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What It Takes To Be A Team Manager With Forge FC’s Jelani Smith

Jelani Smith | Team Manager | Forge FC

Player Management is certainly the most important, you are the direct contact for literally anything player related, from daily itinerary and training schedules to interviews and general inquires.

Jelani Smith

Team Manager

Forge FC

× The interview with Jelani Smith was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Team Manager for Forge FC. What does a typical day look like for you?

As Team Manager at Forge FC my role encompasses a variety of purposes on a wide spectrum of necessities. To define the position accurately, I’d have to divide it into the 4 major categories: Player Management, Staff Management, Trips/Travel and Finance.

Player Management is certainly the most important, you are the direct contact for literally anything player related, from daily itinerary and training schedules to interviews and general inquires.

Often time you serve a therapeutical role for players to voice their opinions, concerns and emotions in hope it is translated to the coaching staff or sometimes its simply just to vent.

The dynamic you have with the player is the most important element to success as you determine the majority of their day to day activities, finding a balance between casual banter and sternness is a battle but when you’ve found that balance there is a distinct pleasure the job entails.

Staff Management plays second fiddle but is just as important as the player aspect. You are the conduit through which they communicate to the players. The staff depends on you to update them habitually on players status, whereabouts, energy and well-being.

While simultaneously delivering to the players the staffs schedule, weekly activities and other request they might have. Similar to the players, staff will also whisper their thoughts and opinions with intention you reiterate their sentiments to the players.

Trips and Travel is by far the most difficult piece of the puzzle. When you consider the pandemonium the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it made an already difficult job significantly harder.

In a typical season priority #1 is communicating with the travel market hotels almost immediately after the league schedule is announced to block rooms and banquets for the anticipated travel dates.

As you approach the actual trip you start to submit room-list, dietary restrictions, meal and trip itinerary with the hotel but making sure a hotel of quality in close proximity is pivotal. When you consider COVID-19, you have to clear and concise with the hotel staff the request you need.

Communicating the team needs a “bubble” was an uphill battle. Making sure your exposure and contact to other guest at all times was as limited as possible proved to be a perpetual work in progress especially in regards to international travel.

Booking flights through the travel agent and trying to avoid fare changes or additional fees helps save the club a significant amount of money. Coordinating date of departure and return with the coaching staff then sorting available flights with the travel agent is arduous task but it’s a task that must be done quite some time in advance.

At the airport its always a bit of fun, making sure the players are checking in the cargo bags, bartering with desk agents about 2.5 lbs overages charges. When you mix the eventual “I cant find my passport” and more recent “I lost my wallet and have no ID” scenarios all while handing out per diem, its organized chaos that doesn’t particularly end until you’re seated for take off.

Finance is the easier part of this puzzle, tracking and tracing expenses holding onto receipts and being organized are essentials. Having to work within a budget is frustrating at times, so negotiating skills and bit of “charm” go along way.

While working as a Team Manager, how have you been able to manage the stress of meeting deadlines and responsibilities? What are three tips you have for young professionals?

Worry about what you can control. Knowing that you are responsible for a group of people can be overwhelming. There are days before travel that I’ll second guess, “Did I collect all the passports?” or “does this player need a visa to enter” but these become a normalcy.

You need to find a routine or system you can apply that keeps your sanity and keeps you grounded. It’s never going to be perfect there will always be hiccup or something that doesn’t go as anticipated.

So the 3 tips I’d give to young professionals:

  1. Be composed
  2. Trust yourself
  3. Adapt and pivot

You need to wear that mask of composure even when it appears the world is burning around you, you’re the patriarch/matriarch of the club.

If you don’t look concerned then they won’t be concerned, there’s always going to be a solution so settle in and find it.

  • Trust yourself
  • Be confident
  • When you have your routine, stick to it!

There are countless times that we are walking to a restaurant or a gate where I’ve literally had no idea where I am going but if you remain poise things have this way of working themselves out.

Adapt and Pivot, I can’t say it enough, IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT.

So being able to adapt and change on the go to solve problems is an under appreciated talent and intangible characteristic to success in this role.

What did it take for you to get the role as the Team manager for Forge FC?

It was perfect timing.

I was actually supposed to be a player for the club. The Head Coach and Director of Forge, I worked with closely in my time at Sigma (Mississauga Soccer Academy).

At SIGMA I created a program called “SIGMA SGT” (Small Group Training) where it was an external/external supplemental strength and technical program which was quite successful.

This extended to a SIGMA Jr’s program, similar to your typical house league. The academy’s youngest age group is u-12. My idea behind sigma junior was to develop a pre-academy and which could be used a funnel or ID system and integrate the more talented players to full academy system.

Illustrating the business acumen and ability to organize made me a candidate. It was a sequence of difficult and frequent injuries that halted my playing career, however, it opened a door for me to begin a new career in management.

What does it mean to you to work as the Team Manager for the first Canadian Premier League Champions?

I don’t think this has resonated with me as yet.

We were the inaugural season Champions 2019 and repeated in 2020.

Oddly enough it doesn’t feel significant at the moment, we’ve created a culture and a standard from the first day all the players entered Tim Hortons Stadium during their first official team meeting.

This organization was going to have a legacy of winning. Every last person bought in and the results speak for themselves.

I think when it is my time to move on knowing that I helped create the blueprint and foundation to success in the first-ever CPL championship team will mean much more then.

As for now, my only focus is on creating a dynasty and everlasting legacy.

What are three essential skills someone needs to succeed in the sport industry?

  • Organization – This is required in all aspects of your life, but particularly in this industry, you have to be meticulous. The margin of error is very slim. If a passport number is wrong or a digit is transposed it can result in an egregious error. I can’t say enough, having a routine and blueprint that you can follow will relieve a lot of burdens.
  • Time Management – It’s a quick whirlwind during the season. Managing your time with work, relationships, family and free time is a delicate balance. You can’t let any of them suffer because they are all important facets of life. Finding the times to incorporate the external activities keeps you fresh and invigorated for the daily challenges of the job.
  • Its Only Entertainment – Our team owner Bob Young said this to me when I first met him “the world of sports is like the movie who framed Roger Rabbit”. You have the back office staff (real-life portion) who are doing the day to work in finance, ticketing, sales, management.

    On the other side (the animated portion) is the game day where the fans are electric, players are buzzing and the stadium is full of anticipation and joy. Each serves its purpose but both need each other, without the office there is no game day and matches and without players and coaches the staff has nothing to manage. I think seeing it like that allows me to be calm and say at the end of the day this is just sports and I am a fan just like anybody else.

Emma Greer Emma's Final Thoughts

Jelani Smith, Team Manager for Forge FC, is focused and determined to leave a winning legacy. He works hard to manage all player and staff needs and ensures trips and travel run smoothly. He has some amazing tips for aspiring sport professionals and shares his abundance of knowledge. Although injuries halted Jelani’s playing career, it allowed him to be open to new opportunities. His business savvy mindset and organizational skills ultimately landed him his role as team manager. He has many responsibilities but has learned that nothing will ever be perfect, so being able to adapt and pivot are extremely important skills to have. Jelani stresses to young professionals that you must trust yourself. Take his words of wisdom and be confident, be composed and be able to adapt on the spot. Sport is competitive and fast paced, so these tips and reminders are important!

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