Sue Ronan has had a long distinguished career in Women’s Football, firstly as a national team player, then as a coach and now as an administrator. She started full-time in the Football Association of Ireland in March 2006 as National Coordinator for Women’s Football. For the previous 10 years, she was part of the coaching staff in a voluntary capacity with the underage national squads, first as Manager of the U16s, then as Mick Cooke’s assistant with the U18s. Sue became Head Coach with the WU19s in 2000, a role she held for 10 years before moving on to coach the Women’s National Team in 2010. During her time with the WNT, she also led Team Ireland’s Women’s Football Team at three World University Games. Sue stepped down from her position with the WNT in 2016 to become Head of Women’s Football in the FAI, a position she still holds. Sue has recently gone back into coaching, taking over the U16 Girls National Team.
Women’s Football is something Sue has been passionate about all her life and she feels fortunate to be working in that area. As Head of Women’s Football her remit is to try to grow every element of the game from grassroots to elite, however, a particular passion of hers is trying to encourage more female coaches to get involved in the game, whether it be in women’s or men’s football.
What has sport taught you about leadership?
I believe that being involved at the elite level in sport for 30 years has certainly given me some of the tools which are important for any leader. As an athlete, you learn all about discipline, hard work and dedication, which are vital in order to be the best you can possibly be. When involved in a team sport, which I have been all my life, communication, cooperation and team-work are other important characteristics that come into play. All of these attributes are vital components in the make-up of any leader and are traits that I certainly feel have helped me when in leadership positions.
What are the essential components to building a winning team?
There are a number of essential components to building a winning team, including leadership style, being a good motivator, a good communicator and a good organiser/planner. However, I think one of the most important components is to have a clear vision of where you want the team to go and how you want them to get there. By communicating your vision to the team, outlining how their performance is directly linked to its achievement, you are ultimately building trust amongst them as they see how their performance is linked to, and so important to the vision. This will get them to understand and believe in it, thus giving them a focus.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
A willingness to listen and take advice or feedback from others. The day you think you know it all or you don’t need to listen to what others have to say is the day you might as well give up. Each of us can always learn more and from others.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your sporting career what advice would you give yourself?
I’d tell myself to be more confident in my ability, to believe in myself! I’d also advise myself to set personal goals and to live like an athlete, there wasn’t much advice or knowledge on the latter in my day.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
In general, I admire all strong female leaders worldwide like Angela Merkel. Within sports I admire broadcasters Clare Balding and Gabby Logan from over the water, also our own Evanne Ni Chuilinn, Joanne Cantwell and Jacqui Hurley – those women have really broken down age-old barriers. Sports journalism was something I wanted to do when I left school but I had no role model to look up to so never followed my dream, it’s great that the young girls of today now have those women who they can aspire to be!
I’ve also always admired Sir Alex Ferguson for the consistent success he had with one of the biggest football clubs in the world for nearly 25 years. He had to change his style of leadership over that time as the world changed and I think he managed that excellently. Both Joe Schmidt and Jim Gavin have also proven what great leaders they are with the continued success they have in their respective sports.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
There are some great talks on Ted which I try make the time to listen to. There are also some great books on leadership including “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey; “Quiet Leadership” by Carlo Ancellotti. Another book which helps leaders and elite athletes conquer their fears and have a greater understanding of their own responses to different situations is “The Chimp Paradox”, by Prof. Steve Peters.