes credited her experience in the United States with shaping her, telling Chelsea TV that she was born in England but was definitely made in America.

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In search of coaching opportunities, she left London in her early 20s and led a semi-pro team in Long Island before becoming head coach at Iona College.

After the Arsenal stint, she was hired in 2008 as head coach and director of operations for Chicago Red Stars ahead of the inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer, the precursor to the current NWSL.

A fan of former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson, Hayes was fired early in the 2010 season after only one win in the team's first six games.

Today, though, her high-flying Chelsea team is the first English club since Arsenal in 2007 to reach the European final. Like geese, she said, any of her players are capable of stepping up. Alex Ferguson had used a similar metaphor when he managed Manchester United.

“I have shown them why they fly in V-formations," Hayes said. "What its purpose is, what everybody’s role is, how they communicate, how they support each other, and importantly that you fly further together and that's the bottom line. Same for my football team. Sometimes different people take the lead.”

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